Friday, July 31, 2015

RIP Ann Rule, Shattering the Ley by Joshua Lamatier and City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

Though I am not a fan of true crime books, by all accounts Ann Rule was a kind and generous person who helped nearly every writer she encountered.
Rest in Peace, Ms Rule.

True-crime author Ann Rule
who wrote 35 books, "including a profile of her former co-worker, serial
killer Ted Bundy," died Sunday, the Associated Press reported. She was
83. In addition to The Stranger Beside Me, Rule's books included Small
Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion and Murder and Too Late to Say
Goodbye: A True Story of Murder and Betrayal. Her latest book, Practice
to Deceive, was about a murder on Whidbey Island in Washington State.
Her books have 50 million copies in print in 16 languages.

Noting that the FBI and the Justice Department eventually "started
turning to Rule for her expertise on serial murders," the AP wrote that
"she aided the Green River Task Force as that group sought another
Seattle-area serial killer, passing along tips that her readers shared.
She wrote a book about the case, Green River, Running Red."

The Los Angeles Times noted that Rule "was truly the 'Queen of True
humanizing the victims as she told their tales."

"By deciding to focus her books on the victim, Ann Rule reinvented the
true-crime genre, and earned the trust of millions of readers who wanted
a new and empathetic perspective on the tragic stories at the heart of
her works," Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster,
commented. "She will be remembered not only for her many books, but also
for her ongoing and tireless work on behalf of victims' rights. We are
proud to have been her publisher for many years, and we will miss her."

I picked up City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (from Barnes and Noble clearance), assuming it was written by a man with a pretentious name and that it was YA fantasy fiction. I was wrong on both counts.According to Goodreads, "Magnus Flyte is a pseudonym for the writing duo of Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch. Howrey is a former dancer with the Joffrey II and the winner of an Ovation Award. She is the author of the novels The Cranes Dance and Blind Sight and lives in Los Angeles. Lynch is a television writer and former Milan correspondent for W Magazine. She lives near Sequoia National Park in California." 
I also discovered, early on, that there's a great deal of raunchy sex, drugs, swearing and violence in this book, totally unsuitable for anyone under the age of 21. Oddly enough, the book is written in a rather light style, and the prose reads of "green" authors, whose enthusiasm sometimes outstrips their writing talents. However, this doesn't make City of Dark Magic a bad novel. It's actually fairly entertaining, if a tad uneven. Here's the blurb: 

 Once a city of enormous wealth and culture, Prague was home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it’s whispered, hell portals. When music student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven’s manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Prague is a threshold, Sarah is warned, and it is steeped in blood.
Soon after Sarah arrives, strange things begin to happen. She learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all. Could his cryptic notes be warnings? As Sarah parses his clues about Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” she manages to get arrested, to have tantric sex in a public fountain, and to discover a time-warping drug. She also catches the attention of a four-hundred-year-old dwarf, the handsome Prince Max, and a powerful U.S. senator with secrets she will do anything to hide.

I found Sarah to be an interesting protagonist, plucky and a talented music scholar, but her rampant libido seemed to be a bit unusual, in that it kept getting in the way of the plot moving forward, because, as the saying goes, "girl's gotta have it." The intrigue of the evil senator vs the good young Beethoven scholar with a nose for a mystery was a bit cliche, and falling in love with the prince of the castle only made it more so, yet I enjoyed the sleuthing around the castles, finding bolt holes, secret rooms, tunnels and soforth, and I was fascinated with the alchemically-aided foray into the past to see LV Beethoven himself. The whole "magical handicapped girl" with a big dog and a stupid huge servant was also cliched and somewhat ridiculous, but the authors managed to make it work, weaving it into the plot so that there were only a few flinches when the little blind prodigy appeared to play music at a competition in Prague. The city of Prague itself plays a major role in the novel, and anyone who reads this book and doesn't hanker for a trip to Europe is a stronger person than I am. So I'd give this book a B+, and I'd recommend it to fans of Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches series, or those who are classical music scholars who have a nose for a good mystical mystery.

