Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Harry Potter Stage Play, Third Place Opens Pub, Sherlock on January 1st, and Daughter of the Blood/Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop

Oh dear, how I wish I lived in London, England, so I could see this wonderful play! Perhaps they will stage a traveling show that will come to Seattle? One can only hope!

On Stage: Harry Potter & the Cursed Child

"It's official," the Pottermore team noted on Friday in posting a
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, "the eighth story in the Harry Potter
series." Written by Jack Thorne and directed by Olivier and Tony
award-winner John Tiffany, the play is a new story written in
collaboration with J.K. Rowling. The production will be in two parts,
due to the "epic nature of the story," and features a cast of more than
30 actors.

"The story only exists because the right group of people came together
with a brilliant idea about how to present Harry Potter on stage,"
Rowling observed. "I'm confident that when audiences see Harry Potter
and the Cursed Child they will understand why we chose to tell this
story in this way."

Tickets for the play, which comes to London's West End next summer, are for sale online only October 28
"on a first come first served basis to all who have registered for
priority booking," and October 30 to the general public.

Third Place Signs on Restaurant/Coffee Bar/Pub

This is so exciting for Third Place Books to be opening a restaurant/pub that allows patrons to browse for books at the same time. I'm going to try to get my husband to take me to Raconteur next year.

Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash., which is opening its third location
Seward Park neighborhood, has signed on Flying Squirrel Pizza Company
which has three locations,including one down the street from the new Third Place, to open a
combination restaurant/coffee bar/pub that will be called Raconteur.

According to Seattle Met, "while the bar will be in the basement [of
Third Place's 7,200 square foot building], the rest of Raconteur is
separated from the bookstore only by low walls, a purposeful design to
encourage people to wander the aisles while waiting for a table, or page
through a magazine with an Americano in hand."

The coffee bar will be at the entrance and also offer pastries and
bagels. The pub will have 20 taps and "slightly Belgian and German
overtones" in its beer, pretzel and sausage offerings.

Flying Squirrel founder Bill Coury is still tinkering with the
restaurant menu, Seattle Met wrote, "but he's thinking unfussy,
comforting food with a variety of influences--a burger, tacos, a falafel
sandwich, a take on dan dan noodles--with minimal fried stuff and the
same sort of local sourcing you'll find at Squirrel."
For now, the building continues to be renovated, and Raconteur is aiming
to open in February.

I LOVE this version of the Sherlock Holmes stories, because they're witty and wonderfully enacted by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Now they're putting the series back into the 19th century, so Holmes can wear the Deerstalker cap and Watson can have his handlebar moustache. Should be fun!

For the first time, the popular BBC/PBS series Sherlock will premiere on
the same date on both sides of the Atlantic. reported that
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
will make its debut January 1, and plans for movie theaters around the
world to show the 90-minute episode are also in the works, with the
first of those cinema dates now set for January 5-6 in the U.S. The plan
is to include more than 500 cinemas nationwide, with cities to be
confirmed closer to November 6, the on-sale date for tickets. Theater
audiences will also see 20 minutes of exclusive, additional footage. 

