Sunday, July 05, 2015

Powell's Pilgrimage, the Mark Spencer Hotel and The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

On July 3rd I made my annual pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, with my husband, son and 8 boxes of books culled from my collection to provide store credit for the books on my wish list.

I'd called Powell's the week before, so that the wonderful booksellers there might gather the 21 books on my list together for me, so when I came in and was given credit for my culled books, I could just go to the 4th floor and pay for those books with the credit and a $50 gift card from the Mark Spencer Hotel that was part of a promotion they were running if you stayed at their property overnight (you were also given free parking and a Powell's mug).

This weekend has been one of the hottest on record for the Pacific Northwest, so it was no surprise that traffic was a nightmare driving to Portland (4 hours) and back (4.5 hours). But once we arrived, my big 15 year old got a hand truck and piled the book boxes on it twice and wheeled them into the Orange room. There he stacked the boxes on the ledge, and I proceeded to unpack them for one of the nicest lady booksellers I've ever met. I do not know her name, (why didn't I ask? Arg!) but she was a true bibliophile, like myself, and she made the task of unpacking 8 large boxes of books go swiftly and easily while conversing about the books, which ones I'd enjoyed, which ones I'd not enjoyed and why, as well as Powell's lore and where my son could find the books and games he was seeking that day. Our conversation was so animated that a young lady behind me in line asked about some of the books in the discard pile that Powell's couldn't use and were planning on recycling. After hearing about several of them, the young lady expressed interest in reading them or giving them to her mother to read, so I took them from the pile and gave them to her. What a rewarding feeling, to share my love of books with others! Upon receipt of the generous $279 worth of credit, my son and I took the elevator to the 4th floor, where the bill came to $303, so with the $50 gift certificate, we had $18 left over for Nick to use in his pursuit of Cards Against Humanity (a sarcastic card game perfectly suited to teenage boys) and an illustrated book about one of his favorite video games.

By then it was supper time, and Nick schlepped a big bag of books to Deschutes Brewpub, just a block or so down the street from Powells, where my husband was happily sipping a beer sampler platter and eating a huge pretzel with cheese dipping sauce. I had a bacon burger on sourdough and Nick had a crab/lobster roll and fries, and then we walked a couple of blocks back to our hotel, the Mark Spencer, which is roughly a three to five minute walk from Powell's (how convenient!)

Though we've made the pilgrimage to Powell's once or twice a year for the past 10 years. we'd never stayed at the Mark Spencer, usually because we combined our trip to the bookstore with the trip to see the Drum and Bugle Corps show, mounted either in Portland or in some small town near Portland, like Hillsborough, McMinnville or Tualatin. After a rather rough stay last year in a dirty and uncomfortable little motel in McMinnville, where we roasted in the bleachers like ears of corn during the DCI show, we decided this year to see the Drum and Bugle Corps show in Renton on the 4th of July, as long as temperatures didn't reach above 90 degrees. Unfortunately, it was 97 degrees yesterday, so we refrained from going to the show this year.

However, being unencumbered with having to drive to a town nearby Portland at a specific show time turned out to be a boon to Nick and I, when my husband told us that we could return to Powells in the evening and do some bargain hunting and gift seeking before bed time. Joy! After finding some great gifts for a friend and several bargain books (and more Cards Against Humanity for Nick) we returned to the Mark Spencer, exhausted but satisfied.

Our room at the hotel was on the third floor, and contained one king sized bed that was the consistency of a giant marshmallow, and a "living room" area with a pull-out bed/couch and a kitchenette. Two large flat screen TVs, a large closet and a very small but clean bathroom rounded out the area, though the bathroom had no fan. We had to park the car in the hotel's uncovered but supposedly secure lot across the street. Nick and I had some snacks, watched some SyFy TV, (I should mention here that it is never a good idea to try Siracha flavored popcorn and dried apple snacks if you have Crohn's Disease) and then I attempted to sleep on the bed that ate New York. We awoke to the weekend manager bringing us extra towels and the bad news that our car had been broken into and vandalized in the night.  Because my husband forgot to lock the car, there was no structural damage to the car, as there was to some other unfortunate soul's car whose windows had been smashed in, and because we'd brought most everything into the room with us, the only thing that was taken was my husband's iPhone recharger cord.

Though they had security camera's on the lot, the  night manager was apparently only able to scare the junkie woman who was breaking into the vehicles away when she had paused while trying to figure out how to get into our car trunk. As horrified as I was by this violation of our auto, I was more disappointed in the Mark Spencer for not providing safe parking for guests. I let the front desk manager know the next morning that I felt we should be compensated, either with a discount on our bill or another gift certificate to Powells, but I was informed in a rather nonchalant and sneering fashion that neither would be forthcoming. SHAME on you, Mark Spencer manager! It would have cost you very little to repair our soured perspective on your hotel, but you cheaped out instead. I doubt we will be spending another $300 night in your hotel ever again. BTW, your continental breakfast was completely insufficient (there were swarms of people fighting over a few bagels and white bread and hard boiled eggs), so we ended up going to the restaurant around the corner for breakfast. Big fail, Mark Spencer.

I received a copy of the Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher from Ace/Roc books via their wonderful "Roc Star" Super reader program.
Having read and madly loved Jim Butchers "Dresden Files" series of books about Chicago's favorite wizard Harry Dresden, I was so excited to read The Aeronaut's Windlass that I hardly noticed it's heft, coming in at over 600 pages.

Here's the blurb:
Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

My one major qualm about this book is it's length, because there is just too much narration of background, what everyone is feeling/thinking, the particulars of life for each species in this steampunk dystopian world, etc. Battles are described in painstaking, boring detail, and there are redundant paragraphs that could easily be excised without causing any harm to the characters or story. In fact, the extensive narration and over-detailing of battles and soforth slowed the plot to a crawl more than once. I would hazard a guess that roughly 200 pages could be edited from this manuscript and a tight ship of 400 pages would be the happy result. As usual, Butcher's strength are his characters, and this new series is no exception. From Bridget the fledgling guardswoman to Benedict Sorellin the half-human, half-cat warrior, to the brave Captain Grimm and Rowl, the king of warrior cats who more or less rule the tunnels and byways of the Spires, each character is so lovingly outlined and fleshed out that you feel you know them by the time the book is finished. I don't know how many books Butcher has planned for the Cinder Spires series, but I can guarantee that I will be first in line to read each one. A well-earned A and a recommendation to anyone who loves the steampunk genre, cats and swashbuckling adventure!

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