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier was another book I picked up on the recommendation of a friend and Goodreads. I was intrigued by the young female protagonist and the idea of a city that runs on magic ley lines as a power source in every aspect of the word. Here's the blurb:

Erenthrall—sprawling city of light and magic, whose streets are packed with traders from a dozen lands and whose buildings and towers are grown and shaped in the space of a day.
At the heart of the city is the Nexus, the hub of  a magical ley line system that powers Erenthrall. This ley line also links the city and the Baronial plains to rest of the continent and the world beyond. The Prime Wielders control the Nexus with secrecy and lies, but it is the Baron who controls the Wielders. The Baron also controls the rest of the Baronies through a web of brutal intimidation enforced by his bloodthirsty guardsmen (dogs) and unnatural assassins (hounds).
When the rebel Kormanley seek to destroy the ley system and the Baron’s chokehold, two people find themselves caught in the chaos that sweeps through Erenthrall and threatens the entire world: Kara Tremain, a young Wielder coming into her power, who discovers the forbidden truth behind the magic that powers the ley lines; and Alan Garrett, a recruit in the Baron’s guard, who learns that the city holds more mysteries and more danger than he could possibly have imagined...and who holds a secret within himself that could mean Erenthrall’s destruction—or its salvation.

I was surprised at the sheer amount of political and social intrigue and plots that the author managed to stuff into this hefty paperback of around 550 pages. I felt that a good editor could have trimmed about 50 pages out of the manuscript, but I'm not a fan of political fiction or military fiction, so that could be my own prejudice speaking. I find discussions of revolution and the brutality of war and those who wage it utterly boring. I was much more interested in the magic of the "wielders" and the protagonist Kara Tremain, who shows an inordinate ability to control the ley at an early age. Though she's smart and talented, there's more than a little sexism in the way that she's treated, and the way that her childhood friend covets her, and her co-worker uses his romantic feelings for her to keep her in line and "protect" her from his alliance with the terrorist Kormanley groups. The Kormanley want to use Kara in their cause, but realize that because one of their bombings killed her parents, that this won't happen, so they make an end-run around her and recruit her boyfriend, who then chooses the Kormanley over Kara for some weak reasons that aren't fully explained. Kara is a bit too innocent and naive, and she makes decisions that seem to put her further in trouble, though whether that is on purpose as a handy plot device, I'm not sure. The prose is clean and dense, and the plot makes a few detours but still manages to march along apace. While I'm not sure I'd be up to reading the sequel, I would still give this book a B+ and recommend it to those who enjoy political/military fantasies with a magical bent.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Literary Snobbery, A Reading Manifesto and The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Cool Idea of the Day: 'League of Literary Snobbery'

Observing that "reading out loud is only fun when you have an audience,"
Third Place Books, Ravenna, Wash., hosts a monthly event called the
League of Literary Snobbery: Storytime for Grownups

"Yes, it's a regrettable name born of an astounding lack of imagination,
and that calling something 'Adult Storytime' would generate an entirely
different audience," the bookstore wrote. "Every third Monday of the
month... we gather in the Pub
get our drinks and adjourn to the Reading Room. And we read out loud.
Mostly it's me reading, but others join in from time to time (we gladly
welcome new readers). Sometimes there's a theme, and sometimes not. It
might be an article, a short story, an essay, or a piece from a novel.
Sometimes the occasional poem gets thrown around. We play it pretty fast
and loose."

Speaking of snobbery, I've noticed that this year my reading has taken a different direction than in previous years. Certain excellent books have spoiled me for books that are just good, or okay, or even mediocre but acceptable, let alone poorly written monstrosities that are unbearable and beg to be thrown across the room. 
These great works all feature juicy prose and swift, sure plots enacted by brilliant, believable characters so delightfully drawn that they nearly leap from the page with life.
The books that I'm developing an intolerance for have prose that is usually clean but dry as the desert combined with relentlessly turgid plots that inch along, or worse are predictable enough that the reader suffocates with boredom by the second chapter. The characters are often stiff as cardboard or cartoonish cliches.

