Friday, June 26, 2015

New Harry Potter Stage Play, Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Written in Red by Anne Bishop, Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley and Cress by Marissa Meyer

There is always room for more of the wonders of Harry Potter's world in this world, and fortunately author JK Rowling agrees!
This morning on Twitter, J. K. Rowling
announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new stage play centered on
the series, will open next summer at the Palace Theatre in London's West
End. The script was written by Jack Thorne, who collaborated with
Rowling, and is being directed by John Tiffany, with singer-songwriter
Imogen Heap writing the music.

"I don't want to say too much more, because I don't want to spoil what I
know will be a real treat for fans," Rowling tweeted, adding: "However,
I can say that it is not a prequel!"
With Neil Gaiman's blurb of approval on the cover, it was nearly impossible for me to resist the lure of the beautifully-jacketed book, Magonia, by Maria Headley when I saw it in Book Page, a monthly book review publication that is free at my local library. Fortunately, the inventive and fascinating story on the inside lives up to the beauty of the cover. Here's the blurb:
Maria Dahvana Headley's soaring YA debut is a fiercely intelligent, multilayered fantasy where Neil Gaiman's Stardust meets John Green's The Fault in Our Stars in a story about a girl caught between two worlds . . . two races . . . and two destinies.
Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.
Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who's always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.
Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza's hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?  
Like most YA novels, there's a dystopia at the center of the plot, but in this case the dystopia is only bad because Aza is really one of the bird people of Magonia who isn't meant to breathe the heavier air on the ground, but is, instead, able to breathe the lighter air in the upper atmosphere, in the ships that Magonians live on while they plunder supplies from earth during storms that they have some, but not much, control over. Though this utopia in the skies provides everything Aza needs, she still can't get over her beloved childhood friend Jason, and though Aza eventually finds her way back to her earth family and the persistent Jason, it seems obvious to readers that she will have to choose between the two worlds soon, and that the only world she can actually breathe in is the better choice. Though the romance in this novel is a bit obsessive and possessive, which made me uncomfortable, I still felt that the lush prose and the impeccable plot built around divine storytelling earn this book an A, and a recommendation to those who enjoy epic fantasy and adventure.
Written in Red by Anne Bishop was something of an impulse buy for me, as the blurbs made it sound a bit too close to a horror novel for my taste. What it actually is is more of an urban fantasy retelling of old fairy tales with a horrific dystopian twist. Here's the blurb:
No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.
As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.
Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.  
There are two problems with this novel from my perspective. One, it's too long, 496 pages, when it could easily have been half that and still have told a good story. Even knocking 100 pages off would have helped, because there were places where the story dragged a bit, and places where readers were privy to too much information about the Others eating habits and what happens to the remains, etc. Gore for it's own sake never helps a plot speed along. Hence my second problem with the novel. Too much anger, hatred, distrust, fear, cruelty, death, gore, mayhem and general prejudice and distrust flow through this novel, and it casts a pall that is hard to shake. In other words, if you are prone to depression, this is not the book for you. There are two kinds of people in Bishop's alternative universe, the innocents and the killers, the predators and the prey, or "meat" as she often reminds us through her Other characters, who view all humans as something to eat. The only reason the werewolves, the vampires, the werebears and the elementals keep humans around is because we can make things that make their lives easier, like cars, beds, clothing, etc. Anyone who steps out of line, goes where they aren't supposed to go, pisses off an Other or tries to take anything from them illegally, is automatically ripped to shreds and eaten. Fortunately, though, Meg, who is a seer, escapes what is basically slavery and ingratiates herself with the Others, via her innocence, and becomes their "liaison" which is another name for postmistress, as well as being something of a pet for Simon Wolfgard and his son, who is a puppy. The Others don't seem to desire humans sexually at all, so any hint of romance between the liaison and Wolfgard becomes uncomfortable for readers and characters alike. Still, the prose is hypnotic and the bad guys get ripped up in a very satisfying manner, plus, there's a distinct HEA at the end, so I'd still give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach who finds gritty horrific urban fantasy fascinating.
