Saturday, November 21, 2015

Penguin Hotline, Prarie Lights Wins Best Bookstore, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin and Winter by Marissa Meyer

This is a great idea by Penguin, giving book lovers and friends of book lovers a place to call in case they need holiday book gift ideas. 

Penguin Hotline Returns, with a Few Tweaks
For the second year in a row, Penguin is operating the Penguin Hotline
service for consumers modeled on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Hundreds of Penguin employees will be on call to recommend books to anyone who is trying to find the right book
to give as a gift. The advisers will recommend a range of titles by all
publishers, not just from Penguin Random House. The hotline opened
yesterday and will operate through December 21.

In contrast to last year's inaugural effort
hotline is starting earlier (last year it launched on the Monday after
Thanksgiving), and the company is making a more concentrated effort to
spread the word on social media. The hotline has an expanded website and
did more research during the year so it can increase the number of
requests it can handle.

Last year, requests ranged "from a Dad interested in conspiracy theories
and aliens to a cousin with a passion for shrimp farming; from a good
friend going through a rough break-up to a woman who wondered what to
buy for the man who bagged her groceries."

Penguin said the response from users was "overwhelmingly positive." One
said, "I was somewhat skeptical when I submitted the information, but am
really surprised and thrilled to be given such interesting titles. It's
going to be make it so much easier to fill my son's stocking this year!"

I love that this one small bookstore in Iowa continues to reign supreme in a state full of readers and writers. Well done, Prairie Lights!

Prairie Lights in Iowa Again Wins 'Best Bookstore'

Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City, Iowa,has again been named the Best Bookstore of the Year
by the Iowa City Press-Citizen in its 2015 best of Johnson County
series, chosen by readers. The paper wrote:

"In the City of Literature, Prairie Lights is the top pick in this
category once again. The store is known for a diverse selection of books
for adults and children, and for hosting readings by notable authors.
'Live from Prairie Lights' is an internationally known readings series,
featuring some of the best up-and-coming and well-established authors
and poets from all over the globe. The readings are presented before a
live audience and streamed over the Internet. Check out 'Paul's Corner'
on the website for unique selections from book buyer Paul Ingram

Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin (a woman, in case you were wondering), is the first book I've gotten from a subscription YA book service called Uppercase. They curate YA books, putting sticky notes with secret code words that have to be unlocked online in each chapter, and they also make sure subscribers have a signed bookplate or a signed book, in addition to other bookish items, like a blank notebook, an author's quote illustrated to hang on your wall and a keychain with a kitty sitting on a pile of books. While I'm not sure that all the peripheral stuff was really worth the $35 subscription price for one month, I did find value in the book itself, which was an alternate-history paranormal spy thriller. Here's the blurb:
Her story begins on a train.
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's ball in Tokyo.
Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele's twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move.
But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission?
From the author of The Walled City comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.
I agree with the blurb that the novel was fast-paced, because the prose, which was clean, crisp and beautifully rendered kept me reading right through to the end of the fascinating plot. The ending was a bit of an anti-climax, however, in that readers don't really receive closure for the protagonist, Yael. Still, if there are sequels to be had, I will gladly pick them up, knowing that I will get a good strong story with a female protagonist who doesn't become stupid the instant a boy comes into her life. Graudin has obviously done her homework on WWII and Operation Valkyrie, which sought to kill Hitler (and failed) but signaled to some that the tide was turning for the Nazis. Though the fate of the children who were experimented on in concentration camps was not to become shapeshifters (most were killed and cremated), the idea that the horrors of the experiments bore fruit years later isn't too far fetched. I was horrified and fascinated by Yael's description of her time in the concentration camps, the people she met there and those that she loved who became "wolves" tattooed on her arms in remembrance. I'd give this book a solid A, and recommend it to anyone interested in alternative history and YA fiction.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan was another book sent to me by the Ace/Roc Stars program for free, in exchange for an honest review. The book itself has been compared to the Wheel of Time series, as it's a huge tome, nearly 600 pages long. Epic fantasy, like George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series is generally not my bag, for starters, because there's too many battles, blood and gore, and too much political yammering, which bores me to tears. I am also one of those readers who needs to have a protagonist whom I can empathize with, care about a hope for in their quest throughout the novel. A number of epic fantasies of late don't provide that, or they are "dark" fantasies, too mired in horror to have anything but despicable characters whom the reader doesn't really care about or wish to see succeed. Fortunately, Ryan's epic fantasy provides us with a powerful and brilliant protagonist in Vaelin Al Sorna, whom we meet when he's just a child of 10 being dropped off at the gates of what is, in essence, military school, called the Sixth Order. Here's the blurb:
“The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm."
 Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order—a caste devoted to battle. Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate and dangerous life of a warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.
Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the Unified Realm—and Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright knows no bounds. Even his cherished memories of his mother are soon challenged by what he learns within the Order.
But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the Realm, but the world. From Publisher's Weekly:Ryan hits all the high notes of epic fantasy—a gritty setting, ancient magics, ruthless intrigue, divided loyalties, and bloody action—in this originally self-published launch title for the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. When 10-year-old Vaelin Al Sorna is delivered by his father, Battle Lord to King Janus, to the House of the Sixth Order, Vaelin is told that he has “no family now save the Order.” Although the Sixth Order is charged with smiting its enemies, particularly servants of the Dark, Vaelin sympathizes with the heretic rebel Deniers. Through years of brutal training, Vaelin endures and rises as a leader among his fellow students. Along the way, he also learns that giving him to the Order was his late mother’s idea, and that she hoped to protect him—but from what, he has no idea. Hints of a long-lost Seventh Order and questions about King Janus and the Dark cause Vaelin to question his loyalties. Ryan balances brisk action with tangled intrigue in this promising debut.
 Vaelin's journey is the heroes journey, and yet his character is so well drawn that he overcomes the cliches of an epic fantasy hero and becomes a thoughtful man who desires peace and truly cares for a young healer and for his brothers in arms from the Sixth Order. I found that I was able to skim through the battle descriptions and the political bits without causing a ripple in my reading experience, and I was still able to enjoy the interplay of the characters and their world. For some reason, this book and Vaelin reminded me more of Harry Potter than it did GRRM's Jon Snow. Granted, the life of a soldier is much harder physically than the life of a wizard, but there's much of the same growing pains and learning and creating a family of the people around you as there is in the HP series. There is a strong theme of religious persecution/tolerance running throughout the book, with Vaelin realizing early on that to kill a group of people because they believe in different gods than you do is wrong, and evil. There's a sequel to this book that I am looking forward to reading, though I need to set aside a chunk of time to do so, due to the number of pages. Still, I found the prose to be strong and sensitive while keeping the giant plot moving along at a stately pace. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes epic fantasy and coming of age stories.

Winter by Marissa Meyer is the 4th and final book in her Lunar Chronicles, and while I am still slightly disappointed in the "girly=stupid/ineffectual" cliches that bind some of the characters (Cress especially), I am delighted that there was a nice HEA at the end for those who have read the entire series. These books are clever science fiction/fairy tale hybrids that combine the stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White with a dystopian universe where an Evil Queen has taken over Luna (the moon) and is poised to take over Earth as well by forcing a marriage to the heir to the Empire, Prince Kai. Here's the blurb:
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend--the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.
Unfortunately, since Winter refuses to use her mental control powers, she's become mentally ill, with schizophrenic hallucinations and bizarre physical reactions that render her unable to do much of anything but spout nonsense. The only two characters who are able to get the job done are Cinder and Scarlet, with the help of their friends Iko the android and Jacin the palace guard (and Wolf, one of the mutated soldiers). Cress, though outlined as a really ditzy, stupid little blond gal who constantly seems to want to put her life into a drama that she can enact, actually is able to do something in this book by constantly messing with the computers and lights and security systems to help her friends. That is, when she's not hiding and cowering and mooning over Captain Carswell. Though both Scarlet and Cinder are bad ass women, they each require 'rescue' from a guy at one point or another, which takes away some of their power as heroines. The fact that each of the girls is "paired up" with a guy, and that their love interests are used against them repeatedly also puts an interesting spin on the romantic aspect of the fairy tales and their traditional endings.That said, Meyer's prose is sublime, her plots percolate at a lovely pace and her use of science fiction and a dystopian world to energize these old fairy tales is brilliant. I'd give this book an A, though it's over 800 pages long (which is something of a slog, even for bibliophiles), and recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in the series. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris Under Siege, A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E Sniegoski, Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson and Lightless by CA Higgins

This is a sad week for the world, as Paris has undergone serious terrorist attacks that have killed many and shaken the French people, as well as all the Americans who love them and their country. Here's an article that tells what happened and the reactions to it:

Meanwhile, I've been reading a number of books, one in particular that I'd heard many good things about called "Lightless" that really didn't live up to the hype, unfortunately.

