Monday, September 28, 2015

Ebook Sales Slow, Advice for Writers, Bookselling and The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt and A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

This is vindication for those of us who love print books and generally eschew ebooks and digital printing. For me, it's hard on the eyes to read sitting up on a computer screen or a Nook tablet, so, though I've tried it, I have found that the most enjoyable reading experience still contains a physical book, or what the young folks call the "dead tree edition."

Noting that "five years ago, the book world was seized by collective

panic over the uncertain future of print," today's New York Times

examines the recent slowing down of e-book sales, including a 10% drop in the first five months of this year for publishers reporting sales to the Association of American Publishers, and suggested that "the digital apocalypse never arrived, or at least not on schedule

"E-books were this rocket ship going straight up," said Len Vlahos, a

former executive director of the Book Industry Study Group and now part of the senior management team of Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo. "Just about everybody you talked to thought we were going the way of digital music."

American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher observed: "The fact that the digital side of the business has leveled off has worked to our advantage. It's resulted in a far healthier independent bookstore market today than we have had in a long time."

This was posted on Shelf Awareness last week, and I thought this advice article was very well written. 

Wise Advice for Writers

We are old nobodies who love what we do. We would be old nobodies even if Oprah and the New York Times best-seller list consecrated us, because we don't want to create illusions around ourselves like so many others have done before. Instead, we make what we love and dress how we like and dance in our kitchens and breathe in the good moments because we know nothing lasts that long. We are old nobodies who love what we do. We would be old nobodies even if Oprah and the New York Times best-seller list consecrated us, because we don't want to create illusions around ourselves like so many others have done before. Instead, we make what we love and dress how we like and dance in our kitchens and breathe in the good moments because we know nothing lasts that long.We aren't rushing to some imaginary finish line. We are inching along slowly, smelling the flowers, playing with our dogs and cats, giving generously to those who need our help when we can.

We wake up very early in the morning, before the sun comes up, and we say to the world: I AM OLD AND I AM A NOBODY AND I LOVE WHAT I DO. You will be just like me someday. If you're lucky.

I completely agree that what booksellers do isn't as easy as it looks, though I've not had the privilege of working in a bookstore yet.

'What Independent Booksellers Do Isn't Easy'

"What independent booksellers do isn't easy. They face frequently overwhelming odds and strains, long days and recurring doubts. It isn't an easy life. And yet, every day, they find time to read. The booksellers I know read incessantly; the backrooms and sales floors of every independent bookstore I've ever been to are a hum of 'Have you read this?' and 'What did you think of that?' No matter the financial pressures and the ongoing stresses, booksellers find time to immerse themselves in books new and old, to read deeply and passionately.

"They are also, it has to be said, some of the most critical readers you are ever liable to meet: if they feel strongly enough about a book to recommend it, you know it's a good one. They won't dis a book they don't like, at least outright, but another bookseller can always tell. It's as simple as the difference between a book on the shelf, and a book in their hands as they press it toward you, their face lit up with enthusiasm. 'You have to read this,' they'll say.... And I suspect I speak for all writers in this country when I repeat, 'Thank you. Thank you, independent booksellers, for all you do.' "

--Canadian author and bookseller Rob Wiersema in his latest post for the "Shelf Talkers" series at 49th Parallel

 I picked up a copy of The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt because it sounded just like my kind of tale, full of heroism and triumph over adversity, with the added bonus of it being about a man who survived Mao's Cultural Revolution in China. Here's the blurb:

Coming of age during China’s Cultural Revolution, Benfu survived the cruel years, but he did not emerge unscathed.

The Scavenger’s Daughters is the story of Benfu and his beloved wife Calli, chronicling their attempts to build a life in the turmoil and aftermath of Maoist China. At the heart of their struggle lies the pain of losing their only child. To fill the terrible hole in their lives, they take in abandoned girls — the unwanted “weeds” — as their own, lovingly caring for them as flowers in a garden. Linnea, the oldest of the scavenger’s daughters, embarks on a struggle of her own, as she falls in love with the son of a wealthy family.

Inspired by a true story, this poetic tale of modern-day China chronicles Benfu and Calli as they turn their path of hardship into a beautiful field of flowers.

I was surprised to discover that this is a self published/POD book, printed by Amazon publishing, mainly because it is so well written and has a beautiful cover. Still, having studied Asian history in college, I have always been fascinated by China and Japan and their myths, legends and history of bizarre and cruel rulers. This tale starts with poor Benfu as a young man being tortured in a "rehabilitation" camp because his parents were teachers and intellectuals, and therefore despised among Mao's communist cadre during the revolution.  Benfu, who is guilty by association, fully believes he's going to die in an outhouse, when he's rescued by a young man with food and water and helped to escape. We then fast forward to more recent years, when Benfu is old and has rescued many girl babies and children from the trash heaps of his area of China, and is raising them with his wife because they lost their only daughter many years ago. Benfu and his wife barely manage to survive and have enough food on the table for themselves and their adopted daughters because Befu is a scavenger who goes through trash for recyclable materials to sell. Unfortunately, he's getting old, and his sickness soon lands him in the hospital with tuberculosis. Meanwhile, one of his older daughters has fallen in love with the wealthy son of a government employee, and Benfu, who has had many run-ins with tight-fisted government officials, does not approve. Still, the boyfriend proves himself kind and generous, and helps them all keep going while Benfu is in the hospital. The boyfriend also helps Linnea get set up with her own t-shirt shop, so there is more money coming in to help with the other girls, several of whom are handicapped. You can't read this book and not fall in love with old Benfu, whose kindness and compassion are seemingly infinite. His daughters, whom he and his wife Calli name after flowers, are beautifully rendered here, and I could almost see their little home and hear them each trying to help the family survive by working in whatever way that they can. Benfu's love of these little girls is so beautiful, I got misty eyed several times. The prose is straightforward and strong while the plot cycles along as steadily as Benfu on his bike. This book deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who has an interest in the fallout of the "one child" rule in China and other repercussions of Maos Cultural Revolution on the people of China.

