Sunday, May 24, 2015

Third Place Books, Anthony Doerr, Words With Fiends by Ali Brandon, Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Lost Lake By Sarah Addison Allen and Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

I've visited Third Place Books more than a few times, and though it is in the snooty town of Ravenna, it has a funky, folksy feel to it that is enticing for bibliophiles and others. I am glad that Sher is as convinced of the permanency of real books as I am.

Ron Sher, owner of Third Place Books,with stores in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna, Wash., was interviewed by Crosscut
which noted that Sher "uses books to help build vital communities."
Among our favorite exchanges:
Can you speculate on the future of the book, and what that means for
stores like yours?
The book as we now know it will be with us for a very long time. Other
forms of reading and listening will most likely continue to grow as a
percentage of sales, but I feel growth will be much slower than in the
past. It will be interesting to see what happens when my generation
passes on. Will we be replaced by book readers or digital readers? For
me, browsing in a book store will always be much more thrilling than
browsing on line.

I loved "All the Light We Cannot See" and have been thrilled that it's won so many accolades and awards. Doerr lays a lot of that success at the feet of the Indie bookstore and booksellers.
"Everything! This novel would not have reached one-tenth of the readers
it has without the support of independent booksellers. They are the ones
who have blogged about it, set it in shop windows, hosted me all over
the country, and put it into the hands of readers.

"As a short story writer, my books have always been the kind of books
that don't usually find readers unless a bookseller or librarian
recommends them. Everywhere I've gone in the States, from Washington,
D.C., to Bellingham, Washington, when readers tell me how they
discovered All the Light, they don't say it's because of an event I did,
or because the book won a prize, it's because a friend, librarian or
bookseller convinced them to give the novel a try."

--Anthony Doerr, this year's winner of the Indies Choice Book Award
(adult fiction category) for All the Light We Cannot See, in response to
Bookselling This Week's question: "What has the support of independent
booksellers meant to you?"

Words with Fiends by Ali Brandon was an impulse buy while I was grocery shopping at my local Fred Meyer store. The cover, with a cat surrounded by books seemed a good omen for the contents, and though there seems to be a plethora of mysteries solved by cats with librarian or bookstore owners, I figured it couldn't hurt to read this as a mental palate-cleanser between the other books on my TBR stacks.
Here's the blurb:
Brooklyn bookstore owner Darla Pettistone and her oversized black cat, Hamlet, have solved a few complicated capers. But after a recent brush with danger, Darla needs to get Hamlet out of a feline funk…Lately, Hamlet hasn’t been chasing customers or being his obnoxious self—something Darla surprisingly misses. Concerned, she hires a cat whisperer to probe Hamlet’s feline psyche and then decides to get out of her own funk by taking up karate to learn how to defend herself in case the need arises again.But when Darla finds her sensei dead at the dojo, it seems that even a master can be felled by foul play. Darla decides to investigate the matter herself, and the promise of a mystery snaps Hamlet out of his bad mood. After all, Darla may be the sleuth, but Hamlet’s got a black belt in detection…
The prose of this novel is somewhat awkward, and there are cliches running throughout, which make it easy to know what is coming next. Darla doesn't seem to be too bright, and she is too easily frightened to make a great detective. The surrounding characters are also cardboard cutouts, (the neglected, lost teenager who loves animals, the old, wise African-American bookstore manager, the private-investigator/cop best friend who doles out advice she never takes herself...seriously, you have only to watch the Hallmark Channel's mysteries with a bookstore owner to see all of this in action) but the novel trundles along anyway, to a conclusion that isn't as satisfying as it is expected. I'd give this cozy mystery a C+, and recommend it to those who want a fluff read that isn't at all demanding.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest is a graphic-novel-YA book hybrid, and was gien to me by my husband, who'd gotten a copy from Frank Shiers, a friend of ours who believed the book "inappropriate" for his 13 year old daughter. Having read this fascinating book in one sitting, I will have to find the time to tell Frank that he's wrong, and that if his daughter is anything like I was at her age, this book would thrill her and become a favorite.
Publisher's Weekly's blurb is better than the regular one:
Back in fifth grade, best friends May and Libby created Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine who wears Converse sneakers with her ball gown. Ever since Libby and her mother died in a freak accident, May’s life has been as gray as her Seattle home—until the 16-year-old spots a Princess X sticker in a store window, leading her to a Princess X webcomic that suggests that Libby might still be alive. With the help of Trick, a hacker-for-hire, May follows the trail that Princess X’s near-mythic narrative leaves for her, which incorporates Seattle landmarks like the Fremont Troll and characters like the dangerous Needle Man and the mysterious, helpful Jackdaw. Illustrations from the Princess X comic—skillfully rendered by Ciesemier and printed in purple—add greatly to this techno-thriller’s tension. Fresh and contemporary, this hybrid novel/comic packs a lot of plot in a relatively short book, but its strongest suit may be Priest’s keen understanding of the chasmic gap between the way teens and adults engage in the landscape of the Internet.
Priest deftly weaves the story of Princess X in graphic novel panels throughout the book, while telling Libby and May's story from the beginning to the present day. Though there is a kidnapping and a murder, they're not gruesome and there's no pedophilia or sexuality on the part of any of the characters, so nothing inappropriate happens to scare off readers 12 and up. Jackdaw, the albino hacker is described as being gay, but it is only mentioned in how he's bullied out of high school, and I know that Frank has a friend in broadcasting who is a homosexual, so I can't imagine that is what is keeping him from giving his daughter this book. At any rate, I loved this book, which surprised me at it's fresh, Japanese-folktale-inspired prose and plot. I don't believe I've read more than a couple of Priest's adult SF/Fantasy books, because she tends toward horror fiction, which I dislike. Still, if she continues to write this quality of YA fiction, I plan on becoming a fan. A well-deserved A, and I'd recommend it to young teenage girls interested in manga and graphic novels.
Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison was recommended to me as a book about Iowa that was quirky and fun. Though it is never explicitly outlined as Iowa, the book does take place in the Midwest, probably in the 1960s or 1970s, at a publishing company that is supposed to be creating a line of educational children's literature from infants to grade school aged children. The protagonist, Margaret, is strange and has an internal dialog going throughout the book, commenting on her other bizarre office mates and on her own attempts to find love and a purpose. Here's the blurb: Margaret Lydia Benning, twenty-eight and adrift, still lives in the same Midwest town where she went to college. By day, she works at the Project, a nonprofit publisher of children's readers housed in a former sanatorium. There she shares the fourth floor with a squadron of eccentric editors and a resident ghost from the screamers' wing. At night, Margaret returns alone to her small house on Mott Street, with only her strange neighbor, Mrs. Eberline, for company. Emotionally sleepwalking through the days is no way to lead a life. But then Margaret meets Ben Adams, a visiting professor at the university. Through her deepening relationship with Ben she glimpses a future she had never before imagined, and for the first time she has hope . . . until Ben inexplicably vanishes. In the wake of his disappearance, Margaret sets out to find him. Her journey, a revelatory exploration of the separate worlds that exist inside us and around us, will force her to question everything she believes to be true.