Daughter of the Blood and Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop are the first two books in the dark fantasy Black Jewels series that I read about on Goodreads awhile back, and then again when I found books 6 and 7 at the Finally Found Bookstore closing sale for 50 cents each (in hardback, no less!). I think that calling this series "Dark Fantasy" is something of a misnomer, however. It's really horror fantasy clothed in mystical legend tropes and set forth on unsuspecting readers who might be expecting something less nauseating. Here are some blurbs:The Dark Kingdom is preparing itself for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy the arrival of a new Queen, a Witch who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself. But this new ruler is young, and very susceptible to influence and corruption; whoever controls her controls the Darkness. And now, three sworn enemies begin a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal...and the destiny of an entire world is at stake.... Enough time has passed for the young girl Jaenelle, heir to the magical Darkness. Her physical wounds have healed while amnesia keeps her frightening memories at bay. But with Saetan--a Black-Jewelled Warlord Prince and Jaenelle's foster-father--to protect her, she will continue to grow. Her magic will mature. Her memories will return. And Jaenelle will face her destiny when she remembers Daemon, Saetan's son, who made the ultimate sacrifice for her love. 
I believe other reviews made it clear that this is an adults-only series, and I'd go further to say that even some adults will find it too much. There is a great deal of rape, sexual and physical abuse of children, murder of children and sexual predators in the first book, enough so that I wanted to toss the whole thing by the third chapter. I'm not a fan of horror fiction, and even less a fan of pedophiles and child murderers, and descriptions of predators and their practices. Sexualizing children, especially the main character, a 12 year old child, was even more nausea-inducing, but Bishop's prose and storytelling abilities, along with her strong supporting characters made me put my head down and read on through the storm of vileness. You know you're in trouble, as a reader, when the most sympathetic character in the series is Satan, Lord of Hell. He becomes a strong father figure who does everything in his power to help his daughter, though he doesn't expend half that energy to help his grown sons, one of whom descends into madness and the other tries to commit suicide after being physically and mentally abused and enslaved for years.  Of course, the person behind all the real horror, pain and death is a woman, Hecateh, who, along with another evil Queen has it in for Satan and Janelle, and wants them both dead so she can rule over all. Women come off as either angels (if they're young) or evil, power-hungry abusive whores in these books, while men seem totally enslaved by their desires, and are therefore somewhat weak and completely enthralled by a self-sacrificing angel like Jaenelle. Still, the bad guys/women are being thwarted right and left, and for that reason alone I've decided to read the third, fourth and fifth books, if I can make it through more descriptions of child abuse. I am finding the writing fascinating and the actual magic interesting, as well as the half-blood magic animals that are fighting for survival. I'd give this series, so far, a B+, and only recommend it to those who have a strong stomach and are willing to suffer through the first book's horrors to get to the better second book, wherein resides karmic justice for the bad guys.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani, Delia's Shadow by Jamie Lee Moyer, and The Actor and The Housewife by Shannon Hale

I've always seen bookstores as sanctuaries, holy ground for bibliophiles like myself who need to wander and browse, reveling in the unique smells and tactile joys of holding a book in your hands and contemplating its purchase.I know that I would not be the same person I am if I wouldn't have spent a great deal of my life in libraries and bookstores, learning and growing and becoming a storyteller/journalist.
"Bookstores make artists. The ability to wander and browse. To buy not by algorithm but by whim. To be surprised by a book or a cover or a
fellow browser and what he's pulling off the shelf. Record stores,
bookstores and coffee shops are the holy trinity of arts incubation. And
bookstores are the Father."

author of the Summer/Fall 2015 Indies Introduce title Rules for
Werewolves, in a q&a with Bookselling This Week
I've been a fan of John Irving's works since reading The World According to Garp, the Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. I also read his short novellas and I adored his prose style and way with bizarre but likeable characters. Unfortunately, Irving had a couple of books that were not only awful (A Son of the Circus was unreadable), but he made comments after writing one book about prostitutes that all young women should take a turn being prostitutes because it was a viable career option for women to sell their bodies for sex. I was so horrified by this sexism and misogyny that I stopped reading Irving's books. I don't think I missed much until recently, when I've been reading reviews of his last couple of works that claim that the "old" Irving is back, and better than ever. I might pick up a copy of Avenue of Mysteries, though I would wait to find a used copy in protest of Irving's sexism. I can only hope he's over being a jerk by now.

Book Review: Avenue of Mysteries
 When John Irving became a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award with
The World According to Garp, he leaped from mid-list, MFA-schooled,
literary fiction obscurity to international fame and enough fortune
thereafter to write pretty much whatever he wanted. In the almost four
decades since, he has published 10 novels (including The Cider House
Rules and The Fourth Hand) and has had several works adapted to film.
Often long and heavily plotted, Irving's fiction regularly features
troubled childhoods, violent maiming, sexual promiscuity, circuses,
sports, religion, writers and writing, domesticated animals, travel and
memory. Avenue of Mysteries sits right in the sweet spot of Irving's
obsessions--and as with his past books, its imaginative storytelling
overcomes its plot complexity and characters' often over-the-top

Avenue of Mysteries is a rambling story that moves in and out of
chronological time as it travels across time zones. At 14 years old,
Juan Diego lives in a shack with his younger sister, Lupe, and their
suspected father, Rivera, outside Oaxaca, Mexico. They are the "dump
kids," and Rivera the "dump jefe." By the time he is 54, the
novelist-protagonist Juan Diego (if a novel with many, many characters
can have only one protagonist) is visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe Church
in Manila, Philippines, ruminating on the many ghosts and memories from
his past.

