Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Real Bookstores Matter, Wildfire Book Helping With Wildfires in Washington, 2 am at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, The Love Song of Mss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce and Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

As I am a fan of real books from brick and mortar bookstores, this tidbit from Shelf Awareness resonated with me:
In a Psychology Today piece headlined "What I Learned After an Hour In a
Real-life Bookstore
Madelyn Blair recounted her recent exploration of Canadian indie Munro's

"Choosing a book online is almost a stripped down, sterile exercise:
read the reviews, check the image, look inside, read references from
others and make the purchase. It's convenient and it is a means to an
end. Therefore, by comparison, visiting a brick-and-mortar bookstore
feels like a leisurely experience, akin to visiting with a friend while
sipping tea and sharing life stories. This was the feeling I got upon
entering Munro's Books....

"The hallmark of a good book is when can learn something--anything--just
from reading a short snippet. When you get deeper into the book, then
you are privy to an entire conversation, from which you can glean so
much. In bookstores like this one, it's clear that someone with an
equally strong affinity for the value of books has taken the time to
select the authors in question for what they bring to the table on a
particular subject. My visit with these books left me full of new
insights, even from those with which I had only spent a short time."

Due to a lack of rain this spring and summer, Washington has experienced a number of wildfires that have already claimed the lives of several people, including a firefighter. I think the people who decided to distribute books are doing an excellent job of helping waylay the fears of kids caught in the midst of this crisis. 

As fires continue to plague Washington State, Riverwalk Books in Chelan is providing free copies of Wildfires by
Kathy Furgang (National Geographic Children's Books) "to families with
young peeps living with the wildfires," the store said on Facebook. "As
adults, we can process somewhat the information around us. Children are
often forgotten in our conversations. This is our way of providing a
tool to understanding our youngest community members."
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce is the sequel to the famed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which we read in my book group a couple of years ago.  This is the story of Queenie Hennessy, who worked with Harold Fry in the brewery and who fell in love with him, though she never told him so. Queenie was the cause of Fry's pilgrimage/walk across England to get to her in the hospice before she died of cancer.  While Pilgrimage was a book of a man's emotional and physical journey, Queenie was more of a confession of a sad and dying woman who is living among a colorful cast of characters who are also dying, unfortunately. SPOILER ALERT So the very premise of this novel is depressing, especially if you've read Pilgrimage and realize that he doesn't make it before Queenie passes and is able to speak to him to tell him about her time with his son David and her love of him that has kept her going during his journey. Here's the blurb:
A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot—a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn’t know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.

In this poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy’s voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold’s; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths—about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.

A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person’s life.

More SPOILERS: I felt that the fact that Queenie called out David on his selfishness and cruelty (and, in my opinion, narcissism) hours before his death had nothing to do with his suicide. David, (Harold's son) was a jerk who was likely gay, an alcoholic and a drug addict and doubtless had mental problems as well. The fact that he couldn't deal with any of these things, or deal with his parents, whom he felt were beneath him, doesn't mean that even if he wouldn't have forced himself into Queenie's life that he would have killed himself. He was an emotional cripple and his parents were ridiculous people who seemed unable to deal with their own issues, let alone those of a child. I can't understand why Queenie and everyone else seemed to give in to David, allowing him to steal money from them, take up their time, insist on going to dances with Queenie, and then allowing him to make a spectacle of himself, when he had no real talent for anything other than being a jerk. Why didn't anyone set boundaries with David? Why didn't anyone say NO to him? His mother was a truly horrible person, and his father was a wimp. Queenie seemed to be the only one with a backbone in this whole sad saga. Yet even she couldn't come clean until she was dying. She shouldn't have protected Harold so much, to her own detriment. It was obvious he was too much of a wuss to leave his wife, so why bother to save his job when his boss had nothing but contempt for Queenie and Harold both? There is so much futility and sadness in this book that I'd give it a B and only recommend it to those who aren't depressed and who don't mind reading a very ragged and sad book that doesn't have much of a purpose.

2 a.m. At The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino is a rather bizarre book that tells the story of Madeleine, a filthy-mouthed 9 year old who wants to sing jazz standards because her mother was an "exotic" (stripper) dancer and singer who loved jazz music and left her daughter old jazz records and books when she died. Unfortunately, Mad's father is a complete waste of space who can't function since his wife's death and can't seem to deal with his daughter, who is left to do all the shopping and cooking and can't deal with cleaning, so she ends up in an apartment full of cockroaches and lice. The Cat's Pajamas is an old, once-famed jazz club that is about to be closed due to health and safety violations that have rung up a bill of 30K. Lorca, the owner, is certain that he can do something to save the place, but realistically, readers know that having musicians sleeping/living at the club, smoking and underage players who are allowed to drink there, are all going to sink the place for good once the police return for the fine money. Here's the blurb:
Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

I didn't actually laugh out loud at this novel once, and I found the main character, Madeleine, to be a really nasty piece of work who didn't garner any sympathy with me at all, because she was a snotty bully and not very bright to boot. Her classmates were mean to her because she was such a foul mouthed bully back to them, and I didn't have much sympathy for her wimpy teacher Sarina or the mean principal who is caught with her pants down at the end. Even Lorca and his rude son seemed too pathetic to bother with. Another mean-streets of NYC novel that bored me half to death when I wasn't disgusted with it. I'd give it a C, and only recommend it to those who are really into jazz and don't mind being depressed and left hanging by an abrupt ending.

I grabbed a copy of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier from the library, because the kind folks at Ace/Roc said they were sending me an ARC of the sequel, Tower of Thorns. I didn't know what to expect, as I'd read only a couple of Marillier's previous books. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised that Dreamer's Pool was a marvelous fantasy novel full of redemption and fascinating characters. Here's the blurb:
In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic. 

The imprisonment and release of Blackthorn and Grim by the Fae was reminiscent of Maria V Snyder's Poison Study series, only a bit rougher and more gritty. Prince Oran seemed to be rather foolish and foppish and weak, which was unsurprising, but his growth throughout the novel did provide readers with reason to like and not despise him for his lack of spine (and love of soppy poetry). But the real heroine is Blackthorn, who manages to help a number of people despite her terrible past, and help poor old Grim, whose self loathing is only tempered by his love and faith in Blackthorn. I was grateful for the deft handling of their friendship, so that it was made clear that Blackthorn wants nothing to do with a sexual or love relationship at all, yet she needs Grim as a partner to help her deal with the world. The prose is stunning and rich, and the plot fluid and swift as a river. A real page-turner, I read the book in one day, and found myself yearning for more. A well-deserved A, with a recommendation to all readers who love quest fantasies and stories of the underdog who wins the day. I can hardly wait to read the sequel.  

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