Told through intertwined perspectives, by turns incandescent and haunting, Some Other Town is an unforgettable tale, with a heartbreaking twist, of one woman's awakening to her own possibility.
The meandering plot and the vague, almost drug-induced prose style hobbles this book by making it harder to read than it should be. Why, for example, Margaret can't call the police or stop her horrible, insane neighbor Mrs Eberline from continually trying to either burn down her house, steal everything she has or poison her is beyond understanding. Why she also insists on hiding the fact that all the women she works with are crazy and can't write or edit to save their lives is also confusing. There's even a woman who speaks through a puppet, just like the one on SouthPark, (or the many ventriloquists prior to her, such as Captain Kangeroo, or the wonderful Muppets of Sesame Street) and there's a brief mention of a puppet called "Floppy" which I assume is from the Duane Ellot and Floppy Show that I grew up watching when we lived in Des Moines, Iowa. In short, there's a lot of strangeness and weird characters who do a lot of bizarre things without any explanation. I assume this is meant to be amusing, but instead I found it frustrating.Which is why I'm giving this book a generous C, and I'd recommend it to those who find unhappy and weird characters interesting.
I could have sworn I'd read Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen before, but once I opened it up and began reading, I discovered that I didn't know the storyline at all.I've read all of Allen's other novels, and I've loved them all to a greater or lesser degree. Lost Lake is one of her best, fortunately, and as with her other books, replete with lovely prose, a swift plot and sterling characters. Here's the blurb:
The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.
That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband, George, is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.  It’s not quite enough to keep Eby from calling this her final summer at the lake, and relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand.
Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.
 Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness and heartbreak and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope, too, thanks to her resilient daughter, Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.
At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.
Though you can see the ending coming a mile off, it's a well-earned HEA, and the characters, so lovingly drawn, make the journey worthwhile. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoy magic realism and the books of MJ Rose and Alice Hoffman.
Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister is the second book in her Dorothy Parker's ghost series, and, as usual, it's full of hijinks and hilarity, heartbreak and witty sayings directly from the dead diva herself. Here's the blurb:
The acid-tongued Dorothy Parker is back and haunting the halls of the Algonquin with her piercing wit, audacious voice, and unexpectedly tender wisdom.
Heavenly peace? No, thank you. Dorothy Parker would rather wander the famous halls of the Algonquin Hotel, drink in hand, searching for someone, anyone, who will keep her company on this side of eternity.
After forty years she thinks she’s found the perfect candidate in Ted Shriver, a brilliant literary voice of the 1970s, silenced early in a promising career by a devastating plagiarism scandal. Now a prickly recluse, he hides away in the old hotel slowly dying of cancer, which he refuses to treat. If she can just convince him to sign the infamous guestbook of Percy Coates, Dorothy Parker might be able to persuade the jaded writer to spurn the white light with her. Ted, however, might be the only person living or dead who’s more stubborn than Parker, and he rejects her proposal outright.  
When a young, ambitious TV producer, Norah Wolfe, enters the hotel in search of Ted Shriver, Parker sees another opportunity to get what she wants. Instead, she and Norah manage to uncover such startling secrets about Ted’s past that the future changes for all of them.
At first Norah Wolfe annoyed me too much to feel any sympathy for her show being cancelled (unless she get can get Ted Shriver to come on the air and be interviewed about his infamous plagiarism scandal), but once I realized that she was only seeking a connection with her father, I was able to enjoy reading about her and her quest. But the character who truly makes the book worthwhile is, as it was in the first book, the delightful Dorothy Parker, whose ghost is still as witty and salty and smart as she was decades ago at the Algonquin Roundtable. Meister's prose is clean and crisp, which serves to make her characters well-rendered, and the plot zoom along on fast tracks. I'd give the novel a well deserved A, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Dorothy Parker and her set.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Paperback Edition of the Book of Life Launches May 26, the Boxed Set of All Souls Trilogy is Available, Plus a Q&A With Deborah Harkness


Q: In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research.  What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!

A. There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it.

Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here?

Q: Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to fact important moral issues?

A. Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.

Q: From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

A. Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family:  unqualified love and mutual responsibility.

That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.

Q: While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

A. Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change.

Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.

Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam.

That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.

Q: Diana and Matthew, once again, move around to quite a number of locations in THE BOOK OF LIFE, including New Haven, New Orleans, and a few of our favorite old haunts like Oxford, Madison, and Sept-Tours. What inspired you to place your characters in these locations? Have you visited them yourself? 