I will start, however, with a book from my latest Ace/Roc mailing. I receive, every few months, a bag of ARC books from Ace/Roc publishers as part of their Rock Star reader program. The books are free in exchange for a fair review.
The first book I've read of the latest batch is A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E Sniegoski.
It is subtitled as "A Remy Chandler novel" and, as a supernatural noir fantasy, the protagonist lives up to his name. Here's the blurbage:
Generations ago, angel Remiel chose to renounce heaven and live on Earth. He found a place among ordinary humans by converting himself into Boston P.I. Remy Chandler, but he can never tell anyone who he was or that he still has angelic powers. Remy can will himself invisible, speak and understand any foreign language (including any animal language), and hear the thoughts of others. All these secret powers come in handy for a private investigator, especially when the Angel of Death goes missing and he’s assigned to find him. As he gets deeper into the investigation, he realizes this is not a missing persons case but a conspiracy to destroy the human race and only Remy has the powers to stop the forces of evil.  Publisher's Weekly "Tightly focused and deftly handled, this adult debut from YA and comic book author Sniegoski (The Fallen) covers familiar ground in entertaining new ways. The angel Remiel wanders the Earth in human form as private investigator Remy Chandler, experiencing the mortal life while indulging his fondness for the trappings of noir. When the Angel of Death vanishes, Heaven hires Chandler to find him as well as a missing set of scrolls that could bring about the apocalypse. Sniegoski's choice to frame this high concept with a straight noir detective tale grounds the world for the reader and highlights the mystical elements. Chandler's dog, Marlowe, written with a humorous but heartfelt voice, shows off Chandler's ability to talk to animals and provides some charming comic relief. Fans of urban fantasy and classic detective stories will enjoy this smart and playful story." 
This novel reminded me a lot of a cross between Harry Dresden and Mouse from the Dresden Files, Atticus Sullivan and Oberon from The Iron Druid Chronicles with some Raymond Chandler mystery thrown in for good measure. Remy is an angel on the outside, just trying to help people and live a life of his choosing, away from the politics of the various levels of Angels who seem rather petty and jealous for heavenly beings. I kept wondering why God didn't just step in and say "KNOCK IT OFF!" when they all started battling for forgiveness and the favor of returning to God's side. Why, if you were trying to get back to a loving and forgiving God, who was very enamored of the humans he'd made, would you try to kill all of humankind and then go after all the angels who didn't agree with your genocide? Where is there loving God in that equation? That's why I thought the theology seemed a bit wobbly in places here, but I can also see that based on the Bible, you might think angels in general were not tame and kind beings. Still, Remy's love of his fragile human wife, who is elderly and dying, and his love of his goofy dog Marlowe are sincere and beautiful and redeeming. The prose is utilitarian and the plot fairly predictable, but the novel itself is fun and interesting, with a cast of characters, such as Lazarus and the Angel of Death, who are fascinating. "Kiss" deserves an A and a recommendation to Dresden and Druid fans alike.