A recent example is a book I'm 55 pages into titled Starhawk by Jack McDevitt. It's a science fiction novel with prose so arid that I was parched by the end of the second paragraph. The characters are logical and the plot is scientifically precise, but there's no joy in the book, no emotive juice to make the reader want to delve into each chapter with abandon.
In contrast is the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, a luxurious, delicious gem of a novel full of lush, ripe prose and gorgeously drawn characters that beckon the reader to join them on their journey through the powerful emotional landscape of France. Here's the blurb:

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.

 Poor M. Perdu! His heart is broken and sealed against further harm for 20 years, until he discovers that if he had but read a letter left to him by his lover (who was married), he would have found that she left him not because she didn't love him, but because she didn't want him to watch her die of cancer that she chose not to treat in favor of carrying out an unexpected pregnancy. Filled with shame and remorse, Perdu and literary wunderkind Max Jordan travel in his book barge through the waterways of France to find his love's final resting place and make peace with her and her memory. My only problem with this book is that I think the title should have been "The Literary Apothecary" because there was no bricks and mortar Paris bookshop anywhere in the novel. There was only Monsieur Perdu's book barge/ship that was tied up on the Seine, from whence he dispensed his book remedies to all and sundry. 

Still, paragraphs like these make anything forgivable. "Perdu had discovered another thing above the rivers--stars that breathed. One day they shone brightly, the next they were pale, then bright again. It looked as though they were breathing to some never-ending slow, deep rhythm. They breathed and watched as the world came and went.  Some stars had seen the Neanderthals; they had seen the pyramids rise and Columbus discover America. For them, the earth was one more island world in the immeasurable ocean of outer space, it's inhabitants microscopically small." I marked more than a few places in The Little Paris Bookshop that had beautifully-written moments like that, and I plan on adding them to my journal. But I was so overwhelmed with joy, sorrow, fascination, frustration, laughter and love during this impeccable novel that I flitted from book to book after reading it, unable to find anything as warm and delightful to read. The Little Paris Bookshop deserves highest marks, an A+, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys beautiful stories that are bound to become classic literature, read for generations to come. Well done, Ms George, well done.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Powells Outlives Kindles, Finally Found Closes, Island Books Passes the Torch and Uprooted by Naomi Novik

All I can say to this article is AMEN.

Why Powell's Bookstore Will Outlive the Kindle'

In a piece headlined "Why Powell's Bookstore Will Outlive the Kindle,"
Conde Nast Traveler profiled Powell's City of Books
so vast that visitors find their way around via fold-up maps (free
souvenir alert) and giant directory boards that resemble the
arrivals-and-departures signage at the airport.... The best way to visit
Powell's is with lots of time and no agenda whatsoever.... Landing a job
here is competitive, even for the most devoted bookworms; if you're not
sure what to read next, the 'staff pick' tags with hand-written
recommendations are always solid bets."

"Take the bookstore in your brain and multiply it by 10--then you're
close," said CEO Miriam Sontz in describing the visceral experience that
is Powell's. She added that the bookstore sees 8,000 visitors a day.
"It's all about growing a reading culture."

I was a regular at Baker Street Books in Black Diamond, and I watched Mr Charles struggle to survive in that out of the way spot in a small town, until he sold the store to Todd Hulburt, who then changed the name to Finally Found and, realizing that he wasn't going to get any more foot traffic, moved the store to Auburn. While the location in Auburn wasn't ideal, it was larger, and I attended their grand opening. Unfortunately, I can't find my way there myself, and it seems that it is too out of the way for most bibliophiles, though Todd sought to create a Washington Literacy Foundation non-profit that would keep the store open. I am saddened and frustrated that now there won't be a bookstore for miles anywhere near Maple Valley. The closest bricks and mortar store is going to be Barnes and Nobel, a chain store, in Issaquah. 