A. As a writer, I really need to experience the places I write about in my books. I want to know what it smells like, how the air feels when it changes direction, the way the sunlight strikes the windowsill in the morning, the sound of birds and insects. Not every writer may require this, but I do. So I spent time not only in New Haven but undertaking research at the Beinecke Library so that I could understand the rhythms of Diana’s day there. I visited New Orleans several times to imagine my vampires into them. All of the locations I pick are steeped in history and stories about past inhabitants—perfect fuel for any writer’s creative fire.

Q: Did you know back when you wrote A Discovery of Witches how the story would conclude in THE BOOK OF LIFE? Did the direction change once you began the writing process?

A. I knew how the trilogy would end, but I didn’t know exactly how we would get there. The story was well thought out through the beginning of what became The Book of Life, but the chunk between that beginning and the ending (which is as I envisioned it) did change. In part that was because what I had sketched out was too ambitious and complicated—the perils of being not only a first-time trilogy writer but also a first time author. It was very important to me that I resolve and tie up all the threads already in the story so readers had a satisfying conclusion. Early in the writing of The Book of Life it became clear that this wasn’t going to give me much time to introduce new characters or plot twists. I now understand why so many trilogies have four, five, six—or more—books in them. Finishing the trilogy as a trilogy required a lot of determination and a very thick pair of blinders as I left behind characters and story lines that would take me too far from the central story of Diana, Matthew, and the Book of Life.

Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the secrets contained in the manuscript are at long last revealed in THE BOOK OF LIFE. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation.  What was the story behind your discovery?  And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?

A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.

Q: Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

Penguin is launching the paperback edition of The Book of Life, and a boxed set (see above images) of the All Souls Trilogy. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the long-awaited final chapter in the smart, sexy All Souls Trilogy, about historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont (Penguin Books; on sale May 26, 2015; $17.00). In this finale, Diana and Matthew continue their hunt for the magical alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, and reunite with beloved characters from the first two All Souls books to save their world from the powerful enemies who want to destroy it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Secrets of the Bookstore, RIP Wm Zinsser, Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier, Lock In by John Scalzi, Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler and Dove Arising by Karen Bao

This is true, when it comes to bookstores, it's best to learn the 'secrets' and work with the staff for a more satisfying buying experience. I've never had a problem with booksellers, myself, but this might be a handy guide for those who try to work the system or showroom books.

"For book lovers, there's no more magical place than the local
bookstore. And while most of us have probably spent a significant amount
of time wandering the aisles, few of us know what goes on behind the
scenes," Mental Floss observed in revealing "17 behind-the-scenes
secrets of bookstores"

I read a copy of Zinsser's On Writing Well in 1984, when I was in grad school, and I loved it. I was not quite as big of a fan of the Elements of Style, but I recall being impressed that Zinsser wanted writers to read a great deal and learn from other writers.

William Zinsser,
a writer, editor and teacher whose 1976 book On Writing Well has sold
more than 1.5 million copies, died yesterday, the New York Times
reported, adding that even though he wrote 19 books, "it was his role as
an arbiter of good writing that resonated widely and deeply." Zinsser
was 92. On Writing Well "became a book that editors and teachers
encouraged writers to reread annually in the manner of another classic
on the craft of writing, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and
E.B. White," the Times noted.

I am a huge fan of Orange is the New Black, not only because it stars Kate Mulgrew, my fellow Iowan who famously portrayed Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager for 7 years. On this show, she's developed a great following for her Russian character Red Reznikov, a tough cook. I plan, like most of America, to binge-watch series three when it comes out in June.

A new trailer has been released for season three of Orange Is the New
based on Piper Kerman's memoir. Variety noted that the new season "will
no doubt further explore the backstories of our favorite inmates, but
those nostalgia trips won't include Jason Biggs, whose character, Larry,
isn't slated to appear in the new season. That doesn't mean the cast
will be down a member, though, with Mary Steenburgen joining the Netflix
comedy this year." Orange Is the New Black returns June 12.

Dove Arising by Karen Bao is yet another dystopian YA novel, this time set on the moon, which has been colonized primarily by Asians and Eastern Europeans. Here's the blurb:
Phaet Theta has lived her whole life in a colony on the Moon. She’s barely spoken since her father died in an accident nine years ago. She cultivates the plants in Greenhouse 22, lets her best friend talk for her, and stays off the government’s radar.
Then her mother is arrested.
The only way to save her younger siblings from the degrading Shelter is by enlisting in the Militia, the faceless army that polices the Lunar bases and protects them from attacks by desperate Earth dwellers. Training is brutal, but it’s where Phaet forms an uneasy but meaningful alliance with the preternaturally accomplished Wes, a fellow outsider.
Rank high, save her siblings, free her mom:  that’s the plan. Until Phaet’s logically ordered world begins to crumble...
Suspenseful, intelligent, and hauntingly prescient, Dove Arising stands on the shoulders of our greatest tales of the future to tell a story that is all too relevant today.
From Publisher's Weekly: Generations ago, Phaet Theta’s ancestors fled an environmentally damaged Earth for the Moon; now, Lunar colonists live carefully regulated lives under the governance of a strict, anonymous Committee and authoritarian Militia. When Phaet’s journalist mother is forcibly quarantined (ostensibly for medical reasons, though dark purposes are clearly afoot), the 15-year-old and her siblings face living in the filthy, dangerous conditions of Shelter, where Lunar residents without resources are exiled. To keep her family safe, Phaet gives up her bioengineering dreams and her work in the Moon’s greenhouses with her best (and be-smitten) friend Umbriel and becomes the youngest volunteer to join the Militia. Fortunately, she’s smart, motivated, and—once she starts working out with equally driven cadet Wes Kappa—physically fit. In other words, well-equipped to navigate the now-familiar path of a dystopian heroine, gathering allies and identifying powerful enemies. Newcomer Bao’s off-world setting and worldbuilding details are intriguing, but readers may struggle with Phaet’s curiously emotionless affect, as well as some of the more formulaic elements at play in this series opener.
Publisher's Weekly is correct in that Phaet is rather like a Vulcan from Star Trek or Katniss from the first Hunger Games book, she seems to be without emotion, and when she does get emotional or feel sympathy, it is quashed rather too quickly for a teenage girl. There's a lot to like about the world that Bao has built on the moon, but the characters that live there aren't as arresting and interesting as their environment, and Phaet is difficult to like because she seems to ruthless and distant.
Still, this book will appeal to those who love the Hunger Games and Divergent, and I'd give it a B+. 

Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler was recommended to all his fans by author Kevin Hearne, who writes the Iron Druid series. Though the publishing house decided to put a bad pun on the cover of this book, along with artwork of a scantily-clad young woman who looks vaguely Middle Eastern (she also looks remarkably like the actress who plays Mary Queen of Scots on the TV series "Reign"), the actual story inside is very well told in prose that is by turns spicy and comedic. Here's the PW blurb: Peeler (the Jane True series) kicks off a series with this entertaining urban fantasy, which populates Pittsburgh with all sorts of interesting mythological creatures. For 1,000 years, Lyla has been cursed to live as a jinn, serving whoever can bind her with the right spells. But now the end has come: if she’s unbound in a week’s time, she’ll be human once more. So when Ozan “Oz” Sawyer captures her, she’s rightfully miffed. But he needs her power and help to rescue the missing daughter of an old friend, and despite initial objections, Lyla is surprised by how much she likes Oz. As they work together, they discover that something weird is happening in Pittsburgh, and the entire magical community is at risk from those who would enslave, exploit, or destroy its members. Mindful of her impending deadline, Lyla must rally her friends and unleash her full power to save the city. Peeler gets points for the originality of the premise, but loses some for the predictability in both the urban fantasy plot and the obligatory romance. 
Though Peeler does use many urban fantasy tropes, I still felt that Jinn and Juice was original enough that the fae/otherworldly characters didn't put me off of the story or slow down the zippy plot at all. Oz and Lyla's romance was inevitable, yes, but again, not overdone or too syrupy-sweet, as it can be in urban fantasies and YA dystopian fiction, which this book hews closely to. As with Jaye Wells urban fantasy series, which Hearne also recommends, there is a bit too much swearing, but in this case, it didn't seem out of place as much as it did in Wells series. I noticed that in a lot of the fantasy novels that I've been reading of late that I often enjoy the 'sidekick' or 'scooby gang' characters almost more than the protagonist of the novel, and this holds true with Jinn and Juice as well. The ending left things wide open for a sequel, which I will pounce on when it comes out, of course.  I would give this novel a B+, and recommend it to fans of Kevin Hearnes and Jaye Wells books.

Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier is more of a middle-grade book than a strictly YA fantasy, so kids as young as 11 or 12 would enjoy it and be able to understand its plot.I've read Gier's previous "Ruby Red" trilogy, and while I found the teenage girls in that triology to be a bit more fluff-headed and boy crazy than is normal, I enjoyed the world building and time-traveling aspects of the books themselves. Here's two blurbs:
Mysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv's dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she's in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.
The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They're classmates from her new school in London, the school where she's starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what's really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn't possibly know--unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute....
From Publisher's Weekly:Liv Silver’s dreams take on a life of their own in this first book in this Silver Trilogy. Shortly after moving to London and meeting her soon-to-be stepbrother Grayson, both Grayson and his friends begin to appear in Liv’s dreams, performing an occult ritual. Before long they have asked virginal Liv to join in the dangerous game of black magic, including a blood offering that opens a portal into each other’s nocturnal musings through a series of doors. In Liv, Gier (the Ruby Red trilogy) has created a smart heroine who loves a good mystery and has her wits about her. But her precociousness and the fact that most of the action takes place in dreams robs the story of its sense of peril; Olivia remains flippant even in the face of real danger and human sacrifice. The romantic pairings of the main characters and a subplot involving a student with an anonymous Gossip Girl–style blog will likely be explored in more detail in later books, but the main plotline resolves without generating a driving force toward the sequel.
I found some of the YA tropes, of finding boys with blond hair so alluring and thrilling that girls become speechless in their presence, for example, to be a bit much, because honestly, I don't think most teenage girls react that way to boys, especially nowadays. Liv Silver is supposedly particularly immune to the charms of boys, and even asks her sister to throw things at her if she starts being another moony-eyed fluff-head around Henry, one of the aforementioned "perfect" blond boys from her school. Mia tossing things at Liv has no effect on her becoming sheep-like with Henry, however.  Still, I liked the fact that Liv doesn't believe in demons or witchcraft or ghosts. She was similar to Nancy Drew in her approach to life and mystery and figuring things out, which is good, because as in many YA novels, the parents of the teenagers come off as stupid and clueless. Liv and Mia's mother is particularly awful, as she seems to want her daughters to have sex and do drugs and drink alcohol because she was herself a "wild" teenager who made bad choices that she now romantisizes. This novel was translated from German, or a Scandinavian language, I assume, and whomever did the translation did a fairly decent job of getting the English slang down on the page. For that reason, I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who enjoy the YA novels of Cornelia Funke.