We are reading A Sudden Light by Garth Stein for the month of October for my library book group. I've read, and loved, Stein's award-winning previous novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, so I felt confident going in that this would be, at the very least, a well-written tale by Seattle author Stein. Here's the blurb:

Twenty-three years after the fateful summer of 1990, Trevor Riddell recalls the events surrounding his fourteenth birthday, when he gets his first glimpse of the infamous Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have separated, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with Aunt Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, and divide up the profits.

But as young Trevor explores the house’s hidden stairways and forgotten rooms, he discovers secrets that convince him that the family plan may be at odds with the land’s true destiny. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Spellbinding and atmospheric, A Sudden Light is rich with vivid characters, poetic scenes of natural beauty, and powerful moments of spiritual transcendence. “Garth Stein is resourceful, cleverly piecing together the family history with dreams, overheard conversations, and reminiscences…a tale well told,” (The Seattle Times)—a triumphant work of a master storyteller at the height of his power.

I was surprised at how creepy this book was, considering Stein's book told from a dogs point of view has not an ounce of horror about it. I know we are supposed to love Trevor, but he's more than a bit awkward with his snooping and his erections every time his Aunt Serena even looks at him, or he catches a glimpse of her feet or her breasts. I mean really, Ewwwwww. I can understand admiring someone's beauty, but wanting to have sex with your aunt, even if she is evil and manipulative, is grotesque and disgusting. I also felt that Trevor's parents were pathetic and ineffectual, and his father's in ability to even talk to his own father was bizarre. The unsung hero of this moody piece is the huge old house built by timber and railroad barons back in the 19th century. I happen to know some people living in those old mansions in Tacoma, and they're amazing structures, full of old hardwood floors and staircases and beautiful rooms and passageways. The ending of the book was overly melodramatic, and unrealistic, I felt. Still, the prose was elegant and helped along the eccentric characters navigating the twisty plot. I'd give it a B, and recommend the book to anyone who finds Seattle history fascinating.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Joys of Being a Bookseller, The Master Magician by Charlie N Holmberg, A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan and A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

I love Lillis' words about what it means to be a bookseller. It is my dream to someday join the ranks of booksellers in my own bookstore.
In a tribute for Lori Ellison

an artist and bookseller who died August 1, Karen Lillis, a fellow artist and former bookseller at St. Mark's Bookshop, noted that Ellison was "congenitally a bookstore person" who aimed to work at every independent bookstore in New York City.

Writes Lillis: "The first thing to know about this is that working in a bookstore is like being paid to be yourself. You are an avid reader, you have many interests, the interests go into and come out of reading books, and someone pays you to interact with other readers without submerging who you are. There are some tasks you're getting wages for, but you don't have to shoe-horn yourself into some other persona during your work day in order to accomplish them. Your bosses and your coworkers celebrate your interests, or at least the fact that you have interests. In this sense, it goes very well with a life of expression.
The difficult thing is making it on a bookstore clerk's salary, which can be half of what the average office worker takes home. Bookstore people don't necessarily like the salary but generally would rather be themselves all day and will sacrifice much to remain employed in the book world."

"You'd look better with a book in your hand." Buzzfeed showcased "21 signs that prove booksellers are the absolute best http://www.shelf" 

I just finished reading A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert, and I'll admit that I am astonished that this half-non fiction/half-fiction novel was such a page turner that I couldn't put it down. Having read the Little House on the Prairie books back when I was a preteen, and having watched the TV series as well, I was shocked to learn that Laura Ingalls Wilder was not the sole author of her books, but that her daughter Rose, an accomplished journalist and author, was the ghost writer/editor who made the Little House books readable. Here's the blurb:
The Little House books, which chronicled the pioneer adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, are among the most beloved books in the American literary canon. Lesser known is the secret, concealed for decades, of how they came to be. Now, bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert reimagines the fascinating story of Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, an intrepid world traveler and writer who returned to her parents’ Ozark farm, Rocky Ridge, in 1928. There she began a collaboration with her mother on the pioneer stories that would captivate generations of readers around the world.
Despite the books’ success, Rose’s involvement would remain a secret long after both women died. A vivid account of a great literary deception, A Wilder Rose is a spellbinding tale of a complicated mother-daughter relationship set against the brutal backdrop of the Great Depression.