I also received an ARC of Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson from William Morrow Publishers, and I devoured it in 12 hours. I've read Robson's "Somewhere in France" and the sequel "After the War is Over" and I thoroughly enjoyed both, which were well written and engaging. Moonlight takes place in 1924, years after the Great War, when everyone is trying to rebuild and Paris society is rife with Lost Generation authors and artists. Here's the blurb:
An aristocratic young woman leaves the sheltered world of London to find adventure, passion, and independence in 1920s Paris in this mesmerizing story from the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France and After the War is Over.
Spring, 1924
Recovering from a broken wartime engagement and a serious illness that left her near death, Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr vows that for once she will live life on her own terms. Breaking free from the stifling social constraints of the aristocratic society in which she was raised, she travels to France to stay with her free spirited aunt. For one year, she will simply be Miss Parr. She will explore the picturesque streets of Paris, meet people who know nothing of her past—and pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
A few years after the Great War’s end, the City of Light is a bohemian paradise teeming with actors, painters, writers, and a lively coterie of American expatriates who welcome Helena into their romantic and exciting circle. Among them is Sam Howard, an irascible and infuriatingly honest correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Dangerously attractive and deeply scarred by the horror and carnage of the war, Sam is unlike any man she has ever encountered. He calls her Ellie, sees her as no one has before, and offers her a glimpse of a future that is both irresistible and impossible.
As Paris rises phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, so too does Helena. Though she’s shed her old self, she’s still uncertain of what she will become and where she belongs. But is she strong enough to completely let go of the past and follow her heart, no matter where it leads her?
Artfully capturing the Lost Generation and their enchanting city, Moonlight Over Paris is the spellbinding story of one young woman’s journey to find herself, and claim the life—and love—she truly wants. 
Helena's journey is an interesting one, and though I thought Helena rather wimpy a great deal of the time, I think she was a product of her family background, which was aristocratic isolation, and naive introversion that made her question herself as a person and an artist. Ellie, as Helena likes to be called, eventually began to grow a spine and became much less mousy throughout the book, and I loved it when she began to stand up for herself and for her artwork. The cadre of fellow young artists who become her friends were also fascinating, and Paris in the 20s was it's own character, the City of Light shining like a jewel. Ellie's beau Sam seemed a lot like his friend Hemingway, yet he was a softer, kinder man than Hemingway ever was. I was delighted by "meeting" Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company, and Gertrude Stein, as well as learning about the smells, tastes and sensations of that era. Certainly worthy of an A, I'd recommend this delightful novel to fans of the Roaring 20s, the Lost Generation and Paris at a time when it was the center of the Universe.

I paid full price for a hardback copy of Lightless by CA Higgins, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have waited for the book to come out in paperback, or borrowed a copy from the library. Here's the blurb:
With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

First of all, Gagnon and Domitian are the other two crew members of the Ananke, and when Ivan and Mattie Gale illegally board the ship, put a virus into her computer system and try to take over, Althea manages to keep the ship running, though she's being sabotaged right and left. Then Ida Stays boards the ship to interrogate Ivan and Mattie about their ties to an uber terrorist, and Ivan somehow manages to manipulate and murder just about everyone, all while he's chained to a chair in an interrogation room. I found his character nearly impossible to believe, and while I am sure we're supposed to have sympathy for rich-kid-turned thief and terrorist Ivan, I thought he was nothing but a lying murderous bastard who should have been shot a third of the way into the book. He and his best friend Mattie (SPOILER ALERT) end up murdering nearly everyone on board, and then blowing up Earth and murdering its people, all in the name of "freedom" (freedom for them and their murdering traitor scumbag friends). Althea should have shot Mattie and Ivan when they tried to escape, instead, she wimps out because she's "tired" (pullease! After they murder her crew and everyone on earth? Nothing would keep me from justice at that point, if it were me). Althea also needs to turn off the meglomaniac computer on Ananke and drive the darned thing to the nearest System station and abandon ship. Insane computers with delusions of godhood aren't going to be worth much of anything to anyone, because it will be too busy trying to figure out ways to get everyone to bow down to its superior self.  But really, nobody gets what they want in this depressing social science fiction novel that spends way too much time on politics and trying to justify terrorism. The prose is disciplined and the plot spins out of control a couple of times, but for the most part, I didn't find anyone to like in the book, or anyone whom I could understand and empathize with. I didn't find the novel at all deeply moving, I found it depressing and frustrating.  I'd give it a C+, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of HAL from the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

KCLS Wins Sorting Smackdown, Bodhi Tree Reopens, Liaden Universe Loses a Fan, Against a Brightening Sky by Jamie Lee Moyer, and Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo

Yes! West Coast librarians are the best! Here's a lovely article from Shelf Awareness about the Top Gun competition between the New York Public Library and Seattle's King County Library System. KCLS beat them all to heck, of course!
Sorting Smackdown': Seattle Librarians Beat NYC
Seattle's King County Library System materials warehouse staff avenged last year's loss to
their New York Public Library counterparts in a "sorting smackdown"
yesterday to see who could sort the most books in an hour. The Seattle
Times reported that the KCLS team became the 2015 National Library
Sorting Champion with 12,572 books, topping the NYPL's 12,371. With the
win, KCLS regained the overall lead in the annual series, 3-2.