He is known as the "dump reader" because of his self-taught ability to
read dense religious and classic fiction texts in both English and
Spanish. Lupe is born with the clairvoyance to read people's thoughts
and occasionally predict the future, which she expresses in a language
that only Juan Diego can understand. Along the journey of Juan Diego's
life, he and Lupe join a traveling Oaxacan circus, and Rivera accidently
runs over Juan Diego's foot, giving him a permanent limp. Intellectually
confused, Juan Diego makes a pilgrimage to the Mexico City Virgen de
Guadalupe (along the city's Avenida de los Misterios) to sort out his
conflicting allegiances to the Virgin Mary and Aztec goddess Coatlicue,
after which he is adopted by the transgender Oaxacan prostitute Flor and
Iowan missionary priest Eduardo, who forsakes his vows for Flor. They
take him to Iowa City, where he studies and then teaches writing at the
University of Iowa. Falling in with a sexually obsessed, well-traveled
mother and daughter on a flight to Manila, he visits the gravesite of
American soldiers and worries about mixing up the dosages of his
beta-blocker and Viagra pills. (Whew!)

Juan Diego is an inspired character who provides Irving with a platform
from which to explore the mysteries of growing old, of religious
fanaticism and fantasy, of language, of companionship and love, and
especially of writing. Regarding his maimed foot, Juan Diego thinks: "A
cripple's life is one of watching others do what he can't do, not the
worst option for a future novelist." From wherever it came, Irving's
knack for telling a good story is as strong as ever. --Bruce Jacobs
founding partner, Watermark Books &Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

All the Stars in the Heavens is Adriana Trigiani's latest masterwork, and it comes on the heels of the movie version of her wonderful Big Stone Gap books debuting this month in theaters around the US and Canada. I've read everything Adriana has written, and I've loved her books for their evocative prose and delightful characters. All the Stars in the Heavens is a bit of a departure for Adriana, as it's about real people whose lives have factual happenstance that the author has woven into a fictional narrative. Here's the blurb:
In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling, and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Adriana Trigiani takes us back to Tinsel Town's golden age—an era as brutal as it was resplendent—and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame and success. With meticulous, beautiful detail, Trigiani paints a rich, historical landscape of 1930s Los Angeles, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen.

The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he's already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly.

Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young's secretary, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives.

Anchored by Trigiani's masterful storytelling that takes you on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy, this mesmerizing epic is, at its heart, a luminous tale of the most cherished ties that bind. Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional—including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel and more—it is it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema's greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making.
I've never really been a big Loretta Young or Clark Gable fan, as I prefer musicals and movies that happened a bit later than the 30s, mostly movies of the late 40s,50s 60s and 70s, that star actors like Danny Kaye or Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn. I find movies like Singing in the Rain, White Christmas or the Court Jester thrill me more than depression or WW2 era films. But here Trigiani's fills out the narrative of the last of the silent movies and into the talkies with aplomb, allowing us into the lives of the Young sisters who all lived in a mansion with their mother Gladys, who was an interior designer. All devout Catholics, Loretta gains a good friend and confidant in Alda Ducci, who, after leaving the convent, becomes Young's secretary.  While claiming to be devout, Young seems to fall prey to Gable's charms fairly quickly, and when she becomes pregnant, (and I find it hard to believe a devout Catholic would have sex outside of marriage) Gable doesn't want to be responsible for their child, and leaves Young to make a convoluted path to "adopting" their daughter from the convent orphanage, while Gable continues to have affairs with other women while still married. He eventually divorces and remarries, but not to Young, whom he supposedly loves, instead he marries Carol Lombard, who dies tragically in a plane crash. Young never seems to find the "right" time to tell her daughter that she's Gable and Youngs love child, and according to Wikipedia, Young told her daughter in law that Gable raped her, and that she saw their daughter as a "walking mortal sin." Yet Adriana paints Young as a sweetly innocent religious person who still loves Gable and loves her daughter more than anything. When Young remarries Lewis and he mistreats her daughter Judy, Young doesn't seem to actually care enough to do anything about it, and though he seems like a cruel and controlling person, Young has two sons with Lewis. This all lead me to not really buy that Young was such a pious and sweet person who treated her daughter well. I also don't believe Gable was such a great guy, only coming to see his daughter twice and not having the gumption to marry Young because he was afraid of losing money to his ex. Because I didn't really like Gable or Young that much, this book wasn't as much of a joy for me to read as all of Trigiani's previous works. That's not to say that it isn't a good book, it is well written and has interesting side characters, like Alda and her husband. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoy the Golden Age of Cinema and reading about the love lives of the old-time stars of that era.