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is the second book in this series, following the smash hit fantasy Queen of the Tearling that I read last year (and thoroughly enjoyed). Here's the blurb:
In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Queen Kelsea and her realm.
With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, Kelsea has crossed the brutal Red Queen, who derives her power from dark magic and who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what she claims is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.
But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing. She finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. Soon Kelsea herself begins to change; she does not recognize either her reflection in the mirror or the extraordinary power she now commands. The fate of the Tearling—and that of Kelsea's own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Queen Kelsea is running out of time.
In this second volume of the compelling trilogy begun with her bestselling The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen brings back favorite characters and introduces unforgettable new players, adding exciting layers to her multidimensional tale of magic, mystery, and a fierce young heroine.
I just finished reading this book, and I was awed by Johansen's ability to take the story in a direction that I did NOT see coming at all. The book moved back and forth in time, and added science fiction elements to what had been a dystopian fantasy. The prose is robust and yet elegant, and manages to keep ahold of the roller coaster of a plot until the very end, which also holds a few surprise twists and turns. Kelsea's story, which had been at the forefront of Queen of the Tearling took a backseat to the courageous story of Lily, a woman living 30 years into our future, in a world where, like Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, women have become male possessions, controlled by their husbands and expected to produce children while allowing their men to abuse them or even kill them if they prove to be barren. Female voices are silenced and women hide from their captivity with drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, the gap between the haves and the have nots has become huge, with the rich few living behind secure walls while a majority of the population starves and dies on the streets. Lily manages to break free from her abusive husband and is swept off with the resistance to a "Better World" and how that better world intersects with Kelsea's becomes the crux of the story. This brilliant page-turner left me hungering for more. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book. 
Cress by Marissa Meyer is the third book in the YA Lunar Chronicles, a wonderful science fiction retelling of classic fairy tales. Cress is the retelling of Rapunzel, except this long-locked girl is on a satellite in space, instead of a tower on earth. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:This third of four books in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles has no shortage of humor, action, or romance, and the author still delivers the clever fairy-tale twists her readers expect. Cress, a self-proclaimed “damsel in distress,” has been imprisoned in an orbiting satellite for more than seven years, and has never been allowed to cut her hair, which has grown to Rapunzel-like lengths. Though Cress—an expert hacker—is supposed to be tracking down the fugitive Linh Cinder for Lunar Queen Levana, Cress has been secretly aiding her. When Cinder and her crew try to rescue Cress, the plan goes awry, leaving Cinder’s group scattered and fighting for survival. Meyer continues to show off her storytelling prowess, keeping readers engaged in a wide cast of characters while unfolding a layered plot that involves warring governments and a fast-spreading plague. The momentum Meyer built in the first two books continues to accelerate as the stakes grow higher for Cinder and her friends. The next installment cannot come fast enough. 
Though I really enjoyed the Cinderella reboot in Cinder and the Red Riding Hood reboot in Scarlet, I was not as enamored of Rapunzel's reboot, Cress, because she was such a wimpy, whiny and fearful little girl, that she didn't fit with the other, more independent and adventurous heroines from the first two books. She was also completely obsessed with the con man Captain Thorne and her childish daydreams and fantasies of his falling in love with her and saving her like a real damsel in distress. She's constantly collapsing, crying, cringing and hiding behind everyone because she has no backbone or grit. She has to "pretend" she's enacting a drama in order to function when things go awry, and it is only by sheer luck and the help of the other characters that she survives at all. I found her character so annoying and stupid that I was hoping she'd be killed off in the desert. Unfortunately, she's the daughter of the main scientist/doctor in the novels, so she lives, but at great cost to everyone else. Still, we get to see more of Cinder and prince Kai, which is good, and that alone made the book worth the price. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first two books.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