Tony Miranda, manager of materials distribution at KCLS, "gave his staff
a quick early-morning pep talk and off they went, hustling from 9-10
a.m. sorting more than 200 books a minute," the Seattle Times wrote.
After the results were tallied, he told his staff, "I know everybody
wants to have a break, and I'm happy to say you deserve this break,
because we won! I can go home and be a normal person again."

Last week, as his NYPL team prepared for the contest, deputy director of
BookOps Salvatore Magaddino told the New York Times that he planned to
"crank up the Rocky theme song and deliver a pep talk" before the contest, adding: "The adrenaline
is outta control."

YAY, Bodhi Tree Bookstore is back! My friend and neighbor Janine Ferrell used to work at this august institution, and I was so saddened to hear of its closing.

The Bodhi Tree bookstore>, the iconic New Age store in West Hollywood, Calif., that closed in 2012
returning, according to an e-mail from new owner Stephen Powers and the Bodhi Tree team, which includes former customers of the store. Powers said that Bodhi Tree founders Stan Madson and Phil Thompson are acting as advisers. "Our whole team is excited to once again bring you spiritual education and life-optimization with authors and teachers that made us your home of discovery and awakening since 1970."

The reincarnation of Bodhi Tree begins with an online store, "with all
your favorite books and greatly expanded lifestyle and sacred home
categories." After that, Bodhi Tree will open a bricks-and-mortar store, "a new, accessible retail location in Los Angeles, which is in the
planning stages." Bodhi Tree will also publish a journal and produce
"transformational media."  

This past week has been horrible, for many reasons, not the least of which was a targeted attack of bullying toward me from the authors of the Liaden Universe books, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Because I have a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying and harassment, I was forced to sever all ties with the Liaden Universe online, such as their several FB pages, the author pages and their listserve, which I've been a member of for many years. I don't make this decision lightly, and to be honest, their hostile behavior toward me makes no sense at all, as I've done nothing that I can think of, to create such icy disdain. I've bought all their books, read and reviewed them as wonderful, I borrowed their chapbooks from a now-deceased gentleman named Craig who used to live nearby in Kent, and I have talked up the Liaden Universe and its authors far and wide. I've actually given away several copies of their work to fellow SF geeks, who are now fans of the Liaden Universe.  Lee and Miller do space opera like no others, and their characters are brilliant, charming and their stories engaging. The only beef that I can possibly think that they might have with me is that I didn't contribute to their "storyteller's bowl" (ie donate money) for the Splinter Universe, nor did I add any monthly income to their Patreon account. I am unable to do so because we live on one income in my household, both my husband and I have expensive medical issues, and by the end of the month, our budget is stretched to the breaking point. So whatever their problem it's going to have to remain their problem, because I have no time to be anyone's whipping boy/grrl. Therefore I won't be reading or reviewing any Liaden books, or fantasy novels by Sharon Lee, from here onward. I wish them success in the future. 

Against a Brightening Sky by Jamie Lee Moyer is the third and final book of Moyer's WW1 ghost-busting mystery stories, which began with the wonderful Delia's Shadow. "Sky" takes place a year after the war has ended, and there are plenty of refugee Russian nobility, revolutionaries, union organizers and necromancers to keep even the most adventurous of readers turning pages. Here's the blurb:
By 1919 the Great War has ended, peace talks are under way in Paris, and the world has been forever changed. Delia Martin, apprentice practitioner of magical arts, and her husband, Police Captain Gabriel Ryan, face the greatest challenge of their lives when fragments from the war descend on San Francisco.
As Delia prepares to meet friends at a St. Patrick's Day parade, the strange ghost of a European princess appears in her mirror. Her pleasant outing becomes a nightmare as the ghost reappears moments after a riot starts, warning her as a rooftop gunman begins shooting into the crowd. Delia rushes to get her friends to safety, and Gabe struggles to stop the killing-and to save himself.
Delia and Gabe realize all the chaos and bloodshed had one purpose-to flush Alina from hiding, a young woman with no memory of anything but her name.
As Delia works to discover how the princess ghost's secrets connect to this mysterious young woman, and Gabe tracks a ruthless killer around his city, they find all the answers hinge on two questions: Who is Alina...and why can't she remember?
Against a Brightening Sky is the thrilling conclusion to Jaime Lee Moyer's glittering historical fantasy series.
Moyer's prose is sturdy and yet flows gracefully on the perfectly-timed plot that still has more twists and turns than the streets of San Francisco. Delia and Dora are both tested to the limits of their strength, however, trying to keep their friend Sadie's youngest son away from attacks by an old Russian necromancer bent on revenge. I found myself reading all of Moyer's Delia novels all the way through without cease because they're so gripping and fascinating. A look into post Great War era America was riveting stuff for anyone interested in the history of the time, and how it affected regular people. A definite A, with a recommendation to those supernatural/paranormal romance buffs who are also fans of history and mystery.