 I enjoyed reading about Rose's life, and I completely understood her difficulties with her overbearing and proud/vain mother who cares way too much what others think or say about her own life and her daughter's life. I also empathized with Rose being energized and enjoying having a bustling household full of people who care about her and needed her, and her generosity in raising and caring for several young boys when their own parents didn't or couldn't care for them during the depression. Rose worked her fingers to the bone writing to bring in what she called "cash cash cash" to feed and clothe and house not only her parents, but also several other couples and friends and the aforementioned adopted sons. The one thing that wasn't clear about this amazing story was whether or not Rose was sexually involved with her friend Trouble, or Troub as they called her. She undoubtedly loved Troub, and the two were close enough to cuddle up, but Rose had married and divorced a man and then in later years had another affair with a man, so it was not clear if she was bisexual or not. Other than that, I've got very few complaints about this extraordinary book. The prose glistens with passion, the plot is militantly straightforward and the stories within the story are fascinating. A well deserved A, with a recommendation to all who grew up reading the Little House books and want to know how they really came about.
A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan was a book I was sure I would love, about a young book lover whose husband leaves his job at a huge law firm and strikes out on his own, while insisting that his wife (and mother of three) step up and get a full time job to support the family. Alice has been employed part time at a magazine as the books editor while raising her children, a job I deeply covet. Here's the blurb:
Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It and Where’d You Go, Bernadette will cheer at this “fresh, funny take on the age-old struggle to have it all” (People) about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.
In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.
Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want? 
I must admit that I was expecting Alice to be a wonderful person, and I was taken aback by how shallow and mean she seemed to be. She doesn't want to be around her father once it is clear that he's dying of cancer because death is scary but also because she can't seem to deal with any real emotions, or get beyond her own selfishness to see that her father needs her love and attention on his final passage to death. She also seems to be an indifferent mom to her daughters, but not to her son, of course, whom she dotes on, though he's obviously something of a spoiled brat. It comes as no surprise, then, that her husband is also an immature and selfish jerk, who deals with every little setback in setting up his own business by drinking more and more and unrealistically stopping cold turkey when he fails to pick up his sick child at school because he is passed out on the couch, drunk. Newsflash, it doesn't work like that with most alcoholics. They need a program of some type to keep them from falling back on the wagon. Still, the thinly-disguised Amazon clone called "Scroll" was accurately represented in how they treat their workers and the highly-stressful office environment where employees are expected to devote every waking moment to their jobs. Alice is also something of a snob about books, preferring novels that are Literature with a capital L. True bibliophiles don't turn their noses up at genre fiction, and most know that a lot of what currently passes for Literature is mostly narcissicist's whinging about their boring lives under the guise of fictional characters. The ending wraps up a bit too fast and is, again, somewhat unrealistic. Because I didn't like the protagonists, or in fact most of the characters (the au pair/nanny was the only interesting and responsible person in the whole book), I'd give this book a C+, and recommend it to anyone who actually liked "I Don't Know How She Does It" and "Where'd You Go, Bernadette." I didn't like either novel, finding them just as whiny and superficial as this novel.

The Master Magician by Charlie N Holmberg is the third and final novel in this trilogy, which began with the fascinating The Paper Magician and moved to The Glass Magician.Though this series is published through Amazon's POD publishing arm, I was delighted to discover that each book was well written, edited and gilded with inspired characters and excellent storytelling. Here's the blurb:
Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she’s kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She’s discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own—an ability long thought impossible.
While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician’s exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony’s past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.
The whimsical and captivating follow-up to The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician, The Master Magician will enchant readers of all ages.

This third book in the series was full of twists and turns in the plot that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was still irritated that Ceony can't seem to stay out of danger and keep her promises to do so, but this clever young woman had only saving her family and the man she loves on her mind while chasing down the terrifying excisioner who killed her friends. The only other complaint that I have about the novel is that Ceony can't seem to fire a gun or kill the bad guys/gals, though she always believes that it is her right and responsibility to do so and has no qualms until she's actually facing them, when she suddenly becomes a wilting lily and can't come through. Still, a thrilling plot and juicy prose make this a winner of a fantasy, one that will make fans of Harry Potter or Devon Monk's steampunk books very happy. An A, with a recommendation to the aforementioned fantasy fans.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Agency by YS Lee, The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig, Hunter by Mercedes Lackey and The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Agency, A Spy in the House by YS Lee was something of an odd duck of a book. It looks like it might be a self-published effort, yet it was published by Candlewick Press, which I don't believe is a self-pub imprint. Still, I was leery of the novel, though it presented as a historical mystery. The book read as slightly formulaic, a female sleuth of the mid-19th century who, despite being a mere woman, manages to hunt down clues and escape both the hangman's noose and matrimony. Here's the blurb:
Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.
Though I enjoyed the novel as a whole, I found the prose to be simplistic and the plot easily figured out well in advance of the ending. Mary was by turns brave and wimpy, somehow smart enough for some things and then doing something stupid immediately following that. Still, Mary gets the job done and her ability to adapt and improve her life on being given a second chance was heartening. A well deserved B with a recommendation to those who like Victorian mystery series.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey is the first book in a new series for the renown science fiction/fantasy author. Lackey has published over 100 novels during the past 25 years, and her Valdemar, Diana Tregarde and Elemental Masters series are some of the best fantasy reading in existence.  Hunter is Lackey's entry into the dystopian YA market, with a protagonist that is the better part of Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. Joy is smart, skilled in weapons and magic (and politics) and brave, putting her life on the line to protect "cits" or ordinary people from the horrors that the magical fae creatures would visit upon them. Here's the blurb:
They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.
Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it's taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities,behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.
To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.
Joy soon realizes that the city's powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers,and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they're in-to them, Joy and her corp of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.
When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, Joy uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them. SPOILER ALERT!
I was delighted that Joy found a way to keep herself from getting offed by a fellow hunter and the cabal of people behind him who wanted her dead. But now that she's an untouchable member of the elite corps, something tells me that those forces will continue to try and murder her, because she's the best monster hunter they've got, and she's honest, kind and smart, and someone doesn't want anyone who can't be manipulated in the Hunter corps. I am looking forward to her further adventures in this well-drawn world that Lackey has created. Her prose is the gold standard, obviously, and the plot brisk and sure. I couldn't put this book down once I started reading it, and, as with many of Lackey's fantasy novels, I read it all in one sitting. I also found myself yearning for the sequel, which is another hazard of reading Ms Lackey's works...they're deliciously like chocolate or potato chips--once you've had one, you are guaranteed to crave another. An A, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoyed Hunger Games or Divergent, and is looking for a well-written series with a fascinating, feisty female protagonist.