News Tidbits From The World of Books

I've been a fan of Kenneth Branagh for years, ever since I read his autobiography and learned that he was born two days and two and a half hours before I was. He's taken a number of Shakespeare's plays and turned them into successful films, and though they're now divorced, he was once married to Emma Thompson, my favorite British actress.

 Kenneth Branagh "is in discussions" to direct an adaptation of Agatha
Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
for 20th Century Fox, the Wrap reported, noting that Ridley Scott of
Scott Free and Simon Kinberg of Genre Films are producing with Mark
Gordon. The novel was previously adapted as a 1974 movie starring Albert
Finney as Poirot, and there was also a 2001 TV version that aired on

This is a well written eulogy for a bookstore that close in Paris recently, written by the brilliant Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness. It makes some cogent points about what a loss this is to any society.

A bookshop closed this week.

This is how France 24 reported the end: "La Hune, the iconic Parisian
which was the focal point for intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre,
Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus for more than 60 years, closed for
the last time on Sunday after a long struggle to make ends meet."
Calling La Hune "one of the French capital's most loved bookshops, famed
for its vast collections of French and international literature,
history, art and design," France 24 also noted that it was "founded by a
group of resistance fighters in 1949" and had been "originally located
between the famed Cafe de Flore and the equally frequented Les
Deux Magots in Paris's sixth arrondissement, [where it] became a
landmark meeting place for France's intelligentsia."

The challenges La Hune faced in recent years were variations on a
familiar theme: Olivier Place, director of La Hune's previous owner
Librairies Flammarion, which sold the bookseller to Gallimard three
years ago, said sales had fallen precipitously. The bookstore also fell
prey to ever-increasing rents in the fashionable
Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. In 2012, La Hune "was forced
to move from its emblematic address on 170 Boulevard Saint-Germain to
the nearby 18 Rue de l'Abbaye to make way for a Louis Vuitton store,"
France 24 wrote.

A bookshop closed this week.

"I walked through La Hune one last time, sniffing the books and looking
at the posters, and found myself far more distraught than I expected to
Adam Gopnik recently wrote in the New Yorker. "I felt a deep sense of
loss, more than mere regret, and ever since I have been trying to decide
why I felt this way and whether the feeling was mine alone or might have
resonance elsewhere."

Acknowledging that bookstores worldwide "open and they close, following
the path of bright young people as migratory birds follow the sun,"
Gopnick observed that in Paris, "good bookstores have opened in, or
migrated to, the popular quartiers of the 15th and 19th arrondissements,
just as a few independent bookstores in this city have migrated to the
sunnier climes of Brooklyn."

In conversations with his Parisian friends about La Hune, he "found they
shared my sense of something that it would be indecent to call grief but
inadequate to call sadness. At a minor level, once a bookstore is gone
we lose the particular opportunities for adjacency it offers, determined
by something other than an algorithm. It is rarely the book you came to
seek, but the book next to that book, which changes your mind and

A bookshop closed this week.

"If we try to protect small merchants, or mourn their disappearance, the
last thing we are being is nostalgic," Gopnick concludes. "Books are not
just other luxury items to be shopped for. They are the levers of our
consciousness. Every time a bookstore closes, an argument ends. That's
not good." Robert Gray on Shelf Awareness
Kudos to Todd Hulbert for finding a way to save Finally Found Bookstore, which was the former Baker Street Books in Black Diamond. His struggles have been heartbreaking, all the more so because I so rarely am able to get to Auburn to visit the new store. Now that it is a non profit Literacy Center, I sincerely hope that things will be looking up for WLO.
Finally Found Books Becoming Nonprofit

Finally Found Books, Auburn, Wash.,which has struggled financially since opening in 2013, has formed a
nonprofit called the Washington Literary Organization that aims to buy the store as well as
promote literacy, support schools, educators and libraries, and help the
less fortunate receive books. Owner Todd Hulbert considers it "a viable
model that other struggling bookstores can follow."

In January, Hulbert put the store up for sale
it "a very difficult and personally emotional decision." But he found no
buyers and told the Auburn Reporter: "We started to see revenues go down
the previous year, and things didn't get any better in February, March
or April. I finally said, 'It's either time to shut it up, or we can
look at forming a nonprofit.' "

Hulbert emphasized the advantages of a nonprofit: it can engage in
tax-deductible fundraising, apply for grants, offer tax deductions for
book donations, use volunteer staff, work with schools and libraries
directly and network with other nonprofits.

Already, Hulbert told the paper, volunteers have taken on
responsibilities "in the business and [to] support existing and upcoming
literary programs" and a 13-member board has been formed.

The Washington Literary Organization's initial goal is to raise $10,000
for interim funding to form the nonprofit and offset the store's
operating expenses while doing the secondary fundraising of $250,000.
One-third of the secondary funding raised will be used as operating
capital for the store while the other two-thirds will be used to
purchase Finally Found Books's furniture, fixtures, equipment, inventory
and goodwill.

Hulbert plans to stay on as interim store manager until a replacement is
funded and trained, serve on the WLO board if elected, volunteer in the
store several hours a week and be on call to consult.

The Reporter said, too, that various Finally Found Books programs will
also be "beefed up," including training and internships that have
included developmentally disabled interns; more gift certificates for
teachers; more book and gift certificate donations to such causes and
organizations as shut-in seniors, PTA auctions, fundraisers, Friends of
the Library, the Veteran's Administration and churches.