Finally Found Books to Close

Finally Found Books, Auburn, Wash.,which has struggled financially since opening in 2013, was put up for
to become a nonprofit, has announced that it will close

On Facebook yesterday, owner Todd Hulbert posted: "It is with very sad
hearts that we must inform you of the closure of the store. Our revenues
over the past three months have fallen by over 30% and we can no longer
keep it going, even to wait on the non-profit.... We sincerely thank you
all for your patronage and support over the years. We will miss you!"

Meanwhile, Island Books, which was my favorite bookstore when I was a reporter at the Mercer Island Reporter from 1997 to 2005 (it was mere steps from the Reporter offices), quietly continues to flourish, thank heaven and Roger and Nancy Page. I adore the Pages, and have spent many a blissful hour wandering the stacks at Island Books, having bookish conversations with Roger, interviewing authors and celebrities at the store, trying to weasel ARCs from the treasure horde in the back room and discussing science fiction with Cindy. I got to know most everyone on the staff, and Roger knew which of my relatives was getting what book for Christmas for years. When I left, Roger and Nancy gifted me with a generous gift certificate that I used for over a year, just to ensure that I'd be coming back in for visits. Unfortunately, as the years have passed, I've not been able to make the trek out to Mercer Island as often as I'd like, so I was surprised and heartbroken by the news that the Pages have turned the bookstore over to a young woman who has always wanted to run a bookstore (not unlike myself). But I do understand the need to slow down, and the Pages have earned a rest and time away from the pressures of running a store. They will still be working part time at the store for awhile, but it won't be the same when they're not there. Still, welcome Laurie, and thank you for your many years of stewardship, Roger and Nancy!

Island Books Passes the Torch
A couple of years ago on a Sunday in August a young  mom and her toddler came into the kid’s section where Nancy and I were working. She looked vaguely familiar to us and we greeted her. It turned out that she had grown up on the island and had just moved back to the neighborhood; she was now introducing her own child to the playhouse. “You know, you can never close this store,” she said with warm sternness. “It has to be here forever.” Now, Nancy and I had heard this kind of talk before. We took it as love but not too seriously.

We had no intention of closing the store. We were in the second of the three best years of its over forty-year history. We were busy every day. I’d had over thirty stimulating years since I started as a gift wrapper, and the last fifteen years with Nancy working beside me in the shop were just plain fun. But the heartfelt words of that younger generation got us wondering what kind of plan we should make for the future.

Time on our lease was dwindling; we were getting grayer; our kids had left the nest. We could manage a few more years of traveling over hill and dale from Ballard, but not forever. So we began to ask two questions: What would it take to create new chapters for our story? And what kind of person should we find to help write those chapters? We spent a year talking to other bookstores and consultants. We realized, perhaps not surprisingly, Island Books was beloved common ground on a diverse island and that it would benefit from a local person who understood and loved its varied and unique character. We also knew that running a retail shop and a bookstore in particular would take someone with an adaptive, can-do spirit.

We set about creating a detailed description of how we operate, secured a longer lease, and got a great new neighbor in Homegrown. We were almost ready to solicit the community when … we got lucky. A familiar and well-liked customer sort of hinted one day about her dream of running a community-oriented business. We sort of hinted back. After a couple of months we were talking. Then we were planning. For the last three months, Laurie Raisys has been working in the store. On July 1, we officially passed the torch, and made her the fourth fortunate owner and steward of Island Books.

Laurie is a longtime Mercer Islander who has the warmth, creativity, integrity, and confidence that the store needs to carry it far into the future. She also has our trust and affection. We have signed on to stay and will be working for her, just trading hats. She will wear the hat decorated with the joys, dreams, and challenges of ownership. Nancy and I will be in bookseller caps, trying to entertain the masses and do right by you. The staff is staying too. You can pester all of us: Cindy, Lori, Kay, Marni, James, Marilyn, Miriam, Laurie, Nancy, and me. It's musical chairs, not a curtain call or a revolution.