I bought The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig because I've read a few of her "Pink Carnation" series and though I enjoyed them, this book was set in the roaring 20s (1920s) and it sounded like something of a departure for Willig, a well educated young woman who has chosen to be a writer instead of a lawyer, and thus improved the quality of literature for us all. Willig's prose is always as sharp as a razor, and in this book, her plot, though full of twists and turns, never lets up for a moment.
Here's the blurb:
Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died, suddenly. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage...and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father dated all of three month before. He's an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter-his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel...not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past-even her very name-is a lie.
Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father's perfidy and bring his-and her half-sister's-charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn't as simple it appears; and she might just be falling for her sister's fiancé...
Poor Rachel/Vera, caught in a nest of duplicity and revenge! She discovers, as most intelligent people do, that nothing is as it seems, and revenge doesn't lessen the pain of abandonment or the grief of losing a parent. Though petulant and childish at times, I did like Rachel, and I loved Simon and his ability to transform Rachel into a glamorous woman. The nobility come off as rather worthless in this book, however, and I found the tidy ending a bit hard to believe. Still, the book deserves a B+ and a recommendation to all who enjoy rags to riches revenge tales.

The Glass Magician by Charlie N Holmberg, who is, as mentioned before, a woman, is the thrilling sequel to The Paper Magician, which I read a week ago. To my surprise, these YA Steampunk novels are self-published/POD novels published and distributed by Amazon. They have lovely covers and are well written and edited, hence my surprise. Here's the blurb:
Now well into her apprenticeship with magician Emery Thane, twenty-year-old Ceony Twill is continuing to discover the joy of paper magic. She adores bringing her spells to life in surprising ways, from learning the power of distortion to creating a beloved paper dog. And she secretly hopes that the romance she foresaw blossoming between her and the peculiar yet strikingly handsome Emery finally becomes real.
But when one magician with a penchant for deadly scheming believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony, and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, she knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wicked hands.
The delightful sequel to Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician will charm listeners young and old alike.
Things escalate with the nasty blood and "gaffer" or glass magicians in this sequel, and the plot of the novel steams ahead like a runaway train. What surprised me about this novel was that Ceony keeps making huge mistakes and throwing herself into situations where she's likely to die, all the while assuming that she can save the day without having the guts or the full knowledge of her craft to do so. This makes her look none to bright, and with all the mooning about she does over her teacher, Emery Thane, she comes off as quite a turnip. I wanted to shake some sense into her repeatedly throughout the novel, but she does hear from her schools headmistress and from Thane about what an idiot she's been, and SPOILER, after her best friend dies because of her stupidity, Ceony realizes that she's been a reckless fool. The characters are sharply drawn and the prose is crisp and lovely. I'm currently reading the third book in the series, and I am sure that I will be left hankering for more. I'd give an A to this book and the series, and recommend it to those who like shorter, fun Steampunk fantasy novels.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Librarian Rhapsody, The Paper Magician by Charlie N Holmberg, The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and Alife the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

I love this, it's hilarious and wonderful!
Library Video of the Day: 'Librarian Rhapsody'
Imagine Queen's classic song "Bohemian Rhapsody" interpreted (well, rewritten) by the staff at
Shoalhaven Libraries in New South Wales, Australia as "Librarian

Is this nonfiction?
Is this just fantasy?
Work in the Library
We escape from reality
Open your eyes
Pick up a book and read...
I'm volunteering, there's many more like me

The Paper Magician  by Charlie N Holmberg (who is actually a woman) was an impulse buy from Barnes and Noble because I'd seen a review on Goodreads and on Shelf Awareness, and it seemed similar in tone and style to Gail Carriger's delightful steampunk Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocols series. Fortunately, it is somewhat similar, and it has a strong romantic theme, as well as being a ripping YA yarn that kept me turning pages well into the night.
Here's the blurb:
Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.
Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.
An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.
I was delighted by the brisk efficiency of Ceony (whose name, I assume rhymes with Peony, the flower) and her determination to save her paper professor and the man she loves. Having a son who was a big fan of origami, I appreciate the art of paper folding, and I know how hard it can be to make pieces that function or even stay together. So it was wonderful to read about a paper dog that comes to life and giant paper airplanes that actually fly, or even a paper heart that beats to keep someone alive. Holmberg's prose is as crisp and elegant as her protagonist, and the plot is speedy, yet twisty enough that it keeps the reader engaged in wondering what will happen next. I was thrilled to discover that there are two more books available in this series, which I've ordered and are even now on their way to my doorstep. This book deserves an easy A, and I'd recommend it to fans of the Steampunk genre and fans of origami and fantasy.