Delia's Shadow by Jamie Lee Moyer is a taut supernatural thriller with gothic romance overtones. Told from the POV of three of the main characters, Moyer weaves this turn of the 20th century tale into an almost Sherlock Holmesian ghost story, with creepy but crisp prose and a plot that is like a roller coaster ride, it's so breathtakingly fast. Here's the blurb: It is the dawn of a new century in San Francisco and Delia Martin is a wealthy young woman whose life appears ideal. But a dark secret colors her life, for Delia's most loyal companions are ghosts, as she has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with an ability to peer across to the other side.

Since the great quake rocked her city in 1906, Delia has been haunted by an avalanche of the dead clamoring for her help. Delia flees to the other side of the continent, hoping to gain some peace. After several years in New York, Delia believes she is free…until one determined specter appears and she realizes that she must return to the City by the Bay in order to put this tortured soul to rest.

It will not be easy, as the ghost is only one of the many victims of a serial killer who was never caught. A killer who after thirty years is killing again.

And who is now aware of Delia's existence. 
Poor Delia is harassed throughout the book by Shadow, whose ghost keeps expressing the need for Delia to find her killer, the serial killer who is daily murdering innocent people in 1915 San Francisco, and taunting the police about it. Among the police is handsome Gabriel Ryan, who falls for Delia, and believes her when she says that she sees and hears ghosts. Gabe's sidekick, police officer Jack Fitzgerald, is also a great guy who is in love with Delia's best friend Sadie, and whose mother, it turns out, is actually the Shadow ghost who has been following Delia around. (that's a SPOILER, sorry!) Until the last couple of chapters, I wasn't sure who the killer was, and the ending, though well done, whipped by as fast as all the other pages of this novel, which is un-put-downable. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes a good Gothic ghost story with some romance woven throughout.

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale was a library book sale find for a mere $1. Since I'd read one of Hale's YA titles, I thought I knew what to expect from this adult romantic story. I was wrong. Surprisingly fun, Actor and Housewife is a spunky modern romance that somehow manages to make it's Mormon housewife Becky, mother of four, into a relatable character. I would bet that someone like Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Mison or Tom Hiddleston were the templates for Felix Callahan, the witty British actor who finds his best friend and verbal sparring partner in Becky.Here's the blurb:
What if you were to meet the number-one person on your laminated list--you know, that list you joke about with your significant other about which five celebrities you'd be allowed to run off with if ever given the chance? And of course since it'll never happen it doesn't matter…

Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity hearththrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened…though nothing has happened. It isn't sexual. It isn't even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what's hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends. Really. Becky's husband is pretty cool about it. Her children roll their eyes. Her neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special…something unusual, something completely impossible to sustain. Or is it? A magical story, The Actor and the Housewife explores what could happen when your not-so-secret celebrity crush walks right into real life and changes everything.

I found that Becky's emotional roller coaster was just a bit much, especially the waffling about her feelings for Felix. Felix seemed like a lot of men, in that he doesn't always know his own heart, or his libido, and yet you know that he's going to do the right thing by Becky, no matter how many times she's in crisis. I love babies and children, too, but Becky's rhapsodizing about the joys of children also gets to be a bit saccarine and silly as the book goes on. There's a lot of witty banter and dialog in the novel, which reads, ironically, like a movie script, since Becky sells movie scripts to studios and that's how she meets Felix. But Becky's naive and innocent views of Hollywood and the various people who work there is also too ridiculous to be believed. Still, I liked her when she was with Felix and I enjoyed the twist at the end of the novel, which is not a HEA so much as a Happy For Now. I'd give the book a B+ and recommend it to those who enjoy contemporary romantic comedies on the screen, and those members of the LDS church who fantasize about making it big in Hollywood.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