And so, members of our beloved community, old friends and new faces alike, let's celebrate the continuation of our shared legacy. We can't thank you enough for the years of goodwill and generosity. Looking forward to swapping more stories.

See you at the counter,

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was one of my Powells purchases, and I'd heard many good things about this fascinating fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I enjoyed that the protagonist was the village "pig pen" and outcast, because she was clumsy and unafraid of living near the wood. That said, she allows herself to be intimidated and treated like an idiot servant while under the Dragon's care for far too long. Her fear of sex and sensuality also seems a bit out of date and ridiculous, but I suppose it is meant to make her seem like the country bumpkin that she is, as well as an "innocent" girl. Yet suddenly she falls in love with the Dragon, and all of a sudden wants to have sex with him. The turn around in attitude comes out of nowhere, though it is a welcome sign that Agnez (I called her that in my head because her name is unpronounceable otherwise)is maturing. Her powers stem from a natural earthiness, but for most of the book she struggles to use her powers and make them useful and not weak or wild. Then, out of nowhere, at page 217, the book that I have had a completely different book chapter printed right into it, about 32 pages long. So it interrupts a paragraph, and then when Uprooted begins again, its in the middle of a completely different paragraph, though the reader doesn't seem to have missed much. Still the other book pages are a story that seems to have nothing to do with the magical world of Uprooted. I tried reading some of them, but since it was plucked out at random, I was unfamiliar with the characters or their background, and I soon gave up and just moved on to the Uprooted text. I do not know if this was a misprint, or done on purpose for some bizarre reason that I'm not aware of. It was confusing and made no sense to me as a reader, if it was intentional. If it wasn't Powell's owes me a clean copy! The prose was elegant and the characters well drawn. The plot moved along smartly and the story didn't lag, except for the ruined chapter. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who like fairy tales and legends. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Island Books Citizens of the Year, Fairest by Marissa Meyer, Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop and Linesman by SK Dunstall

Back when I was the lifestyle/business reporter for the Mercer Island Reporter, I used to walk out the front door of the MIR offices and into the back door, a few steps away, of the office of Island Books, a truly wonderful bookstore that has become legendary on Mercer Island. The proprietors of this establishment are the Pages, Roger and Nancy, and as I was soon to learn, they were the best kind of booksellers, the kind who nurtured and cared for their customers, even rabid bibliophiles like myself, making sure that I was thrilled with every purchase, and that I always had somewhere to go to talk about books, to interview authors and to let my then-small son run amok in the kids section. I would hazard a guess that I spent at least half of most of my paychecks at Island Books, and I spent many happy hours there with all their brilliant booksellers discussing books and authors and life in general. So when the MIR was bought by Black Newspapers of Canada and it became clear that they were going to fire all but two employees, I left, and my first stop to say goodbye was beloved Island Books. Roger and Nancy gave me a huge gift certificate as a going away present, and to assure that I'd return for visits, which I have over the past 10 years. Still, in recent years I've not had many opportunities to get to Mercer Island, so I've not seen Roger or Nancy for about 7-8 months. So it was with great joy that I read the following in Shelf Awareness:

Island Books Owners Named Citizens of the Year
Congratulations to Roger and Nancy Page, co-owners of Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash., who were
honored by the City Council as 2014 Citizens of the Year The award recognizes
"individuals or entities whose achievements may have gone unrecognized
in some settings, but who have improved Island life through a broad base
of community service, fundraising, or other means."

The city noted that the Pages "believe their business and personal goal
is to serve the community in a welcoming and caring manner, which
includes hosting special events and countless fundraisers over the
years. Many Islanders, for example, will recall the 2,000 midnight
attendees at a Harry Potter release, with bookstore staff in costume. To
date, the Pages have raised more than $300,000 in donations to a variety
of community causes."

"The more we give, the more the community gives back to us. We are very
grateful for this honor," said Roger Page.
Congratulations, Roger and Nancy. You folks still ROCK in my book!