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the second book in the Magisterium series, which is meant as a sort of underground Harry Potter knock off. That's not to say that these books are poorly written or conceived, because they aren't, but there is a slight whiff of formula fiction to them, nonetheless.
Here's the blurb:
Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall.

It’s not easy for Call . . . and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc.

Call escapes to the Magisterium -- but things only intensify there. The Alkahest -- a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic -- has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes -- and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.
 As the mysteries of the Magisterium deepen and widen, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare take readers on an extraordinary journey through one boy’s conflict -- and a whole world’s fate.

I am always in a quandry about how to pronounce Callum Hunt's name. I know that Callum is pronounced Cal-uhm, (as in there are lots of CAL ories in this) but when it is shortened to "Call" as it is in these books, is it pronounced "Call" as in "Call the Midwife" or "Cal" as in "Silent Cal was a president of the United States"? Anyway, that was one of several nitpicks that I have with the Magisterium books, the other main one being that this Jasper kid is extremely annoying. While I gather that he's supposed to be a whiny little bastard who is self centered and a coward, I don't really think he needs to exist at all. I realize that he makes a nice contrast to the other characters, who are all more or less goody two shoes, but with Call himself being kind of a screw up, it just doesn't seem fair to saddle him with someone who not only doesn't want to be anywhere near him, but who wets himself anytime there's danger and tries to sell the team out for his own safety. There was also more than one gruesome scene that I don't feel needed to be quite so horrific...this is YA fiction, not Stephen King. Still, the prose is excellent, the characters very dimensional and the plot swift and sure. Overall, a novel worthy of a B+ and recommended to anyone who has read the first book.

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson (also a female author) was another impulse buy in the bargain bin at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, now residing on Capitol Hill instead of it's former location in Pioneer Square.
I wasn't sure I was going to like a novel that takes place in the Middle East and involves the labyrinthine politics of that area. So I was shocked when I found myself unable to put the book down, riveted as I was to the characters and the plot of this well-written fantasy novel.
Here's the blurb:G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes.”—Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and American Gods
“Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on.”—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz
In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.
With shades of Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut—a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, technology, and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner. 
The only reason I include the Gaiman and Maguire quotes in the blurb is that they're right, Alif the Unseen is all the things they describe, and more. While I wasn't a fan of how women in the novel are treated, I recognize that this is the reality for women in the Middle East, and Wilson does a credible job getting into the minds of the men surrounding them to show their feelings about their mothers, sisters, friends and lovers. It really is a whole different world, and I was fascinated by the prejudice that the main characters showed to everyone else who wasn't of their own status. I was somewhat horrified by how they view "converts" to Islam, especially American women, as being disingenuous and stupid as well as gullible. Even Alif's friend "NewQuarter" who is an Arab prince comes under the glare of disapproval and is made to seem cowardly and ridiculous. But it is the government that comes in as the true villain here, with The Hand's ruthless cruelty and madness almost putting an end to our hero. The parts of this book that I enjoyed the most, however, were the magical alleyways and back passages of the djinn and other magical creatures who are woven throughout the book. Having limited knowledge of what kinds of genies that there are, and how they operate, Wilson's lush outlines of their lives and deaths (and legends) makes for fascinating reading. This novel gets a well deserved A, with a recommendation that anyone interested in the myths and legends of the Middle East as well as an interest in the digital age of revolution should give this book a try. It will astound you.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Iowa's Paul Engle Prize, Archetype by MD Waters, A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd, and Crucible Zero by Devon Monk

I wish that I could be there to see Paretsky get her prize at the Iowa City Book Festival. It's an event that would suit me down to the ground. 

Sara Paretsky won the $10,000 Paul Engle Prize
presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization to
recognize "an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering
spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing,
or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the
day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary
arts." The author will be honored October 2 during a special ceremony as
part of the Iowa City Book Festival.