Lock In by John Scalzi is a wonderful stand-alone science fiction novel by an author who has become a master of the genre. I've read Scalzi's "Old Man's War" series, and loved it, which is surprising, as I have never been a fan of military fiction or war stories in general, or SF military novels in particular. Scalzi, though, is such a fantastic storyteller that his work transcends the genre and becomes a page-turner that is un-put-downable. 
It should also be noted that Scalzi won a Hugo last year for his SF novel "Redshirts" which I've not had the chance to read yet. But Lock In had a "near future" premise of post-plague people who upload their consciousness into robots, or "threeps" and go about their business in the world that I found intriguing, so I bought a copy that arrived this past Wednesday. Here's the blurb:
A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi.
Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.
A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what's now known as "Haden's syndrome," rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" - someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.
But "complicated" doesn't begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery - and the real crime - is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It's nothing you could have expected.
I loved this novel's protagonist, the snarky and smart Chris Shane, and his cynical partner Vann as they plow through red tape, prejudice and stupidity, as well as greed and corruption to solve the murder mystery that is at the heart of the book. Brilliant prose and a lightening-fast plot make for a book that is a joy to read, as most will want to devour it in one sitting. Lock In read like a Patterson thriller married to a Philip K Dick novella, full of twists and turns and shady business deals. I plan on passing this book along to my son, who loved "The Martian" and is just ready for another fast-paced SF novel with a sense of humor. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who liked Andy Weir's Martian, or any of John Scalzi's other fine science fiction novels.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Brave New World Movie, Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi and Three DVD Movies

 I read Brave New World when I was a teenager in the 1970s, and I remember being moved by the story and by all the other dystopian literature I was reading at the time. I saw a TV movie of the book years ago, and I didn't like it because it changed some things about the story that made it effective. Now that Spielberg has gotten ahold of it, though, I find myself hoping that this version will shine like the book.

Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television is adapting Aldous Huxley's Brave
New World
as a scripted series for the Syfy network, the Hollywood Reporter wrote.
The screenplay will be written by Les Bohem (Taken). Amblin TV
co-presidents Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey will executive produce with

"Brave New World is one of the most influential genre classics of all
time," said Syfy president Dave Howe. "Its provocative vision of a
future gone awry remains as powerful and as timeless as ever."

I still have my copy of this book, Station Eleven, on my TBR pile, as I haven't been able to get past page 75, though I keep going back and trying to read it without falling asleep. That said, I will try for a third time, now that the novel has won the Arthur C Clarke Award, as I was a huge Clarke fan in my teens and early twenties.

Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction,
the Guardian reported. Chair of the judges Andrew M. Butler commented:
"While many post-apocalypse novels focus on the survival of humanity,
Station Eleven focuses instead on the survival of our culture, with the
novel becoming an elegy for the hyper-globalized present."

This book sounds fascinating! I love Shakespeare, but had no idea that Henry Folger was such a character!
Review: The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio
 In 1889, an oil refinery clerk who loved the works of Shakespeare went
into a Manhattan auction house and purchased a Fourth Folio of the
bard's plays, printed in 1685, for $107.50. Thus begins Andrea Mays's
captivating The Millionaire and the Bard, a chronicle of the buyer,
Henry Folger, and his lifelong pursuit of First Folios--a First being
the "most valuable English-language book in the world."

To begin, Mays unfolds in fascinating detail the story of how the book
miraculously came about. While Shakespeare lived, copies of his plays
were "ephemeral amusements not serious literature." Seven years after he
died in 1616, two actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell--the "two most
unsung heroes in the history of English literature"--decided to collect
their friend's plays and publish them on durable rag paper folded only
once. At this time only 18 had been published (in quarto form), 18 had
not--these included Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and Macbeth. They
gathered theatrical prompt books and quartos, picked other actors'
memories and used "possibly, tantalizingly, some of Shakespeare's own
manuscripts." If they hadn't been able to round up copies of these
plays, who would be saying "Out, damn'd spot!" and other priceless

Printing the First Folio involved different compositors, so there were
numerous textual variants from one copy to another. The actors sold the
First for £1; buyers had to bind it themselves. They sold out of
the approximately 750 copies by 1632, so they ordered a reprint (with
more variants). Mays notes that Henry Folger bought his first First, a
poor copy, around 1893, and then another in 1896, for $4,500. He bought
the last of his 82 folios in 1928 for $68,750, the most he ever paid for
one. How could he afford this?

That is the other fascinating aspect of Mays's story. Folger was "kind,
humorous and unpretentious," the president and later the chairman of
Standard Oil, one of the Gilded Age's richest men. Born to wealth, he
was a nephew to the founder of Folger's Coffee, maintained many good
connections and endeared himself to John D. Rockefeller when Folger was
still a clerk--a relationship that eventually launched him to the top of
the company. He loved books in general, but he was obsessed with
Shakespeare. Mays chronicles Folger's lifelong fervor to own Shakespeare
materials; his library includes the only 1594 quarto of Titus Andronicus
known to the world. He often competed with other wealthy collectors and
libraries, and he had quite a spat with his "nemesis and lifelong
literary irritant," the Shakespeare bibliographer Sidney Lee. He
eventually built the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., to
house his library and voluminous collection; it opened April 23,
1932--Shakespeare's 368th birthday, nearly two years after Folger's
death. This is a great story, wonderfully told, that book lovers,
readers and collectors will savor. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