Fairest by Marissa Meyer is something of an adjunct book to her Lunar Chronicles, as it's the story of how the Evil Queen Levana grew up with a psychopathic sister who turned her evil by burning half of her face and body to make her ugly. I've read all but the latest (Winter) of the Lunar Chronicles, and I've really enjoyed the science fiction reboot of these classic fairy tales, from Cinderella to Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. This particular story is meant to garner sympathy for the cruel meglomaniac Queen of Luna by pointing out how horrible her life and childhood were, and how she used her powers to mentally manipulate a man into marrying her, though she was unable to actually force him to love her forever. Here's the blurb from Kirkus reviews:
"Meyer takes a short break between books in the Lunar Chronicles to explore the back story of evil Queen Levana.As the title suggests, here Meyer riffs on "Snow White," positioning Levana as the wicked queen. As the novel opens, Princess Levana and her older sister prepare for the funeral of their assassinated parents. Levana chafes at the knowledge that her sister will take the throne—Levana is intelligent and politically engaged, while her lovely sister seems interested only in sexual conquest. The 15-year-old princess also yearns for kind, handsome guard Evret Hayle, who is unaccountably in love with his beautiful, pregnant wife. Physical beauty is something the scarred princess can achieve only by casting a Lunar glamour; fortunately, she is very skilled in the art. She is so adept, in fact, that she uses it to lure Evret to her bed and to the altar when his wife dies in childbirth; the only blot on her happiness is baby Winter, her stepdaughter—and her sister, and the Moon's dwindling resources….With this book, Meyer sets herself a formidable challenge. Her overall story and the original fairy tale's structure both demand that Levana end the book thoroughly evil, creating a deterministic, negative character arc. Although she strives to make Levana initially sympathetic, she must also plant the seeds of her cruelty and megalomania; the result is that Levana goes from merely bratty to out-and-out repellent. The author also deprives herself of the opportunity to play to her strengths: quick, cinematic changes in scene and chemistry between her characters."
I found the book to be a quick read, though it wasn't terribly satisfying, as Levana seems shallow and stupid in addition to being evil, and Meyer never really gives us a compelling reason for Levana to become such a meglomaniac and serial killer. Though it is a short book, the plot moves rather slowly and readers are left with a bad taste in their mouths for a character that seems to have less than a spark of decency in her soul. I'd give this book a B-, and only recommend it to those who are fanatical about the Lunar Chronicles.

Murder of Crows  by Anne Bishop is the second book in the "Others" series. The first, Written in Red was a science fiction/horror take on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
After winning the trust of the Others residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all. 

I hadn't really intended to read any more of this series, as I am not a fan of horror fiction, or of very dark urban fantasy, which these books claim to be, genre-wise. The Others are shape-shifters who view the human population of the planet as prey, and are ruthless about keeping the human population under their control and following their rules. The merest mention of rule-breaking or any harm coming to Others from humans, and entire towns full of men, women and children are slaughtered and eaten by the wolves, bears, vampires and death-stare-dealers. Bishop's prose, which is fine, fairly seethes with menace, tension and the scent of blood. The Others are terrifying, and though the author tries to make some of them sympathetic, it's always made clear that they are dangerous killers who have nearly zero regard for human life beyond that of a meal. Yet their taking in of Meg, and adopting her as their own, and their regard for her fellow cassandras is just heartening enough that the reader feels a sense of hope for human/Other relations. I find that I want to read more about the burgeoning relationship between Simon Wolfgard, an Other, and Meg, and Simon's son who is still a puppy. Though I have to wade through so much gore and gut-wrenching scenarios of death and mayhem to do so, I feel compelled to see these two through to the end. I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to dark fantasy/horror fans with strong stomachs.

I was given a copy of Linesman by SK Dunstall by Ace/Roc publishers as part of their Roc Star Readers program. It's a science fiction paperback, and though there is no author blurb, I searched SK Dunstall's name and discovered that this author is actually two female authors working together to create this new series. Here's the blurb:

The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…
Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.
Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.
The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.