Paretsky commented: "We all have one or two fundamental questions about
life--about our own lives--that we keep returning to, and trying to sort
out. Mine have to do with speech and silence: who gets to speak, who has
to listen. When you're powerless, it can be hard to speak, easy to
remain silent. I try to understand cruelty, both the petty acts we all
do from time to time, and the gross acts, lynch mobs, Auschwitz, Rwanda,
that most of us pray we'll never commit. I'm not interested in reading
or writing books that seek to inhabit the minds of torturers. Rather, I
want to know the mind of that rare person who steps forward, who
I want to rant for a moment here about underrated authors, several of whom I feel are shunned by the websites that should be singing their praises. Buzzfeed Books, Book Riot, HuffPo Books, Book Page Magazine and even the famed NYT Book review section should have discovered the fluid prose and fine storytelling of Devon Monk, Maria V Snyder, Linnea Sinclair, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Jacqueline Carey, Shana Abe, Kevin Hearne, MJ Rose and Juliet Marillier.These 10 authors write brilliant, amazing genre novels. I've read every single book that each of these authors has written, and I have yet to see any of the media/social media outlets mentioned above do any sort of article about them, interview them, review their work or list the backlist of novels they've written. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of these authors are women. Female authors always seem to get the crap end of the stick, while authors whom no one actually reads (like Jonathan Franzen) get more than their share of good ink and digital ink just for farting whatever boring crap they think is "literary" onto a page and then telling us that it's the great American novel. As you can probably tell, this pisses me off, and I've been hacked off about the treatment of female authors, female fantasy and science fiction authors in particular, since the 70s, when I noticed that I had to hunt for the books of Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ and Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. I never had to scrounge around for books by Theodore Sturgeon, Issac Azimov, Arthur C Clark or Ray Bradbury. Those were easy to find, especially for Mrs Beatty, who taught a class on Science Fiction Literature at Ankeny Senior High School in the late 70s.  I remember telling her that, though I enjoyed the male SF authors, I also felt that there were some awesome female SF authors whose work should be given more attention. Though she agreed with me, I remember her saying that she didn't think sexism in the publishing world was going to go away anytime soon, and while she allowed me to write essays on female SF authors, she couldn't keep the boys in class or the male English teachers from snickering or sneering at me and calling me a "fat lesbo bitch" or other cruel taunts because I had the temerity to challenge the male SF status quo (for the record, I am not gay, though I believe strongly in LBGTQ rights). At any rate, I wish that there were something I could do to change things, especially for the 10 authors listed above. Hopefully they know that I am a fan who promotes their books in whatever small way that I can on this blog, and by purchasing their books when they arrive on the shelves. 
Archetype by MD Waters is, I believe, an SF YA novel, and as such, it's set in a dystopian future where women are a rarity. While this novel has been compared to Margaret Atwood's famed "Handmaid's Tale" it is actually nowhere near as ground breaking, well-written or intense as Atwood's novel. Archetype is, for all intents and purposes, a science fiction romance hybrid that is written for the teenage audience. That's not to say that it is poorly written, because the prose is straightforward and clean, while the plot is adventurous and swift. The reader will recognize the influence of Divergent and Hunger Games. Here's the blurb:
In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which . . .

In the stunning first volume of a two-book series that will appeal to readers of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, Emma wakes with her memory wiped clean. Her husband, Declan—a powerful and seductive man—narrates the story of her past, but Emma’s dreams contradict him. They show her war, a camp where girls are trained to be wives, and love for another man. Something inside warns her not to speak of these things, but the line between her dreams and reality is about to shatter forever.
I appreciated Emmas slowly dawning sense of self, and her reliance on her own internal compass to help her figure out what her dreams really mean about her past. However, where this novel diverges from Handmaid's Tale is that the women in HT are aware that they are living in a world where their only value is that of a creator of children, a caretaker or a prostitute. Young women in Archetype have no memories of who they are, and are being manipulated into being the "perfect" wives and childbearers for men who do not value them as individual human beings with rights. Without running into spoiler territory, there are physical reasons these women aren't considered anything but property, bought and paid for. But those reasons take a back seat in this book to the "love triangle" aspect of the story, as Emma finds herself falling in love with the man who claims to be her husband, Declan, while also trying to sort through her feelings for a man she sees as her husband in her dreams, Noah. The focus of the story is love and sex with both these men, and their treatment of her in her "new" life, after the accident that supposedly claimed her memory. There's a lot of emotional and physical trauma that Emma must go through, and Dr Travista, who is a huge part of Emma's life and memory is just menacing enough with his experiments and tests to keep readers gnawing their nails in fear every time he makes an appearance. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to those teen readers who loved Divergent and the Hunger Games.

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd is the 7th Bess Crawford mystery in this dazzling series.  Bess Crawford is a nursing sister (a nurse) during World War 1 in England and France, and this particular novel takes place at the end of the war, just a couple of months before Armistice Day in 1918. Here's the blurb:
A horrific explosion at a gunpowder mill sends Bess Crawford to war-torn France to keep a deadly pattern of lies from leading to more deaths, in this compelling and atmospheric mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of A Question of Honor and An Unwilling Accomplice.
An explosion and fire at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill in Kent has killed over a hundred men. It’s called an appalling tragedy—until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn’t stop with Philip Ashton’s arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.
The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France. Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But now someone else is also searching for this man.
To end the vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing either of them from ever reaching England.
As in previous novels, Bess Crawford is tenacious and smart, and determined to help clear Philip Ashton's name. What I enjoy most about these mysteries is not just the strong female protagonist, but the men and women surrounding her who help her solve the mysteries and provide backup when she needs it most. Among those are her father, Colonel Sahib, her father's majordomo Simon and an Australian soldier, Lassiter, who seems to be able to find anyone at any time in the military rank and file. It's always heartening when he shows up and gets Bess to be less somber for awhile, and flirt a bit, too. I've enjoyed all the previous Bess books, and this one was no exception, keeping me on the edge of my seat until the final chapters. I'd give this mystery an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in the role of nurses during the Great War.