New programs will include the collection and distribution of some
100,000 books in the first year for schools, libraries and other
organizations and 200,000 in the second year; Traveling Story Time,
which will offer readings at preschools and other children's gathering
places; in-house events such as tutoring, reading hours and sign
language classes; and providing meeting space for literary events.

In 2014, Finally Found Books had net revenues of $140,307.21, and in the
first quarter of this year, net revenues were $32,364.93. The store's
annual fixed expenses are about $70,000, and the proposed beginning
annual payroll expenses are about $40,000. Other discretionary expenses
include advertising, purchase of new books and inventory, professional
trade groups and conferences, etc.

In early 2012, Hulbert bought Baker Street Books
Diamond, Wash., closed it to install new shelving, reconfigure the store
and absorb some 100,000 volumes he had in storage. In July, he reopened
the store as Finally Found Books. In September 2013, Finally Found Books
sales were too low in Black Diamond. The store sells new and used
My husband, son and I are all taking our annual pilgrimage to Powells next week, where we'll be staying at the Mark Spencer Hotel by night and shopping by day at the BEST indie bookstore in the world! AMEN to that!
Congratulations to Powell's Books, Portland,
Ore., named "the best independent bookshop
in the world" by the Guardian, with help from its readers. The entry

"This legendary Portland shop is the world's largest used book
store--the jewel in the crown of what is claimed to be the largest
independent chain of bookstores on the planet. Powell's even provides a
map for customers. 'It is amazing! It is a whole city block with several
floors of books. Unlike ordinary bookstores, Powell's has a huge
selection of every book imaginable. I took my retired English teacher
father there and he went crazy. It also has a cafe and a selection of
antique computers. It is an absolute paradise for bibliophiles!' said
John R. Ewing Jr."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review Backlog! Fablehaven 1&2 by Brandon Mull, The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Scarlett by Marissa Meyer, Saint Maizie by Jami Attenberg and From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey

Great article on the obsession that is bibliophilia! I know the feeling well!
"You just went in the bookstore for one book--you swear, just one!,"
Bustle noted in showcasing "13 thoughts everyone has while trying to
narrow down her pile at a bookstore"

"If you belong to the tribe of the book-obsessed, you know this scene
all too well, and that's only how it begins," Bustle wrote. "By the time
you start making your way to the register, you've got a Volkswagen-sized
loot of books that you've got to dwindle down to an amount that will
still let you make rent this month. The dwindling process is an
emotional struggle for the book-lover, because let's be real, you need
every single one of the books you picked up. You just do!"

I have been neglecting my reviewing process for a bit while I mourn for Cinema Books, but now I have to plunge in and review the 6 books in my backlog, before the stack gets any bigger!

I picked up Fablehaven and Fablehaven Rise of the Evening Star at a garage sale, and to be honest, I didn't expect them to amount to much, because the covers were fairly cartoonish.  What a pleasure and surprise it was, then, to discover that these fantasy YA novels were actually quite fun and readable. I did notice, however, that the prose and plots seem pointed more towards pre-teens or tweens than average YA books, which are generally marketed to teens 16 and over. While they're not boring, the books are easily sussed out, and the character of the younger brother, who does exactly the opposite of what he is told (and causes harm and problems and nearly kills everyone in his family in the process) is more annoying than winning, not just because he's a horrible kid, but also because he never really seems to get punished or feel the consequences of his actions. And he continues to make the same mistakes, over and over, while his sister has to find him and clean up his messy situations. Here's the blurbs:
For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.
Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken — Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good — powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.
At the end of the school year, Kendra and her brother Seth find themselves racing back to Fablehaven, a refuge for mythical and magical creatures. Grandpa Sorenson, the caretaker, invites three specialists — a potion master, a magical relics collector, and a mystical creature trapper — to help protect the property from the Society of the Evening Star, an ancient organization determined to infiltrate the preserve and steal a hidden artifact of great power. Time is running out. The Evening Star is storming the gates. If the artifact falls into the wrong hands, it could mean the downfall of other preserves and possibly the world. Will Kendra learn to use her fairy gifts in time? Will Seth stay out of trouble?
Just to be clear, Kendra, the older teenager, is the one who actually ends up saving the day, usually after her stupid brother Seth has wreaked havoc and caused everyone to be in mortal danger.  For some bizarre reason, everyone forgives him for all the terrible things he does, and they even call him "brave" when really, he's not brave as much as rash and selfish, wanting to go on adventures and see "cool stuff" when he's been told, over and over, that he will only cause more problems than he's worth. He even notices that he can't seem to do anything right, and instead of agreeing with him and making it a lesson that he could learn from, Kendra tries to twist things around to save his fragile male ego, which is nauseating. Which is why I will not be reading any more of the Fablehaven series. I don't think I could take yet another book of that pain in the tuchas Seth. So, though I'd give a B+ and a B to the first two books, I would only recommend this series to those with patience for horrible little brats who don't listen or learn from their mistakes.