I was intrigued by the "every other chapter" narrated by different linesman layout of this novel, but after awhile it became tedious to try and keep up with what was happening with the main protagonist, Ean, because there was all the background noise of Jordan Rossi, the egomaniacal jerk whom I assume represents what most linesmen are really like. Ean is an outlier, a young man from the slums who sings to the lines and hears them singing back, like sentient beings. Though it seems obvious that he's the best level 10 linesman in existence by the time you're halfway through the book, he's still treated like an outcast and an underling by nearly all the other characters, who often talk about him like he's invisible when he's right there. For some bizarre reason, Ean allows this horrific treatment to continue, never speaking up for himself or standing up to anyone until its too late. WHY he remains so cowed, timid and silent in the face of all the bullies and jerks is never explained, nor is it warranted. Especially once Ean has the new Alien ships under control all by himself, I would expect to see his confidence soaring and his self esteem rise at least enough to tell all the other linesmen to shove off.  Please, authors, have Ean grow a spine! He's an interesting enough character to follow through a series, but only if he isn't such a coward and never speaks up for himself. The background of the book is nicely drawn, and the space military also seems very realistic. Oddly enough, though the authors are women, there aren't very many female characters in this novel. Really only two, and the linesmen seems to be nearly all male and the military equally testosterone-heavy. The one prominent woman, Michelle, seems very manipulative and not really all that interesting as a character. Odd, too, that there is virtually no sexual relations in the book at all. I'd give it a B+, and hope that any sequels give us more female characters and a male protagonist who isn't such a wimp.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Powell's Pilgrimage, the Mark Spencer Hotel and The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

On July 3rd I made my annual pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, with my husband, son and 8 boxes of books culled from my collection to provide store credit for the books on my wish list.

I'd called Powell's the week before, so that the wonderful booksellers there might gather the 21 books on my list together for me, so when I came in and was given credit for my culled books, I could just go to the 4th floor and pay for those books with the credit and a $50 gift card from the Mark Spencer Hotel that was part of a promotion they were running if you stayed at their property overnight (you were also given free parking and a Powell's mug).

This weekend has been one of the hottest on record for the Pacific Northwest, so it was no surprise that traffic was a nightmare driving to Portland (4 hours) and back (4.5 hours). But once we arrived, my big 15 year old got a hand truck and piled the book boxes on it twice and wheeled them into the Orange room. There he stacked the boxes on the ledge, and I proceeded to unpack them for one of the nicest lady booksellers I've ever met. I do not know her name, (why didn't I ask? Arg!) but she was a true bibliophile, like myself, and she made the task of unpacking 8 large boxes of books go swiftly and easily while conversing about the books, which ones I'd enjoyed, which ones I'd not enjoyed and why, as well as Powell's lore and where my son could find the books and games he was seeking that day. Our conversation was so animated that a young lady behind me in line asked about some of the books in the discard pile that Powell's couldn't use and were planning on recycling. After hearing about several of them, the young lady expressed interest in reading them or giving them to her mother to read, so I took them from the pile and gave them to her. What a rewarding feeling, to share my love of books with others! Upon receipt of the generous $279 worth of credit, my son and I took the elevator to the 4th floor, where the bill came to $303, so with the $50 gift certificate, we had $18 left over for Nick to use in his pursuit of Cards Against Humanity (a sarcastic card game perfectly suited to teenage boys) and an illustrated book about one of his favorite video games.

By then it was supper time, and Nick schlepped a big bag of books to Deschutes Brewpub, just a block or so down the street from Powells, where my husband was happily sipping a beer sampler platter and eating a huge pretzel with cheese dipping sauce. I had a bacon burger on sourdough and Nick had a crab/lobster roll and fries, and then we walked a couple of blocks back to our hotel, the Mark Spencer, which is roughly a three to five minute walk from Powell's (how convenient!)