A few weeks ago I bought three movies on DVD from a huge collection at an estate sale, and I watched them all over last weekend. The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant stars Alex O'Loughlin, one of my all-time favorite actors from Moonlight and Hawaii Five 0. Granted, he's a gorgeous Australian who looks fantastic without his shirt on, but he's proven time and again that he's more than just a pretty face in movies (Plan B) and TV shows here in America. According to the blurb on the cover of the DVD, this was a miniseries in Australia, so a young Alex O was on his home turf here, in this story of a woman who was willing to go to great lengths to gain freedom and a better life for herself and her two children. Romola Garai plays Mary, who steals bread and money when living in England, and is sent to a new penal colony in Australia, Botany Bay, as a result. Of course the months-long trip by boat is hellacious, and though she manages to become the cabin-girl of the ships captain, he throws her back into steerage when he learns she's pregnant. While in the stinking bowels of the ship, Mary meets William Bryant, (Alex O) who is sassy and beautiful and actually seems to care about her and her baby. Once in Botany Bay, the horrible British officers from the ship use the prisoners as slaves to plant crops that fail in the blazing heat and to build shelters on the beach. Mary marries Will, and becomes pregnant again, but of course she hatches a plan to become the officer from the ship's 'kept woman' so that she can gain access to food stores, weapons and a boat to take herself and Will and several other prisoners out of Botany Bay and to a small Island that has been colonized by the French. Romola Garai, while a competent actress, has a 'gasping fish' look that she uses way too often to portray everything from surprise to horror to happiness. Though the prisoners nearly die, they finally make it to the French Island, where they claim to be shipwreaked British nobles, and thereby get clean clothing and good food. However, the British ships officer, now pissed off that he's been duped, searches constantly for Mary until he finds the group, and hunts them down, killing Will in the process. When he finally finds Mary and her two children, he rounds them up, along with two other prisoners who didn't manage to get themselves shot, and they all sail back to England, where bitter British officer hopes to get them hanged for stealing a boat and escaping (but mainly for injuring his pride, as he was duped into believing that Mary actually cared for him, when she was just using him.) Word of Mary's daring exploits gets out, (and the fact that she loses both her children to disease on the voyage back to England) and there's a groundswell of sympathy for her, even at the trial. The judge, though finding Mary and her two fellow prisoners guilty, pardons them all after Mary's impassioned speech about how much she sacrificed to be free and to try and find a better life for her children. Unfortunately, the films producers don't let us know what happened to Mary after she was pardoned, whether she lead a good life, remarried or died soon after, but I certainly enjoyed this peek into Australian history. I'd give this film an A, with the caveat that it's a bit of a soap opera.

Evening has an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep and her daughter Mamie Gummer, Clare Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close, and Patrick Wilson. It's a story told in flashbacks of a dying woman who (Redgrave) who regrets not marrying Patrick Wilson's doctor, with whom she had a one-night stand that ended in tragedy, when her drunk-but-rich date, brother of her best friend Lila, gets hit by a car and dies after she rejects his drunken proposal of marriage. All the flashbacks are in the 50s, and it switches back to current day when Redgrave's daughters try to deal with their mothers impending death. I must say that I found this film somewhat confusing, as it seemed to lurch from moment to moment and there didn't seem to be much of a purpose to it all, unless it was to say that you should marry whom you want to, and damn the conventions of the time. A sad and rambling film, I'd give it a B.
Moondance Alexander is a kind of Pippi Longstocking combined with Anne of Green Gables and horses movie, all "inspired by a true story." It stars a chunky and grumpy Don Johnson (oh how the mighty have fallen since his days as sleek Sonny Crocket on Miami Vice), a ditzy Lori Loughlin and the spunky teenager Kay Panabaker as "Moondance Alexander," so named by her hippy artist mother.
Moondance, unsurprisingly, doesn't fit in her high school, as she's considered wierd not just due to her unusual name, but also because she dresses oddly, is very spunky and positive and cheerful, and she's poor because she comes from a single parent household and rides her bike everywhere making deliveries for the town shopkeeper, played by this old character actor who used to be on the TV show Green Acres back in the 60s. One day, 15 year old Moondance encounters a pinto pony on the road, and she names him Checkers and tries to convince her mother to allow her to keep him, only to find out that Don Johnson actually owns the horse on his ranch. Moondance gets him to agree to let her work cleaning his stables and caring for his horses in exchange for riding lessons, and it comes to light that Checkers can actually jump, unlike most horses of his type. So Moondance enters him in a local competition with many purebred horses and snobby riders, girls from her class in school who have been riding competitively for years. But of course Johnson, though bitter about losing his daughter, teaches Moondance and Checkers how to be champions in record time, and though the judges have never seen a pinto pony in their high flautin' competition before, the unlikely underdogs win the day, and everyone cheers! Though the story is predictable, and Moondance's relentlessly cheerful attitude gets on your nerves by the end, this is still a fun family film that makes some good points about being different, fitting in and finding your place in the world under unusual circumstances.
Ignite me by Tahereh Mafi is the final book in this dystopian series that began with "Shatter Me." Here's the blurb:
With Omega Point destroyed, Juliette doesn't know if the rebels, her friends, or even Adam are alive. But that won't keep her from trying to take down The Reestablishment once and for all. Now she must rely on Warner, the handsome commander of Sector 45. The one person she never thought she could trust. The same person who saved her life. He promises to help Juliette master her powers and save their dying world . . . but that's not all he wants with her.
The Shatter Me series is perfect for fans who crave action-packed young adult novels with tantalizing romance like Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Legend by Marie Lu. Tahereh Mafi has created a captivating and original story that combines the best of dystopian and paranormal, and was praised by Publishers Weekly as "a gripping read from an author who's not afraid to take risks." Now this final book brings the series to a shocking and satisfying end. 
First of all, if you've read the first two books in this series, the ending isn't at all shocking, it's rather anticlimactic, because this is what Juliette has been heading for since the first book. What is surprising is that Warner, the abused, damaged, twisted and psychotic son of the insane, evil leader of the Reestablishment is now presented as a totally misunderstood, gorgeous boyfriend who loves Juliette and helps her friends work together to take down his father and his regime. It's also surprising, and heartening that Juliette finally stops being a wimpy, whiny self-pitying waste of space, and actually learns to use her powers, takes the reins of her life and becomes a super heroine. And just in time to save the world!
She is of course disappointed when she learns Adam is a jealous jerk,bent on destroying his half brother Warner (which is totally understandable from his perspective, as Warner tortured him and killed countless others under the command of his father. But since Juliette now loves Warner, we are all supposed to forgive and embrace him as perfect), but she rallys all the super-natural talents together anyway, and they form an assault on Anderson that is miraculously effective, considering he has all of the troops, money and power on his side. Still, evil never wins, and our heroine kills Anderson and vows to rebuilt her world with Warner at her side. Though the plot is totally improbable, I liked this book the best out of any of the books in the series. There were fewer long descriptions of love and touch and sex in this book, fortunately, and there was more action and reaction with the various characters. The HEA ending could have used more "what happens next" but it was still satisfying. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend the series to those who liked The Hunger Games.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Shatter Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron and the Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg, plus Book Conservation in Japan, and Happy Birthday to bookseller Ann Combs