WSJ Picks Gilead, True to Form by Elizabeth Berg, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Good Night, Mr Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan

I've had a copy of Gilead for a long time, and I haven't been able to get into it, though I know that it's a wonderful novel. Now that I know that Geraldine Brooks and dear POTUS Obama are both fans, I will have to renew my efforts to read Gilead.
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is WSJ Book Club Pick
 Geraldine Brooks, author most recently of The Secret Chord and host this
month of the WSJ Book Club, has chosen Marilynne Robinson's
Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead as the book club's latest pick, the
Wall Street Journal reported.

Over the next several weeks, the WSJ Book Club will be reading Gilead
(Picador), with discussion questions posted on the Journal's Speakeasy
blog. Readers are invited to join the conversation on the club's
Facebook page, orfollow along on Twitter with the hashtag #WSJBookClub Brooks will ultimately join the club for a live video chat about the novel.

"The language is exquisite," Brooks said of Gilead. "The observations
are breathtaking and so original and unexpected. I think there's some
pyrotechnics in here, but it's virtuosity rather than showing off. It's
a masterpiece of voice. And it's very challenging to do what she's done.
She created an entirely good, entirely sympathetic protagonist who at
the same time is fully human and deeply sympathetic and wholly
plausible. So you really feel that you know this John Ames and you're on
his side in the world. And I think her exacting depiction of what it
feels like to love a child, the totality of that love--I don't know of
anybody else who's captured that so perfectly."

Even President Barack Obama is a Gilead fan
In a recent conversation with Robinson that is being published in the
New York Review of Books, he said: "I first picked up Gilead, one of
your most wonderful books, here in Iowa.... And I've told you this--one
of my favorite characters in fiction is a pastor in Gilead, Iowa, named
John Ames, who is gracious and courtly and a little bit confused about
how to reconcile his faith with all the various travails that his family
goes through. And I was just--I just fell in love with the character,
fell in love with the book, and then you and I had a chance to meet when
you got a fancy award at the White House. And then we had dinner and our
conversations continued ever since."
I just read three books that I could not put down, and I'm excited to review them here. The first is Elizabeth Berg's True To Form, the second is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and the third is Good Night, Mr Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan. 

True to Form by Elizabeth Berg was a garage sale find, and, as I've read 5 or 6 of her other books, I thought I'd be safe grabbing a copy of this one. Berg has a way of getting into the nooks and crannies of her characters that I really enjoy. Her prose is always top notch and her plots never lag. Here's the blurb:
Katie Nash — the beloved heroine of Elizabeth Berg's previous novels Durable Goods and Joy School — is thirteen years old in 1961, and she's facing a summer full of conflict. Her father has enlisted her in two care-taking jobs — baby-sitting for the rambunctious Wexler boys and, equally challenging, looking after Mrs. Randolph, her elderly, bedridden neighbor. To make matters worse, Katie has been forcibly inducted into the "loser" Girl Scout troop, compliments of her only new friend Cynthia's controlling mother. Her only saving grace is a trip to her childhood hometown in Texas, to visit her best friend Cherylanne. But people and places change — and Cherylanne is no exception. When an act of betrayal leaves Katie wondering just what friends are really for, she learns to rely on the only one left she can trust: herself.
Full of the joys, anguish, and innocence of American adolescence, True to Form is a story sure to make readers remember and reflect on their own moments of discovery and self-definition.

