Saturday, October 03, 2015

Brooks in a Bookstore, Daniel Handler Handles Big Donation, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley and The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I am a fan of author Geraldine Brooks, whose historical fiction book on the plague was fantastic. I've read several other books she's written, and when I came across this quote, I had to laugh because I think that booksellers deal with this kind of query every day without batting an eyelash. 
"When I was writing my first book, Nine Parts of Desire, I had a lot of
trouble staying put in my study and getting on with it. I was living in
Hampstead, London, at the time and I would procrastinate in every way I could think of. One of my favorite ways was to go to the local bookstore and just stand there, surveying the shelves, smelling the scent of new books, fingering the covers. Thinking, 'I'll have a book here soon.'
Then I would realize, 'Hmmm, if that's the case I'd better go home and get on with writing it.' I fell in love with that store because it motivated me so much.
 "The oddest thing that's happened was after that book came out. I was in New York City, standing in line at the register. The woman in front of me was saying, 'Do you have Six Portions of Pleasure? Oh, no, wait: maybe it was called Five Shares of Lust?' I was dying inside, wondering which was worse, outing myself, or letting a potential sale go by. The bookseller, bless her, didn't even look up. 'You want Nine Parts of Desire,' " she said, and pointed the woman to the relevant shelf."
-Author Geraldine Brooks, in a q&a with Brazos Bookstore

It's no secret that my mother has worked as Planned Parenthood volunteer since the 1960s. When Republicans started spreading lies in order to defund Planned Parenthood, I was shocked and horrified at this blatant misogyny. Then I read about people giving to PP to help them stay afloat, which restored my faith in at least one part of humanity.
Wow. Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, and his wife, children's book author and illustrator Lisa Brown, are giving $1 million to Planned Parenthood. In a tweet, theyexplained: "We've been very fortunate, and good fortune should be shared with noble causes." House Republicans want to cut federal aid to Planned Parenthood, and some are threatening to shut down the government unless this happens. Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million a year in federal aid, mostly from Medicaid, which goes to providing a range of health care services for mostly lower-income women such as screening and treating infections and STDs and birth control, but not abortions. 

I've just finished three historical books, two Steampunk and one set in 1910-1917 America. The first of these, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley is actually a gay romance novel in a Steampunk setting. Here's the blurb: 
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

I realize that readers are supposed to think "Thaniel" (short for Nathaniel) is a great guy, because he's trying to help save lives. But I just thought he was a rather dim fellow who was easily manipulated by Mori, who obviously wanted him as a lover and was set on getting him any way possible, and who treated Grace rather poorly by not telling her he was in love with Mori and was gay, so that she wouldn't be expecting to have a real romantic/sexual relationship with him that would produce children. I also didn't think Mori was all that kind. He seemed to be more of an evil genius whose clairvoyance was used mainly for him to get what he wanted via other people (he was very sneaky and cruel in the way he went about it, too). Meanwhile Grace seems ill used at every turn, when her experiments don't work out, and no one seems to be willing to help her, and her marriage turns out to be a sham, and her parents are both horrible people, I didn't blame her for doing what she did to try and get rid of Mori, whom she was sure was going to rig the future so that she'd be killed (so he could have Thaniel). I feel that if you are going to rewrite history to make a Steampunk novel, you could at least let women get a leg up and become whatever they want to be, whether it be scientists or government spies. Though the prose was crisp and the plot moved swiftly, as stated above, I was dissatisfied with the characters and the sexism in this novel, which was written by a woman.  I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to anyone interested in gay male relationships and Steampunkish London populated by Asians and one very cool mechanical octopus.

The sequel to Jackaby, Beastly Bones by William Ritter is another Steampunk novel that combines Sherlock Holmes-style mystery with magic and the supernatural to form a rousing adventure. Here's the blurb: 
In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural.First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.Beastly Bones, the second installment in the series, delivers the same quirky humor and unforgettable characters as Jackaby, the book the Chicago Tribune called “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” 
Beastly Bones reads like a YA Steampunk novel, mainly because the characters, Abigail and Jackaby are drawn with such a broad brush that they're almost cartoon-like characters. That's actually part of the fun, however, and reading about the crazy people they encounter, the magical creatures and the odd artifacts keeps readers turning the pages long into the night. The prose is sleek and the plot zips by on greased rails. I'm reminded of Alan Bradley's Flavia DeLuce series of mysteries, which are such a joy to read they're addictive. I love that Charlie and Abigail have a budding romance, and that Jackaby is such a fashion disaster, along the lines of the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker, from Doctor Who, the British TV series. I'd give this fun novel an A and recommend it to those who are fans of Steampunk, Sherlock Holmes and Supernatural.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz was a novel that I was looking forward to reading because it was about a girl who loves books, and grows up on a farm being worked to death by her father and her brothers. Having hailed from Iowa myself, (both of my grandparents owned farms) I know how hard farmwork is, and how grueling it can be for one person to try to keep house for several men.  But what I loved about Joan/Janet is that she refused to let her life be taken over by drudgery, and after finding out that her father burned her books (something that would have sent me into a rage as well) Joan sets off in search of her destiny. Here's the blurb:
Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.
Though Janet's journal is full of teenage angst (and it comforts me to realize that teenagers, no matter the era, are always melodramatic and lovelorn, full of sighs and crushes and ill-fated schemes) it is also full of kind-hearted optimism and innocence. Readers can really see Janet growing up and learning to deal with Jewish people, her own Catholic faith and the changing world around her. I loved the Rosenbach family, and Malka, their aged Jewish servant who, though something of a crumudgeon, still manages to help Janet at the final hour and loves her like her own child, though she's a gentile. Ever more sophisticated prose helps the whirlwind plot come to a satisfying conclusion, and, as stated above, the characters are wonderful and real. I'd give this book an A and recommend it to anyone who finds the era leading up to World War 1 interesting, and who wants a YA novel that will make you laugh, cry and think about the luxuries today's teens take for granted. 

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