Crucible Zero is the third and final book in Devon Monk's House Immortal series. I've read every book that Devon Monk has written, and while I've really enjoyed them all, this series based a bit on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has a special place in my heart, because it's about misfits and time travel, and anything that has to do with something so Doctor Who automatically warrants a read from me. Here's the blurb:
The national bestselling author of Infinity Bell returns to her “fresh and unique”* world where the truce between the ruling Houses has shattered and chaos now reigns. Only one woman has the power to save the world—but she could also destroy it. . . .
Matilda Case never thought of herself as a hero. But because she is galvanized—and nearly immortal in her stitched, endlessly healing body—she doesn’t have much of a choice. Even if she doesn’t want to save the world, she’s the only one capable of traveling in time to do so.
But her rescue attempt hasn’t gone as planned. She’s stuck in an alternate universe, and her world is in danger of disappearing. Worst of all, an unfathomably powerful man who can also travel through history doesn’t want her to put things to rights. He’s willing to wage bloody war to stop Matilda, unless she surrenders control of time to him.
Now, with the minutes ticking, Matilda must make impossible decisions, knowing that one wrong choice will destroy her—and any chance of saving everything she loves. . . .
I was thrilled that Monk decided to go back and tie up a number of loose ends in this book, and bring Matilda's relationship with Abraham full circle. But one of my favorite characters is grandma, and her pocket sheep of many colors who allow her to knit time up into scarves and hats for Matilda when she needs extra time to get the job done. Granny manages to come out smelling like a rose, thankfully, though her survival was in question for a moment there. Monk is brilliant at creating characters that readers come to love and worlds that they'd love to visit. Her prose is tough but beautiful and her plots never slow down. I can only hope that she will continue to write and create more satisfying works in the future. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other two books in this series.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Two British TV Shows, Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier, Nova by Margaret Fortune and Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon

I'm very excited about these two shows coming to BBC America, along with a new series of Doctor Who.

ITV Studios has released the first look at Jekyll & Hyde
upcoming 10-part action-adventure drama "based on an idea conceived by
British actor and author Charlie Higson and inspired by the Robert Louis
Stevenson classic," reported. Tom Bateman (Da Vinci's
Demons), Richard E. Grant and Natalie Gumede (Coronation Street) star in
the series. Higson is writing and will executive produce with ITV
Studios' Francis Hopkinson. No airdate has been set at this time.


ITV has also released a trailer for the sixth and final season of reported that "not much has been publicly revealed about
the upcoming farewell, other than it being set in 1925. The teaser above
does presage more change at the Abbey as Robert Crawley (Hugh
Bonneville) tells Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), 'If I could stop history in
its tracks, maybe I would. But I can't, Carson, for neither you nor I
can hold back time.' " The PBS Masterpiece debut in the U.S. is
scheduled for January 3.

Before I launch into the book reviews for the three books listed in the title of this post, I'd like to pause for a moment and talk about Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry, a hardback book that I paid full price for at Powells City of Books in Portland, Oregon this summer. This book represents a growing trend that I see in marketing the horror genre as regular fiction or even literary fiction, and it really ticks me off. I loathe horror fiction, with few exceptions, because I dislike violence, gore, murder, mutilation and death, which are all hallmarks of the horror genre. They're designed to frighten, shock and disgust the reader. I do not enjoy being frightened, shocked or disgusted, and as I read to be entertained or enlightened and informed, horror fiction does none of these things for me, so I avoid it like the plague. Imagine my chagrin when reading Church of Marvels, then, and discovering that there is very little about an actual circus act in it, but instead it outlines in nauseating detail the many ways that human beings were degraded, beaten, starved and/or abandoned (as a baby in an outhouse covered in excrement, no less) in 19th century New York. Of course, historically things were always much worse for women and children, so readers are treated to painstaking descriptions of the filth and torture visited upon female inmates of an insane asylum, that is when we're not reading about Sylvan, a failed boxer who finds a baby in the privies he cleans out and Odile, a circus performer trying to find her twin sister in the opium dens and other foul places in this hellish New York of 1895. I trudged on, trying to find one good reason to continue reading about these pathetic characters, but finally, at page 140, I just couldn't take it anymore, and I stopped reading the book altogether. I would love to get my money back for this horrific novel, but I will never get the time back that I wasted reading the first 140 pages, and I will never be able to scrub my mind clean of the foul images. Shame on you, HarperCollins, for marketing this disgusting tripe as regular fiction, and shame on you Leslie Parry for not insisting that your book be labeled as genre fiction (and as a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, I would have expected your prose to be clearer and your plot to be less turgid.)

Now, on to something much more pleasant.
Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier is the second Blackthorn and Grim novel that I've read, the first being Dreamer's Pool, reviewed in the previous post on this blog. I received an ARC of Tower of Thorns from the wonderful folks at Ace/Roc publishers, as part of their Roc Star reader's program. I loved the debut of Blackthorn and Grim in Dreamer's Pool, so much so that I was really looking forward to their continued adventures in Tower of Thorns. Marillier doesn't disappoint, and Tower of Thorns finds Blackthorn and Grim on a trip with Prince Oran and Lady Flidais to attend/assist with the birth of their first child. Unfortunately, the duo get sidetracked by a noblewoman with a magical problem. Here's the blurb:
Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim. Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim. 
As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.
Blackthorn is also waylaid by the unexpected arrival of Brother Flannan, a childhood friend who  insists that he has a resistance movement going against the local warlord who killed Blackthorn's husband and son. He assures Blackthorn that she is necessary to taking down the warlord, and convinces her to leave with him after she confronts the monster in the tower and rids Lady G and her people of it's persistent wailing. This would make Blackthorn break her oath/contract with the Fey who released her from prison and would tear her away from Grim, who can barely function without her. Yet I knew from the get-go that Flannan was a liar and probably in the pay of the warlord, but as to why the warlord is so keen on silencing Blackthorn, who, after all, is only one woman (though she's a wise woman), is never revealed. Still, the beast in the tower dilemma is also one that I knew wasn't going to be solved in Blackthorn's favor, but I also knew that between Blackthorn and Grim, there would be a livable solution. Marillier goes deep into Grim's background in this novel, and we discover why Grim is afraid of thatching the roof at the monastery, because he was once a monk himself, who, like Blackthorn, witnessed the unspeakable and now has to deal with the PTSD that follows such an event. Marillier's prose is lyrical and crisp, and her plot flows swift and clear. Another page-turner that will leave readers hungry for more tales of Blackthorn and Grim on their journey of healing and hope. l'd give this sequel an A, and recommend it to anyone who read Dreamer's Pool or anyone who enjoys reworked fairy-tale style fantasy and mystery. 