The Japanese people have a long history of taking broken and discarded items and bringing them back to life through craftsmanship that is a form of meditative artistry. I find this fascinating, and one day I hope to visit Japan with my family and visit such artisans.

Portrait of a Book Conservationist

more than three decades in Japan, Okano Nobuo "has been repairing
and reconstituting them to look brand new" using "very basic tools like
a wooden press, chisel, water and glue," Colossal reported, featuring a
video in which the craftsman breathes new life into an old
Japanese-English dictionary by approaching it "like an art
conservationist repairing a painting."

Despite his gift for book conservation, Okano said, "It's not their
shape or form but what's inside them that attracts us to books."
Colossal noted that for a man "who makes it his job to repair the shape
and form of books it's an incredibly humbling statement and is a
testament to the value we still hold in physical books."

I would love to visit Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor Bookstore, and I would be overjoyed to talk to this fascinating woman. People from the "Greatest Generation" are slowly becoming extinct, and too many people miss out on hearing their stories, which are living history.

Happy Birthday, Ann Combs!

The folks at Eagle Harbor Book Company celebrated a very special
birthday when bookseller Ann Combs (center front) turned 80 this week.
Ann, whose CV includes author, newspaper columnist, grammarian and
keeper of bawdy jokes, has worked at Eagle Harbor for 17 years. She not
only knows a good story when she sees one (she is one of the store's
best handsellers), but tells a good story, too, given the interesting
trajectory of her life. The young daughter of an Episcopalian missionary
during World War II, she was part of a group of civilians held captive
by the Japanese in the Philippines for several years.  She attended
Smith College, taking the train from Seattle to Massachusetts each year.
And Ann rode a horse as Lady Godiva in the Scotch Broom Parade on
Bainbridge Island as a young woman. In addition to a children's book,
How Old Is Old?, Ann wrote three humorous memoirs about her life as a
military wife and the mother of six boisterous offspring. Her most
popular, Helter Shelter, was reissued in 2012 as Once Upon a Two by
Four, and remains a brisk seller at Eagle Harbor. Happy Birthday, Ann!

This is a gorgeous little video, and I had to put this book on my wish list after seeing it.
Full: How I Learned to Satisfy My Insatiable Hunger and Feed My Soul

Shatter Me and the sequel, Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi are both books in a dystopian YA series meant to cash in, no doubt, on the success of books like The Hunger Games and The Mortal Instruments. Blurbs:
No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she's finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she'd lost forever.

