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. 

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