Katie is something of a typical teenager, in that she wants attention and to be popular and to grow up fast and be what she feels is mature, which is a type of freedom most teenagers long for but don't really understand. When she betrays her friend Cynthia just to be popular with her private school's "in" crowd, though it's a mean and cruel way to treat a friend, I understood why Katie didn't think about it because she was caught up in a quest for popularity and wasn't thinking beyond that, about the feelings of the friend she'd hurt. Having been on the "hurt friend" side of this equation more than a few times as a teenager, I understood the anguish on both sides. Having been in a girl scout troop with my mother as a co-leader, I also understood the reluctance of both Cynthia and Katie to belong to a troop once they were teenagers. A very heartfelt and engaging novel, I'd give this one an A and a recommendation to anyone who remembers adolescence and all it's trials and tribulations.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo sounded like my kind of fantasy novel, though I've not had the chance to read the authors "Grisha" trilogy. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
When the score of a lifetime presents itself, criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker assembles a crack team of talented outcasts. Their mission: to rescue a prisoner from the most secure prison in the world, so that the secrets he holds can be exploited by the right people. As Kaz and his compatriots put together a daring plan, they contend with old grudges, mistrust, lingering secrets, and deadly rivalries. Naturally, things go wrong once they start their mission, and now they must escape the very prison they sneaked into. Bardugo expands on the world of her Grisha trilogy with this series opener, which marries heist and action conventions with magic and mystery. Her characters are damaged, complex, and relatable, and her worldbuilding is ambitiously detailed. As various characters’ backstories unfold, Bardugo reveals intriguing new depths and surprises. This has all the right elements to keep readers enthralled: a cunning leader with a plan for every occasion, nigh-impossible odds, an entertainingly combative team of skilled misfits, a twisty plot, and a nerve-wracking cliffhanger.

This first book in the series reminded me of the Lies of Locke Lamora/Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch, only taken down a notch and written in YA fashion with less cursing and more decency or honor among thieves, if that's possible. PW is right in that Bardugo's characters are stand-outs, with each chapter told from a different character POV. Normally I find that device disconcerting and annoying, but Bardugo manages to work miracles and make a cohesive story told with each character weaving into the narrative without a hiccup in the plot, which races along on greased wheels. The book itself is beautifully produced, with illustrated end papers and black edges to the pages. With such a lucious introduction to Bardugo's world, I find that I've now added the first book in her Grisha trilogy to my wish list, and I look forward to reading the next book in this series as well. I would love to discuss more about the relationship Nina and Matthias, Kaz and the Wraith, but the more I discuss the more spoilers will present themselves, and I would hate to ruin such a wonderful reading experience for anyone else. A solid A for this magnificent book, with a recommendation to anyone who enjoyed The Night Circus or the Gentlemen Bastards series, or really any fantasy series with a crew of magnificent misfits in it. 

Good Night, Mr Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan was a book that I knew I'd love, because there is nothing about PG "Plum" Wodehouse's books that I don't adore. The fact that the book is set in the Midwest from the turn of the century to 1961 was also intriguing, and then that the main character was a bibliophile sealed the deal for me, as I love reading about others who love to read.
Here's the blurb:
“Life could toss your sanity about like a glass ball; books were a cushion. How on Earth did non-readers cope when they had nowhere to turn?”
Nell Stillman’s road is not easy. When her boorish husband dies soon after they move to the small town of Harvester, Minnesota, Nell is alone, penniless yet responsible for her beloved baby boy, Hillyard. Not an easy fate in small-town America at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the face of nearly insurmountable odds, Nell finds strength in lasting friendships and in the rich inner life awakened by the novels she loves. She falls in love with John Flynn, a charming congressman who becomes a father figure for Hillyard. She teaches at the local school and volunteers at the public library, where she meets Stella Wheeler and her charismatic daughter Sally. She becomes a friend and confidant to many of the girls in town, including Arlene and Lark Erhardt. And no matter how difficult her day, Nell ends each evening with a beloved book.
The triumphant return of a great American storyteller, Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse celebrates the strength and resourcefulness of independent women, the importance of community, and the transformative power of reading.
Nell Stillman was such a wonderful woman, so kind and generous of heart, I was dismayed that so many people that she loved died, and that she had to struggle so much throughout her life. The prose in this novel is down home-style, as heartfelt and enthralling as the characters. Having lived in small towns in Iowa for the first 23 years of my life, I recognized the people who populated this novel, as if they were my own relatives, whom many of them resembled. My father was a teacher for many years, so I also recognize Nell's joy in being able to instill a love of reading in many generations of third graders, and pointing others toward the joys of Mr Wodehouse's witty and comic novels, among them the famed Bertie and Jeeves stories that were brought to life by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. My one tiny quibble with the novel is that we never find out who was writing Nell the vile notes over the years, especially when all signs pointed to Gus the German and then Sullivan puts us off the scent of that conclusion, only to not leave us with any more clues as to his or her identity. Still, other than that, this is what I consider the Great American Novel, one that tells the history of a town and its people in such a way that you fell that you could drive there and meet them all after reading the book. I couldn't put the book down, and I'd recommend this A+ novel to anyone who loves PG Wodehouse, the Midwest and excellent storytelling. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Amazon Opening a Bricks and Mortar Store? Plus Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, The Weight of Feathers by AnaMarie McLemore and Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

From the reporters at Shelf Awareness comes this distant early warning that Amazon may be opening a real bookstore in the U Village, where there once was a gloriously spacious and busy Barnes and Noble. 