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo is a fascinating fictionalized account of the girl who supposedly survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 (by German U-boats) by floating on top of a grand piano. So the based on a true story part is somewhat established, and there are reproduced newspaper articles in the back that can give readers more information about the controversy surrounding the sinking of this grand passenger ship (The Germans claimed there were weapons aboard, the British and Americans claimed that it was passengers only) While supposedly a YA fiction book, Listen to the Moon is one of those timeless stories that adults can certainly read and enjoy just as easily as their teenage children. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
Morpurgo (War Horse) returns to a WWI setting with an emotional tale of wreck and recovery. The year is 1915. The Scilly Isles, north of Cornwall, are somewhat sheltered from the fighting that rages on the continent, but not completely. Alfie Wheatcroft and his father find a girl stranded on the isolated island of St. Helen's—she is unable to speak, on the edge of death, and wrapped in a blanket labeled "Wilhelm." Alfie and his family take her in, hoping to help her regain her speech, mind, and memories. The community, however, worries that she might be a German—possibly a spy, or just an enemy. In fact, "Lucy's" story is longer, stranger, and more traumatic than they could imagine, and she has good reason for her amnesia, elective mutism, and desperate fear of the water. A framing device, built around the research of Lucy's future grandson, allows Morpurgo to shift among multiple narrators as he unspools the mystery of where she came from. Along the way, Morpurgo offers powerful descriptions of shipwreck, mass drowning, and devastation, as well as healing and growth.
Lucy, though mute, communicates well with her adoptive family, and their warm Irish heritage and open-hearted attitude toward her makes all the difference in saving the girl's life. The beauty of the landscape, the crazy "pirate" uncle and the difficulty of fitting in when you're different are all addressed here. The prose is lyrical and the plot swift, thought the multiple POV sometimes gets in the way a bit. I was charmed by Lucy/Merry and the whole Wheatcroft clan. The ending, while nicely tied up, was a bit too perfect, but I'd still prefer too good to no decent resolution at all. Listen to the Moon is worthy of an A, and I'd recommend it to historical fantasy buffs and those who like a good "Lost" style story. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Amazon Bookstore Opens, Call Me Ishmael Phone, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin and Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

There's been quite a kerfuffle over Amazon, the online retailing behemoth, opening a bricks and mortar store here in Seattle. Amazon has put a number of bookstores out of business, so for many, this seems like yet another strike against independent bookstores and the important role they play in the community. From what I've been able to gather, the store is actually more geared toward getting people to buy Amazon's e-reading devices, and that they've got a paucity of books on the shelves that seem to be more for show than anything.The following is from Shelf Awareness, who also got some indie bookstore reactions to the opening.

A Visit to Amazon Books

Isn't it ironic that Amazon started 20 years ago offering the millions
of titles a physical bookstore couldn't, and its first bookstore has
mere thousands of titles on its shelves? The newly opened Amazon Books
is a small space that stocks fewer titles than most other bookstores. It
is sleek and elegant, and its literal bricks-and-mortar fa├žade
fits nicely in the upscale University Village neighborhood. But at its
grand opening, the store seems to have embraced the showroom culture
that the company initially developed by foisting it upon competitors.

With news cameras rolling, the store opened at 9:30 a.m. yesterday,
after a line had formed outside. When the doors opened, a handful of
people applauded, several of whom turned out to be Amazon employees.

In many ways the store feels like a late-era Borders: a clean, appealing
space, with a scant number of popular books on the shelves, faced out
for greater visibility, while the center of the store is devoted to
technology. Kindles are featured throughout the store, including Kids'
Fires displayed in the children's section and Kindles stationed in each
section for customers to "explore books in this aisle."

In the Seattle Times report on the store's opening, Jennifer Cast, v-p
of Amazon Books, stated that "we felt sorry for the books that were
spine out" in other stores. The solution? Stock fewer titles,
effectively eliminating those that would have been spine-out at more
robust bookshops.