Though we've made the pilgrimage to Powell's once or twice a year for the past 10 years. we'd never stayed at the Mark Spencer, usually because we combined our trip to the bookstore with the trip to see the Drum and Bugle Corps show, mounted either in Portland or in some small town near Portland, like Hillsborough, McMinnville or Tualatin. After a rather rough stay last year in a dirty and uncomfortable little motel in McMinnville, where we roasted in the bleachers like ears of corn during the DCI show, we decided this year to see the Drum and Bugle Corps show in Renton on the 4th of July, as long as temperatures didn't reach above 90 degrees. Unfortunately, it was 97 degrees yesterday, so we refrained from going to the show this year.

However, being unencumbered with having to drive to a town nearby Portland at a specific show time turned out to be a boon to Nick and I, when my husband told us that we could return to Powells in the evening and do some bargain hunting and gift seeking before bed time. Joy! After finding some great gifts for a friend and several bargain books (and more Cards Against Humanity for Nick) we returned to the Mark Spencer, exhausted but satisfied.

Our room at the hotel was on the third floor, and contained one king sized bed that was the consistency of a giant marshmallow, and a "living room" area with a pull-out bed/couch and a kitchenette. Two large flat screen TVs, a large closet and a very small but clean bathroom rounded out the area, though the bathroom had no fan. We had to park the car in the hotel's uncovered but supposedly secure lot across the street. Nick and I had some snacks, watched some SyFy TV, (I should mention here that it is never a good idea to try Siracha flavored popcorn and dried apple snacks if you have Crohn's Disease) and then I attempted to sleep on the bed that ate New York. We awoke to the weekend manager bringing us extra towels and the bad news that our car had been broken into and vandalized in the night.  Because my husband forgot to lock the car, there was no structural damage to the car, as there was to some other unfortunate soul's car whose windows had been smashed in, and because we'd brought most everything into the room with us, the only thing that was taken was my husband's iPhone recharger cord.

Though they had security camera's on the lot, the  night manager was apparently only able to scare the junkie woman who was breaking into the vehicles away when she had paused while trying to figure out how to get into our car trunk. As horrified as I was by this violation of our auto, I was more disappointed in the Mark Spencer for not providing safe parking for guests. I let the front desk manager know the next morning that I felt we should be compensated, either with a discount on our bill or another gift certificate to Powells, but I was informed in a rather nonchalant and sneering fashion that neither would be forthcoming. SHAME on you, Mark Spencer manager! It would have cost you very little to repair our soured perspective on your hotel, but you cheaped out instead. I doubt we will be spending another $300 night in your hotel ever again. BTW, your continental breakfast was completely insufficient (there were swarms of people fighting over a few bagels and white bread and hard boiled eggs), so we ended up going to the restaurant around the corner for breakfast. Big fail, Mark Spencer.

I received a copy of the Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher from Ace/Roc books via their wonderful "Roc Star" Super reader program.
Having read and madly loved Jim Butchers "Dresden Files" series of books about Chicago's favorite wizard Harry Dresden, I was so excited to read The Aeronaut's Windlass that I hardly noticed it's heft, coming in at over 600 pages.

Here's the blurb:
Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

My one major qualm about this book is it's length, because there is just too much narration of background, what everyone is feeling/thinking, the particulars of life for each species in this steampunk dystopian world, etc. Battles are described in painstaking, boring detail, and there are redundant paragraphs that could easily be excised without causing any harm to the characters or story. In fact, the extensive narration and over-detailing of battles and soforth slowed the plot to a crawl more than once. I would hazard a guess that roughly 200 pages could be edited from this manuscript and a tight ship of 400 pages would be the happy result. As usual, Butcher's strength are his characters, and this new series is no exception. From Bridget the fledgling guardswoman to Benedict Sorellin the half-human, half-cat warrior, to the brave Captain Grimm and Rowl, the king of warrior cats who more or less rule the tunnels and byways of the Spires, each character is so lovingly outlined and fleshed out that you feel you know them by the time the book is finished. I don't know how many books Butcher has planned for the Cinder Spires series, but I can guarantee that I will be first in line to read each one. A well-earned A and a recommendation to anyone who loves the steampunk genre, cats and swashbuckling adventure!