In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a riveting dystopian world, a thrilling superhero story, and an unforgettable heroine. One window; four walls; sixteen square feet of space. For exactly 264 days, Juliette has been imprisoned in a small room because she touched someone and that person died. Outside, plague and famine have reduced the world to a ruined, violent place ruled by the despotic Reestablishment. Then, after those 264 days, those 6,336 hours of enforced solitude, the cursed 17-year-old has been selected to kill dissidents. Only time will tell if she and her gorgeous young male companion will survive—or die trying. Will they be weapons or warriors? A dystopian novel with a romantic hook.
The prose in these two novels is  poetic and hyperbolic, which is charming at first, and then becomes headache-inducing, much like the books protagonist, Juliette. Though Juilette's a 16 year old girl, and therefore almost obligated to be melodramatic and obsessed with boys, I was hoping that the author would move beyond those well-worn tropes and create a heroine who inspires and delights with her non-traditional, forward-thinking selflessness. This was not to be, unfortunately, and in the first book, Juliette throws herself a lengthy pity party, all while writing about her horrible childhood and terrible parents who, unable to deal with her "gift" of being able to leech life from people with a touch of her skin, abandoned her to a mental asylum/jail, where she was eventually scooped up by a psychopath named Warner, the violent son of the evil dictator who heads up the "Reestablishment."  Warner, though incredibly handsome (all the young men in these books are gorgeously handsome, unless they are too young or too old to be attracted to Juliette, who is, of course, devastatingly beautiful but completely unaware of her good looks) is a twisted killer who is obsessed with Juliette because he believes that they are alike in their ability to kill without conscience, and he wants to not only possess her physically, he wants to use her as a weapon to kill members of the resistance. Inevitably, there is a guard named Adam who is also in love with Juliette, and shocking, is able to touch her without dying. So the two plot an escape, and with the help of the devastatingly handsome Kenji, who has a 'gift' for creating a kind of invisability cloak around himself and anyone he touches, Adam and his younger brother and Juliette escape Warner and make their way to the Resistance headquarters. Kenji, who serves as comic relief, also becomes the voice of reason toward the end of book one by telling the whining, cowardly Juliette to get over herself already. He makes the very valid point that most of the youth in this dystopian world have grown up without parents or with abuse and neglect and not enough food, and that while they're being forced into "reeducation" work camps and beaten/starved or worse, she was fed and clothed and allowed to whine in a journal for years. Then she was treated like a queen by Warner, and she fell in love with Adam, who can touch her, so she doesn't have it nearly as bad as the average kid or teenager out there in the world, and it would behoove her to start thinking of someone other than herself. While Juliette realizes that Kenji is right, and vows to be different, all it takes is the revelations of "Unravel Me" for her to go back to being a whiny, cowardly bitch.  
Unravel Me finds our heroine, such as she is, being healed and treated with kindness by Castle, the gifted head of the Resistance in their underground lair. Castle wants Juliette to learn to control her gift, as many of the other members of the resistance have, and he is hoping she will use her power to help the Resistance defeat Anderson, Warner's evil father, leader of the Reestablishment. While Adam and Castle are trying to find out why and how Adam can touch Juliette and not be killed, Juliette gets a special suit that covers her and enables her to interact with others. Still, she doesn't trust herself to make friends, and she is somehow too weak and stupid to try and tame her powers, which now include punching through walls and moving through concrete, as well as nearly destroying the Resistance compound in a fit of pique. It is discovered that Adam has the power to dampen others powers, but at a great cost to himself, and that Warner, who is captured, can touch her without any consequences. It's also discovered that Adam and Warner share a father, and therefore Juliette becomes helplessly enamored of Warner as well, because there must be good in him! He's so handsome and in love with her! After a rather one-sided battle (the Reestablishment has more weapons and better intel) and Juliette is captured, Anderson shoots her, and Warner and the healers save her life, we are left with Juliette vowing to save her fellow gifted and non gifted resistance fighters and kill Anderson, all while continuing a relationship with both Warner and Adam (how can she decide between these two gorgeous guys in love with her?!). While I appreciate that Mafi is trying to be poetic, her long-winded descriptions of every single feeling and touch that Juliette experiences at the hands of Adam or Warner borders on the ridiculous. The prose becomes overblown and cliche'd in the way that romance novel detractors nearly always use to justify their contempt of the romance genre. It also stops the plot in its tracks. I will read the third of this series only to see what happens, but then I plan to abandon it altogether, because I can only handle so much immature whining and egotism from a protagonist before I declare her too stupid to live. Decent storytelling earns this series a B+, but I would recommend it to those who like YA dystopias only if they're willing to read a lot of "blistering romantic" scenes without laughing.
Oh, and one more thing, the self-conscious crossing out of words or phrases that delineate what the character really means vs what they want the reader/world to hear is only cute when it is used sparingly. It's not used sparingly here, so it makes the protagonist seem even more of a coward for not being able to face her own truth.

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron is, at first glance, a novel that takes place in current times with frequent flashbacks to WWII concentration camps and the life and fate of a talented young Austrian violinist Adele. Here's the blurb:
Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl—a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with
William Hanover—the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul—who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.

"In her historical series debut, Cambron expertly weaves together multiple plotlines, time lines, and perspectives to produce a poignant tale of the power of love and faith in difficult circumstances. Those interested in stories of survival and the Holocaust, such as Eli Wiesel’s Night,
will want to read." —Library Journal, starred review
 The story behind the painting was painful and beautifully wrought in crystal clear prose, and though Sera seems a bit wimpy as a protagonist, her perseverance wins out in the end, and the inevitable HEA with William isn't quite as boring as I'd imagined it would be. I found Adele's story fascinating, particularly her playing in the orchestra at Auschwitz and the ability to keep her love of Vladimir alive, though she didn't know if he had died in the gas chambers or been shot as a member of the resistance. My only real problem with the book was the Christian prostelytizing that the author wove throughout both Sera and Adele's story. It is one thing to have faith, which I am sure was necessary as oxygen for those dying in concentration camps. But to somehow intuit that everything that was happening there was some part of Gods plan is a bit much, in my opinion. Especially as the majority of inmates in the camps were Jewish, not Christian.  And Sera only seems to accept William when she discovers that he reads a tattered Bible every day. How convenient. It's for that reason that I'm giving this book a B, and recommending it only to those who aren't put off by pushy religious stuff.

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg is something of a departure for this author. Most of her novels are literary chick-lit, and many involve nurses or those in the medical profession, as Berg herself worked as a nurse. Dream Lover has nothing to do with nursing or health care, however, and is instead a historical fiction novel that re-imagines the life of Aurore Dupin, a classic novelist whose pen name was George Sand. Sand was known for being a bisexual rebel during the 19th century, dressing in men's clothing and taking lovers who were often great artists of the day, like Chopin the famed music composer. 
Normally, this subject matter would interest me as a reader and a writer, but Berg, for some reason beyond my comprehension, decided to write this novel using the driest, dullest prose imaginable, in a plot that wanders around like the village drunk. Dupin/Sand seems to be a petulant, crude and immature woman who can't stand any sort of criticism and makes stupid decisions regarding her love life and her family. Here's the blurb:
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.
Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream? Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.

 I struggled to stay awake during the first 150 pages, because they were so boring, and the protagonist such a whiner and her life so uninteresting as to be a cure for insomnia. Things picked up a bit after page 150, but then began to slump after another 75 pages, until the book wound to it's anticlimactic death scene. Sand was not courageous or irresistible as portrayed in this book, but was always complaining and never satisfied with anything in her life. I was honestly sorry that I'd spent $20 on the book, which I can't even pass along to my mother, a Berg fan, because she has enjoyed Bergs previous novels for their nurse protagonists and realistic settings. I doubt she'd want anything to do with cross-dressing Sand. I'd give this book a C, and recommend it to big fans of George Sand's books or those who are interested in 19th century authors.