 I picked up the Princess Academy by Shannon Hale from the library because I'd read her previous well wrought fairy tale, The Goose Girl, and I enjoyed it tremendously. A Newberry Honors Book, Princess Academy is a beautifully written fairy tale and coming of age story about a group of mountain girls who are sent to an academy to learn manners and letters before being presented to the local prince/heir as possible brides. Here's the blurb:
Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince will choose his bride from among the village girls.
The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess. Soon Miri finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires. Winning the contest could give her everything she ever wanted-but it would mean leaving her home and family behind.
Packaged with a fresh cover, this timelessly charming, award-winning story from best-selling author Shannon Hale is sure to enchant a whole new generation of readers.
There are two more books in this series, but though I loved the first book, again I find that it reads as something for the tweens, not the YA audience of older teenagers and adults. The prose is lovely, however, and the plot not at all as simplistic as you'd think going in.  I would recommend it to tween girls from 10-12, or even 13, but much beyond that I doubt it would hold an older teenager's interest. B+

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, which are science fiction/fantasy/fairy tale hybrids that are altogether delightful. Starting with Cinder, which reimagines Cinderella as a cyborg on a dystopian world ravaged by a plague engineered by cruel Lunar people, Scarlet picks up immediately following the end of Cinder and goes further into the conspiracy set up by the evil Lunar queen to control the earth. Scarlet discovers that Lunars have bred super soldiers by making remaking boys with wolf DNA. Here's the blurb:
Cinder is back and trying to break out of prison--even though she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive if she does--in this second installment from Marissa Meyer.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother, or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana.
Meyer's prose is elegant and precise, and allows her intricate plots room to breathe and move. While I am certain that these YA novels have their romantic elements purely for the teenage audience, adults can safely read and enjoy them for the nicely wrought world-building and science fiction twists on the old fairy tales they're based on. I'm currently reading "Cress" which is the third book in the series, and I hope to finish it this weekend. Meanwhile, this book gets an A, and I hope that Meyer considers adding more to this series, which is loads of fun to read.

I bought Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg with high hopes, because it sounded like a book that would be right up my alley. Jazz age women trying to find love and happiness while running an old movie theater in NYC? Fascinating.  Unfortunately, the novel goes right through to the depression, and, written in epistolary style, it gets bogged down by a persistent sense of melancholy or, as the French term it, ennui, that only makes the reader pity the characters for their choices that lead to such unfulfilling lives. Here's the blurb:
Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty—even when Prohibition kicks in—and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.
When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.
Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.
Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"—and her irrepressible spirit—is unforgettable
While I think it is laudable that Mazie helps so many homeless and helpless men during the depression, I didn't really understand why Mazie and her younger sister were so self destructive with their bodies, having sex with married men and men who had venereal disease. We also never learn if the baby that Mazie was pregnant with survived, and if so, what happened to that child. Also, Mazie herself can't seem to catch a break, as even when she donates a ton of money to help abused women and children, she gets no credit for it, and it causes her insane older sister to nearly kill her. No happy endings here, just tawdry sex and sadness. Due to the unique writing style and plot, I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to those who are interested in NYC during the 20s and 30s.