Is Amazon opening a bookstore in Seattle's University Village?

For several years, U-Village, which is home to a huge Apple store and a Microsoft store, has been the rumored location of an Amazon retail operation, particularly since Barnes & Noble closed
46,000-square-foot store in the upscale shopping mall in the University District at the end of 2011. Some of the strongest speculation came in 2012, after B&N, Books-A-Million and Indigo said they would not carry Amazon Publishing titles. At the time, Good E-Reader called a possible U-Village Amazon store "a test to gauge the market and see if a chain of stores would be profitable. They intend on going with the small boutique route with the main emphasis on books from their growing line of Amazon Exclusives and selling their e-readers and tablets."

Now Shelf Awareness has learned that work is underway on a newly vacant spot in U-Village formerly occupied by Blue C Sushi, a storefront that, according to city work permits, will be occupied by a retailer named "Ann Bookstore." A source who works at U-Village said that the management has been unusually secretive about the new tenant and that it's rumored the site will house a bookstore. A management office employee who was asked when the Amazon bookstore would open said only that she didn't know the date. Also, the most likely local indie candidates to open such a store--University Book Store, Elliott Bay Book Company and Third Place Books--have all said they are not opening a store in U-Village.

In addition, Shelf Awareness has learned that the online retailer has
approached booksellers at independent stores in the Seattle area and
conducted interviews but didn't tell much about the jobs it was seeking to fill. (All potential hires signed very restrictive nondisclosure
agreements.) Amazon has recruited at least one relatively new bookseller for the "new initiative." The job pays $18 an hour, well above the typical pay scale for an entry-level bookseller. Amazon has also interviewed more experienced booksellers.

So the U-Village store is a major departure for Amazon: its first real
bricks-and-mortar venture, in a shopping center with other high-tech
retailers, featuring its own books and related products. It's also a way
to ensure that Amazon Publishing titles finally get onto at least one
bookstore's shelves.

I know this isn't specifically about books, but this series is such a joy that I think even old Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved it! I know that I am in great anticipation of this new season, which takes place in 19th Century England.
TV: SherlockTrailer>A new PBS trailer "provides some clues about Sherlock's
long-anticipated and well-guarded one-off special set in Victorian
times," reported. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman "trade in their modern trappings for a ghostly trip in the wayback machine to the 19th century, complete with deerstalker cap (for Holmes) and handlebar mustache (for Watson). The Sherlock special will also be released in theaters, but no PBS premiere date has been announced.

Rebel Mechanics is the first book in a delicious new YA Steampunk series that posits what would happen if the American colonies had never broken free from the British, due to the Brits having cornered the market on magic? Here's the blurb:It's 1888, and seventeen-year-old Verity Newton lands a job in New York as a governess to a wealthy leading family--but she quickly learns that the family has big secrets. Magisters have always ruled the colonies, but now an underground society of mechanics and engineers are developing non-magical sources of power via steam engines that they hope will help them gain freedom from British rule. The family Verity works for is magister--but it seems like the children's young guardian uncle is sympathetic to the rebel cause. As Verity falls for a charming rebel inventor and agrees to become a spy, she also becomes more and more enmeshed in the magister family's life. She soon realizes she's uniquely positioned to advance the cause--but to do so, she'll have to reveal her own dangerous secret. I became a fan of Verity, the protagonist, fairly quickly because she had what is usually so lacking in young female heroines of the past, common sense. She didn't immediately go haring off with the rebels just because one of their number was attractive and paid attention to her. She questions what is happening with the rebels and the magisters every step of the way, and she realizes that whatever she does for either side could lose her that which is most important to her, her job and her independence. She also reacts appropriately when she realizes that the rebels have been lying to her and manipulating/using her for their own ends. Again, she keeps a clear head and thinks it through. She still believes in the cause of a free America, even if she can't have a relationship with the handsome rebel mechanic Alec. Personally, I think that she and her employer are a better match anyway, but that's to be seen in future books by this wonderful author. The prose is bright and crisp, the plot steam-powered on all pistons and the characters beautifully rendered. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a rousing good Steampunk tale well told.