Titles from the many imprints Amazon publishes are represented on the
shelves, though not prominently or overwhelmingly. Notably, Penny
Marshall's memoir My Mother Was Nuts--which Amazon reportedly paid
$800,000 to publish--couldn't be found. For titles the store doesn't
stock, customers are encouraged to "check out our website."

Each of the mere 5,000-6,000 titles featured in the store rests in
stacks of roughly 10 copies, above an Amazon review shelf-talker and
barcode. Customers can use their mobile devices to check the price of
each item using the Amazon app, or carry the book to one of many
price-check stations throughout the store. This is necessary since books
in the store are priced as they are online, steeply discounted but
variably so.

In every way, Amazon has tried to package its online experience into a
bricks-and-mortar retail outlet, begging the question, why? For book
lovers, the appeal of exploring a favorite bookstore or a new one is the
adventure of finding something you might not have discovered otherwise.
Readers like to spend hours even in a small bookstore and still walk
away feeling like there is more to see next time. With its small
inventory and clinical approach to a bookshop aesthetic, Amazon Books
fails to cultivate that atmosphere of endless possibility. After an
hour, you've seen it all. For all the fanfare about Amazon's first
physical bookshop, Amazon customers might soon realize that it's just
easier to get it online. --Dave Wheeler
              **    **
Booksellers React to Amazon Books

"With only 5,000 titles in a space in which Waterstones would put over
10 times that number, it appears to be a tentative dip of the toe into
physical bookselling waters. Clearly, however, a skim of the bestsellers
away from true bookshops would be very damaging: we very much hope that
it falls flat on its face."

managing director of U.K. bookshop chain Waterstones, in the Bookseller

 "Seattle has some of the most concentrated competition for booksellers
in the country, both with other independents and with Amazon. The
University Book Store has already carved out a significant niche for
itself within the local community. We're as close to being a nonprofit
organization as you can get without being one; dollars spent at our
store support not only the University of Washington community through
scholarships and various educational programs but also greater Seattle.
We are a cultural hub that hosts more than 500 events a year, brings
more than 60 book fairs into Puget Sound schools, and supports a number
of literacy programs. People are smart--they know who their real
community partners are. We will continue to find new ways to serve our
community. It's in our DNA."

--Pam Cady, manager of general books, University Book Store, Seattle

I seriously want one of these. Even to just listen to it once. Such a GREAT idea!

Cool Idea of the Day: The Call Me Ishmael Phone

 A Kickstarter campaign has been launched for the Call Me Ishmael Phone
which creators Logan Smalley and Steph Kent describe as "a way for
readers around the world to leave voicemail messages about the books
they love. Thousands of bibliophiles have called and over a million
readers have listened to our library of stories, but until now, we've
only been able to share the stories online []

Call Me Ishmael Phone is a way to bring Ishmael's entire library to
booklovers in search of their next great read. We've hacked a replica of
a vintage payphone and created a new literary device that gives
libraries, independent bookstores and readers like you an entirely new
way to celebrate and discover great books."

The first beta test of the Call Me Ishmael Phone was at Avid Bookshop
features prominently in the Kickstarter video. Owner Janet Geddis said
Smalley is originally from Athens and "a few months ago, one of our
mutual friends (former mayor Heidi Davison, a longtime Avid supporter
and someone famous for many things, including painting Avid's bathroom
when we were setting up shop!) introduced me to Logan via e-mail. I had
heard of Call Me Ishmael before and was interested to hear about this
mysterious new project he wanted to share with me."

She asked Smalley if he would be interested in joining her bookshop team
for a staff meeting. "At Avid that afternoon during our meeting, he told
us all about the Call Me Ishmael phone," Geddis recalled. "We could
hardly hold back our enthusiasm. Later that week, he brought in a
prototype and let my customers and employees try it out while he
gathered feedback and even filmed some folks using the phone.  

"In any case, I really feel strongly about this and am wanting to let my
indie bookseller friends know about it. It's not gimmicky, and it's
totally worth people's time to watch the video even if they have no
ability to contribute monetarily. All of us at Avid have watched the
video and looked at the Kickstarter page, and not one of us avoided
getting goosebumps. That speaks volumes to me." 