Book Ten of the Elemental Masters series, From A High Tower is Mercedes Lackey's best fantasy novel yet. Set in Germany, this book tells the tale of a Rapunzel who is a budding air master and who becomes fascinated with America's Wild West through a series of books written by a man who never stepped foot in America, and only imagined what the West was really like. Unlike the Rapunzel of the original fairy tale, Giselle's father traded her to a "witch" for food and lodging for his wife and other 8 children. The witch turns out to be a great mother to Giselle, whose air elementals play with her blond hair to make it grow so fast that she must cut it off every few weeks. Once Giselle joins a wild West show as a sharp shooter ala Anne Oakley,  she meets a Native American air master, a fire master and others who help her navigate forests full of bad spirits, ghosts and a troll that feeds on children like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. In past Elemental Mages books, there's been a romance that weaves in and out of the plot, but in this novel, for some reason Giselle is nearly raped twice and she doesn't seem to have an eye out for romance until nearly the end of the book. While I understand her innocence, Giselle seems almost willfully niaive throughout the book, which gets a bit tedious. The prose is Lackey's usual high quality, high-octane wordsmithing, which functions to guide the plot along greased rails. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read and enjoyed any of the other Elemental Masters series. It doesn't disappoint, and is a real page-turner.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cinema Books Ends 38 year Run, (sob) and We Cash in on the 50 Percent Off Sale.

Normally, I don't post photos on this book review blog, but today I must make an exception for the wonderful Stephanie Ogle, proprietress of Cinema Books, which is in the University District of Seattle, which is about to close after 38 plus years of selling books, cards, posters, stills, figurines, scripts, and calendars all having to do with actors, actresses, Hollywood, movies, plays and TV shows. Jim and I discovered Cinema Books back in 1992-93, about a year after we'd moved to the Phinney Ridge area of Seattle. We would go exploring all over Seattle to find bookstores and noodle houses and places with Godzilla stuff/monster movie stuff for Jim. Once we encountered Stephanie in her tiny bookstore, crammed to the rafters with movie memoribilia and magazines with titles like "Famous Monsters of Filmland" we knew we'd met a kindred spirit. We'd stop by Cinema Books and the late, lamented Scarecrow Video store about three-five times a month, and we'd always leave happy, because Stephanie knew just what we needed to make our collections complete. Once we had Nick, we brought him into the store still in his baby carrier, and Stephanie held him and cooed over him while we shopped. We took him in a couple of years later, but then we moved out to Maple Valley as homeowners back in 2001, and it became more of a hassle to drive all the way into Seattle to get books or magazines. Plus, taking care of a toddler and a home became more of a full time job. Fast forward to today, when, after reading this article last week:, Jim and I were determined to go see Stephanie one last time, and stock up on books and Godzilla stuff to support her closing, which is due to all the construction across the street which has kept customers from her door. We came away with $187 worth of great stuff, and we had to laugh when Stephanie caught sight of Nick, now 5'11 inches tall, 220 pounds! Big change from that little baby she remembered! So there she is, between Jim and I, giving us a last hug and wishing us well, as we did her.
Here's a piece on Cinema Books from Shelf Awareness, in which Stephanie references my husband Jim as "a fan crazy about Godzilla movies" :
Seattle's Cinema Books, which "has been a landmark for UW students, faculty, and U-District residents," is closing
due to construction projects across the street, the Daily reported.
Owner Stephanie Ogle said the construction has hindered patrons from
parking locally and visiting the store: "I'm too small to last them

Cinema Books "has attracted filmmakers, cinematographers and film majors
and aficionados alike with its wide array of books and topics. While
some books are specialty out-of-prints, most were published recently,"
the Daily noted.

"I love meeting people, whether they're filmmakers, or making their
first documentary, or a fan who's crazy about Godzilla movies," Ogle
said. "All of those things are really a joy because you have people who
are passionate.... I'm just trying to live through this in the moment.
After that, I'll make plans. But for right now, I'm doing it. I feel sad
about it, but at the same time, I gotta be honest and say it's time to
move on."
Among the wonderful items we bought at Cinema Books today are:
A Benedict Cumberbatch calendar for 50 cents
A Hugh Jackman calendar for 50 cents
John Barrowman's two autobiographies, Anything Goes and I Am What I Am
Benedict Cumberbatch, the Biography by Justin Lewis
Watch Me, a Memoir by Angelica Huston
Hugh Jackman the Biography by Anthony Bunko
Hugh Laurie the Biography by Anthony Bunko
Sir Michael Caine the Biography by William Hall
Stephen Fry in America by Stephen Fry
Torchwood:The Official Magazine Yearbook
Animal Stars by Allen and Linda Anderson
And these were just the items that I chose for myself! Nick got several books, Jim got books, posters, a magazine and the last Godzilla figure that Stephanie had, which she'd kindly saved for him. While in Seattle, since we don't get there too often (traffic was horrible, as usual, so it took us over 90 minutes to get there), we stopped at Mighty O Doughnuts for a dozen of their fine vegan cake doughnuts, which are delicious, and then we swept into Hot Diggety Dog for some Seattle dogs and San Pelegrino Italian soda, which we split three ways. I had a hot dog with sauerkraut, bacon, avocado, tomatoes and a splash of mustard. YUM. Then we decamped for Cinema Books, followed by a shopping spree in Uwajimaya and Kinokuniya Books (wherein lie the wonders of the Japanese pen section, full of delights for pen collectors like myself.) Following that, we stopped at a couple of garage sales and the Maple Valley Library, and finally home, where we are currently basking in air conditioned comfort while eating mochi and reading. All in all, it was a good family outing on a sublimely sunny Seattle day. Though bittersweet, we bid adieu to Stephanie and Cinema Books and say THANK YOU for the memories and memorabilia. 