Nova by Margaret Fortune is a dystopian science fiction YA novel that takes place in a future where mankind has colonized many other planets, but still manages to fight wars over resources and territory. Here's the blurb:
The clock activates so suddenly in my mind, my head involuntarily jerks a bit to the side. The fog vanishes, dissipated in an instant as though it never was. Memories come slotting into place, their edges sharp enough to leave furrows, and suddenly I know. I know exactly who I am.
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was named for a prisoner of war. She lived in the Tiersten Internment Colony for two years, and when they negotiated the return of the prisoners, I was given her memories and sent back in her place.
And I am a genetically engineered human bomb.
Lia Johansen was created for only one purpose: to slip onto the strategically placed New Sol Space Station and explode. But her mission goes to hell when her clock malfunctions, freezing her countdown with just two minutes to go. With no Plan B, no memories of her past, and no identity besides a name stolen from a dead POW, Lia has no idea what to do next. Her life gets even more complicated when she meets Michael Sorenson, the real Lia’s childhood best friend.
Drawn to Michael and his family against her better judgment, Lia starts learning what it means to live and love, and to be human. It is only when her countdown clock begins sporadically losing time that she realizes even duds can still blow up. If she wants any chance at a future, she must find a way to unlock the secrets of her past and stop her clock. But as Lia digs into her origins, she begins to suspect there’s far more to her mission and to this war, than meets the eye. With the fate of not just a space station but an entire empire hanging in the balance, Lia races to find the truth before her time—literally—runs out.
This was an engrossing novel written in muscular prose that supported a plot that moved at breakneck speed. Lia is a fascinating young woman whose search for her real identity is given an increasingly urgent drive by the countdown clock that ticks in her head, informing her that she could blow up at any moment. SPOILER ALERT! While Lia is first seen as a terrorist, we learn that she's actually the one who will save humanity from an alien infection, if she can get the non-infected people off the space station in time. Her friendship with Michael and his family is sweet and tender, but in the end, it's a distraction from Lia's true purpose as a suicide bomber. Though sad, the ending is brilliant, and I'd give this dystopian science fiction YA novel an A, and recommend it to those who loved the Divergent and Hunger Games series.

Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon is a fictionalized account of the actual historical relationship between Victorine Meurent and Edouard Manet, the famed French artist.  Set in Paris in 1862, Victorine and her best friend Denise are working class teenage girls barely making enough money to survive when they meet Manet, who is eager to seduce both young women, though he's got a wife and child waiting elsewhere. Here's the blurb:
For readers of Girl with a Pearl Earring, a “beautiful, brilliant, delicious” (Elizabeth McCracken) novel about Edouard Manet’s muse. Paris, 1862. A young girl in a threadbare dress and green boots, hungry for experience, meets the mysterious and wealthy artist Édouard Manet. The encounter will change her—and the art world—forever.At seventeen, Victorine Meurent abandons her old life to become immersed in the Parisian society of dance halls and cafés, meeting writers and artists like Baudelaire and Alfred Stevens. As Manet’s model, Victorine explores a world of new possibilities and stirs the artist to push the boundaries of painting in his infamous portrait Olympia, which scandalizes even the most cosmopolitan city.Manet becomes himself because of Victorine. But who does she become, that figure on the divan?Intense, erotic, and beautifully wrought, Paris Red evokes the unconventional love story of a painter and his muse that changed the history of art.
While I realize that readers are supposed to feel that Manet is a great man and a great artist who truly cares for Victorine, I didn't really like the man, not only because he wanted a three way so badly, and was willing to pay the girls for sex like prostitutes when he clearly had no intention of furthering their relationship, as he was cheating on his wife and child, but also because he had an STD and didn't feel like he needed to tell "Trine" about it, though he claims to be cured. He seemed like a skeevy old man who was using Trine for sex, (and as a model for his paintings, of course) though she was a willing participant, because she fell in love with him. Still, Manet eventually allows Trine to sketch and paint for herself, though she never seems to have any faith in her own talents or abilities. We don't learn what happened to Trine and Manet, whether they stayed together and had children, or whether Trine ended up as an artist in her own right. I felt that the romantic and sexual aspects of their relationship were highlighted while the actual historical fact took a backseat. While it isn't unusual to expect there to be sex scenes in a story about famous artists and their models, I felt that there was too much of a focus on erotica and not enough on their art and their lives outside of the bedroom. Still, the prose was evocative and the plot waltzed along at a metered pace. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to those who like to know more about the sexual proclivities of famous artists and their teenage muses.