The Weight of Feathers by Ana Marie McLemore was not at all what I had assumed it would be after reading a review about it. This is a kind of re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, except the families are French and Spanish, and each are traveling performers of the old-fashioned variety, the kind who used to travel from town to town with shows every year and use the landscape of the town and the forests and streams as their theater. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:Like all Paloma girls, Lace was born with small escalas decorating her body, “a sprinkling of scales off a pale fish, a gift from the river goddess Apanchanej.” Life revolves around performing as sirenas in her itinerant family’s popular mermaid show, a tourist attraction rivaled only by that of their nemesis family, the Corbeaus, who have feathers instead of scales, and dance high in the trees. Superstition and a generations-old feud fuel hatred between the talented families, and when Cluck, a Corbeau, saves Lace during a chemical rainstorm caused by a nearby adhesive manufacturing plant, he unwittingly dooms Lace’s future with her family. McLemore’s prose is ethereal and beguiling, the third-person narration inflected with Spanish and French words and phrases that reflect the non-magical aspects of the Paloma and Corbeau heritage. The enchanting setup and the forbidden romance that blooms between these two outcasts will quickly draw readers in, along with the steady unspooling of the families’ history and mutual suspicions in this promising first novel.Like the Night Circus, which it has been compared to, there's magic and romance and gorgeous prose woven throughout this beautiful tale. The plot has as many twists and turns as a river, and yet the riveting characters and the luxurious prose kept me turning pages until I'd read the book in one sitting. Though I of course know what happens to most Romeo and Juliet stories, I was still so beguiled by this unique retelling that I was breathless by the final act, because I feared for Lace and Cluck's lives.The only minor quibble that I didn't understand or like about the book was Cluck's refusal to stand up to his "brother" Dax, who physically abused him every day. Why he never fought back and allowed this monster to break his bones was just beyond me. I sincerely hoped that someone would kill Dax by the end of the book, but what was better was that neither Cluck nor Lace died in the end, like Romeo and Juliet. Both families had cruel parents and relatives that seemed to delight in causing pain for others, which made me ill. Yet the beauty of the love between Lace and Cluck/Luc somehow transcended their painful pasts. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to those who loved the Night Circus and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy seemed like a novel that I would love from the outset, because it's about a fat teenager who enters a beauty pageant because she feels it's the right thing to do, to represent girls who don't look like cheerleaders or models. But though I was prepared to love Willadean and her sassy strength, I was disappointed by her inability to let herself be loved. Here's the blurb: 
For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell comes this powerful novel with the most fearless heroine—self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson—from Julie Murphy, the acclaimed author of Side Effects May Vary. With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.
Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . .  until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.  
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all. Though I liked that Will was able to stand up to her mother in regards to her weight and consistently refuse to diet or exercise just to become a "regular" pageant contestant, I kept wondering where that defiance and confidence went every time she tried to have a relationship with the hot basketball player Bo Larson. She kept going on and on about how she was comfortable in her own body and wasn't going to change it, but then whenever Bo touched her, she'd freak out and act like she hated herself and wanted to run and hide for fear of being shunned or made fun of if anyone saw her as Bo's girlfriend. It just didn't add up. She was brave and strong one minute and weak and cowardly the next. Bizarre. I know what it is like to be a fat teenager and be made fun of every single day of junior high and high school, and I don't recall it being that easy to just tell the jerks to shove off when they started in on you or a friend. I didn't really have larger sized friends who would stand up for me as Will does, though, and while my group of drama nerd friends were kind to me, most were afraid of being bullied for being seen as supportive of me. Perhaps things have changed since the 70s, though, and I imagine Texas and Iowa don't have a lot in common, either. Still, there were just more than a few parts of this novel that didn't ring quite true to me. I'd give it a B, for that reason, and though the prose was decent and the plot a bit wiggly but not slow, I'd recommend it to Southern gals who might enjoy a YA novel about learning to be yourself and love the skin you're in.