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Shadowhunters, Paper Towns, Harry Potter Prequel, and Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler, Eggs by Jerry Spinelli and Dragon in Exile by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Having read the Mortal Instruments series, I was hoping for more movies, but I am thrilled that they're going to have a TV series of the books, which deserve a platform to lay out the stories visually.
Jon Cor (Dark Matter) has been cast in a recurring role on ABC Family's
straight-to-series drama Shadowhunters
based on Cassandra Clare's bestselling the Mortal Instruments YA book
series, reported. Cor will play Hodge Starkweather, joining
a cast that includes Katherine McNamara as Clary Fray, Maxim Roy as
Jocelyn, Dominic Sherwood as Jace and Alberto Rosende as Simon.

I've not read this book yet, but if it is anything like The Fault in Our Stars, I am sure I will love the movie based on John Green's novel.
A new trailer has been released for Paper Towns
based on John Green's novel and starring Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne,
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank)
directs. Indiewire noted that "in a summer of big, special-effects
blockbusters, don't count this one out. The author has a big following,
these are two young stars on the rise, and if it finds the same audience
and critical reception as Faults, it'll be a winner." Paper Towns opens
July 24.

You just can't go wrong with JK Rowling, and I imagine this will be a fantastic movie that will dazzle all the fans of Harry Potter and his world.
Warner Bros. announced that Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne (The
Theory of Everything) will play Newt Scamander in the Harry Potter
prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reported that the film, which marks J.K. Rowling's
screenwriting debut, is slated for worldwide release in 3D and Imax
November 18, 2016. David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter
films, is the director and David Heyman, producer of all eight Potter
movies, is producing.