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is November's book in my library book group. It is quite a huge tome, and I'd imagine it is considered "literary fiction" because of its scope. However, I found it difficult to get into, and I almost gave up on reading it after page 50, and then again around page 129. But I persevered, and I finally finished it this past week. Here's a blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
The implacable hand of fate, and the efforts of a quiet, reclusive man to reclaim two young sisters from their harrowing past, are the major forces at play in this immensely affecting first novel. In a verdant valley in the Pacific Northwest during the early years of the 20th century, middle-aged Talmadge tends his orchards of plum, apricot, and apples, content with his solitary life and the seasonal changes of the landscape he loves. Two barely pubescent sisters, Jane and Della, both pregnant by an opium-addicted, violent brothel owner from whom they have escaped, touch Talmadge’s otherwise stoic heart, and he shelters and protects them until the arrival of the girls’ pursuers precipitates tragic consequences. Talmadge is left with one of the sisters, the baby daughter of the other, and an ardent wish to bring harmony to the lives entrusted to his care. Coplin relates the story with appropriate restraint, given Talmadge’s reserved personality, and yet manages to evoke a world where the effects of two dramatic losses play out within a strikingly beautiful natural landscape. In contrast to the brothel owner, Michaelson, the other characters in Talmadge’s community—an insightful, pragmatic midwife; a sensitive Nez Perce horse trader; a kindly judge—conduct their lives with dignity and wisdom. When Della fails to transcend the psychological trauma she’s endured, and becomes determined to wreak revenge on Michaelson, Talmadge turns unlikely hero, ready to sacrifice his freedom to save her. But no miracles occur, as Coplin refuses to sentimentalize. Instead, she demonstrates that courage and compassion can transform unremarkable lives and redeem damaged souls. In the end, “three graves side by side,” yet this eloquent, moving novel concludes on a note of affirmation. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment.
 If you get the idea that this is something of a depressing book, you're right. I kept hoping that Della would kill Michaelson, because the horrible pedophilic bastard deserved it, but in the end, he just dies because he's sick with some disease (probably an STD).  Della falls to her death in an accident, and Jane's daughter is left to care for Talmadge until his death. The air of melancholy and pain in this book is almost too much to take, but the prose is often stellar, which makes up for it, in a sense. It would have been nice to know that the daughter of these two ill fated women had a wonderful and productive life, but we never get to know that. I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to anyone who isn't depressed or stressed, as this book will send you over the edge if you are either one.
Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner is a short novel that won Wallace the Little, Brown Publisher's literary prize of $2,500 in 1937, which was a huge sum back then. It is a taut little novel, filled with the glorious prose Stegner's noted for, but still rather sad overall. Here's the blurb:
Margaret Stuart, the proud wife of a prosperous Iowa farmer, sets high standards for herself and others. Happy in her marriage, she tries to look the other way when her genial husband, Alec, takes to the bottle. When Elspeth, Margaret's sister, comes to live with them, the young woman is immediately captivated by the beauty and vitality of the farm, and by the affection she receives from those around her. But as summer turns into fall, and the friendship between Alec and Elspeth deepens, Margaret finds her spirit tested by a series of events that seem as cruel and inevitable as the endless prairie winters.
Long out of print, Remembering Laughter (1937) marked Wallace Stegner's brilliant literary debut.
I couldn't resist a book about Iowa farmers, of course, but I was unaware that there were dutch/norwegian farming families in Iowa, as most of the farmers I knew were of German or Irish or Scottish heritage. The horrible effects of guilt and shame and love are all on display here, except they're seen as enervating, depressing and as removing all the life and laughter (and body weight) from the two sisters. Yet for some reason, Alec, the husband who starts all of this, and impregnates his wife's sister, gets something of a free pass. He doesn't become a dessicated, dried up horror dressed in black mourning clothing. He goes on about his life, perpetuating the lie that the son born to his sister in law is actually his nephew, and that his wife and sister in law are the boy's aunts. I felt this was unfair at the least. He was the one who seduced the younger sister, if he was so unhappy with his harpy of a wife, who only seemed to care for how everything "looked" to society, then he should have divorced her and married the younger sister. Keeping the secret of his conception and birth just poisoned the whole household, and the boy figured it out before he left home anyway. But this could all be how things were done in the 30s, I don't know. I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in Stegner's early prose.