Dragon in Exile by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller might just be the best SF book I've read all year. I should note, first, that I am a huge fan of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden Universe series of books and chapbooks, having read them all over the years. The world building is so intricate, the characters so vivid that after reading any of the books in the series, you feel as if you could travel to Surebleak and meet Aunt Kareen or Shan, or Val Con and Miri. Their real forte, however, is storytelling in sublime prose that sets their meticulous plots going at top speed. Once begun, it's nearly impossible to put a Liaden Universe book down, even for necessities, like food, fluids, sleep or caring for one's offspring, as my teenage son will attest. Here's the blurb:
#18 in the popular and exciting science fiction Liaden Universe®. Clan Korval rebuilds its fortunes on the gritty, semi-anarchic planet of Surebleak. Over a quarter million Liaden Universe® books are in print with an audience that keeps growing!
Star-trading Clan Korval—known to Terrans as the Tree-and-Dragon Family and to the locals simply as "the Dragon"—has been convicted of crimes against the homeworld. No matter that one of the "crimes" consisted of saving the elitist planet of Liad from very real internal threats, the Council of Clans wanted Korval heads to roll. Unfortunately for the Council, the Dragon's allies conspired to impose a milder punishment for saving the world: banishment, rather than execution.
Now relocated to the free-for-all world of Surebleak, the Dragon is under contract to keep the Port Road open to all traffic, and to back the New Bosses in imposing law and order on a society originally based on larceny and assassination. This modest rustication is going surprisingly well, until Korval discovers that the enemy they'd sought to destroy. . .wasn't quite destroyed, and is more determined than ever to eradicate Korval.
While the banishment killed no one initially, many of Korval’s trading allies are spooked, and some are reneging on ancient agreements, leaving the Dragon to make its own way. The clan’s efforts to stealthily recruit new allies is going haywire, and a secret death toll is rising even as the clan’s adherents endure increasing exposure to danger and deceit off-world.
To make matters worse, an active portion of Surebleak's native population liked the Old Ways just fine, and are conspiring to take the New Bosses—and the Dragon—down, and are sure they have the firepower and people to do it.
The exiled Dragon has to make an urgent choice—accept an alliance with criminals or face down each and every enemy in person, one by one.
 And so begins the roller-coaster ride full of thrills and manners that is a Liaden Universe novel! The delicate wit of the characters, the subtle sarcasm and the delightful dialog all conspire to keep readers saying "just one more chapter" until the night is through. As is my usual habit when I get ahold of a Liaden novel, I made sure that no one would disturb me for at least 12 hours while I devoured the book, leaving only a few chapters for the next day. While there were a number of resolutions to problems presented in previous novels, there were also flashbacks and reveals about past difficulties and incidences that made the storyline all the richer. I was glad to see more of Korval in Miri and Val Con, and very interested to see some of the workings of the dramliz in helping heal the minds of soldiers. I was also fascinated by the actions of the Tree...but to give away more would be spoiler territory. Suffice it to say I'd give this delicious space opera an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read the previous LU novels.
Eggs is the second YA book that I've read by Jerry Spinelli, the first being Stargirl, a work that I enjoyed much more than I did this novel. Perhaps it is because this was only his second work, and he's grown as an author in the ensuing years. Whatever the reason, the protagonist, David, is a horrible, obnoxious and very angry 9 year old boy who treats his grandmother like crap because his mother died of cancer and he apparently needs someone to blame for it.  When he's not looking for ways to hurt his rather wimpy, cowardly grandmother, he's hating on everyone else, including a girl he meets while on an egg hunt in a park, Primrose. Primrose's mother is a nutjob who plays at being a psychic and apparently hasn't the mental strength to care for her child.  Though I usually love reading YA novels, I get very tired of reading about children who act out in horrible ways while the adults around them remain clueless, selfish and totally inept. Here's the blurb: Eggs is a quirky and moving novel about two very complicated, damaged children. David has recently lost his mother to a freak accident, his salesman father is constantly on the road, and he is letting his anger out on his grandmother. Primrose lives with her unstable, childlike, fortuneteller mother, and the only evidence of the father she never knew is a framed picture. Despite their age difference (David is 9, Primrose is 13), they forge a tight yet tumultuous friendship, eventually helping each other deal with what is missing in their lives.
They don't mention it above, but the framed picture is of Clark Gable, not her father, whom Primrose's mother doesn't remember. Most of the characters are either ineffectual or mean in this novel, and though the ending is somewhat satisfying, the story itself is too bitter and cynical to be really enjoyable. The prose is clean and the plot slow, but it works. I'd give this limp and ugly duckling of a book a C, and recommend it to adults who had neglectful parents.
 I picked up a copy of Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler at a garage sale this weekend, and I read it in one sitting. This will be the 10th novel of the prolific Tyler's that I've read, but she has written so many more that I will probably never catch up. Unlike some of her previous work, such as the masterful Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, or the Tin Can Tree, Noah's Compass has a pathetic idiot of a protagonist in Liam Pennywell, a widowed and divorced father of three daughters, all of whom seem to hate him, though his youngest, Kitty, seems to just want to use him to be able to galavant off with her bizarre boyfriend. Here's the blurb:
Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn’t bother him. But he is troubled by his inability to remember anything about the first night that he moved into his new and spare condominium on the outskirts of Baltimore. All he knows when he wakes up the next day in the hospital is that his head is sore and bandaged. His effort to recover the moments of his life that have been stolen from him leads him on an unexpected detour. What he needs is someone who can do the remembering for him. What he gets is . . . well, something quite different.
The detour spoken of above is meeting Eunice, a woman nearing 40 (to Liam's 60) whom Liam stalks in hopes of her becoming his "rememberer" and helping him recover his memories of the night he was beaten by a burglar. When Eunice misunderstands why he wants her, and assumes he needs help getting a job, a relationship ensues until Eunice reveals, fairly late in the game, that she's married. She still pursues Liam for some odd reason, though neither of them seems to have concrete feelings of love for one another, and neither seems willing for Eunice to leave her husband for them to be together. There's a great deal of indecision in this book, and it becomes more and more frustrating as the book moves along. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying, and the characters all awful/boring/stupid or a combination of the three. The prose is mediocre and the plot plods along in a hum-drum fashion. I'd give this a C+, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who finds waffling characters tedious. This is not one of Anne Tyler's best efforts.