Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Real Bookstores Matter, Wildfire Book Helping With Wildfires in Washington, 2 am at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, The Love Song of Mss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce and Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

As I am a fan of real books from brick and mortar bookstores, this tidbit from Shelf Awareness resonated with me:
In a Psychology Today piece headlined "What I Learned After an Hour In a
Real-life Bookstore
Madelyn Blair recounted her recent exploration of Canadian indie Munro's

"Choosing a book online is almost a stripped down, sterile exercise:
read the reviews, check the image, look inside, read references from
others and make the purchase. It's convenient and it is a means to an
end. Therefore, by comparison, visiting a brick-and-mortar bookstore
feels like a leisurely experience, akin to visiting with a friend while
sipping tea and sharing life stories. This was the feeling I got upon
entering Munro's Books....

"The hallmark of a good book is when can learn something--anything--just
from reading a short snippet. When you get deeper into the book, then
you are privy to an entire conversation, from which you can glean so
much. In bookstores like this one, it's clear that someone with an
equally strong affinity for the value of books has taken the time to
select the authors in question for what they bring to the table on a
particular subject. My visit with these books left me full of new
insights, even from those with which I had only spent a short time."

Due to a lack of rain this spring and summer, Washington has experienced a number of wildfires that have already claimed the lives of several people, including a firefighter. I think the people who decided to distribute books are doing an excellent job of helping waylay the fears of kids caught in the midst of this crisis. 

As fires continue to plague Washington State, Riverwalk Books in Chelan is providing free copies of Wildfires by
Kathy Furgang (National Geographic Children's Books) "to families with
young peeps living with the wildfires," the store said on Facebook. "As
adults, we can process somewhat the information around us. Children are
often forgotten in our conversations. This is our way of providing a
tool to understanding our youngest community members."
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce is the sequel to the famed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which we read in my book group a couple of years ago.  This is the story of Queenie Hennessy, who worked with Harold Fry in the brewery and who fell in love with him, though she never told him so. Queenie was the cause of Fry's pilgrimage/walk across England to get to her in the hospice before she died of cancer.  While Pilgrimage was a book of a man's emotional and physical journey, Queenie was more of a confession of a sad and dying woman who is living among a colorful cast of characters who are also dying, unfortunately. SPOILER ALERT So the very premise of this novel is depressing, especially if you've read Pilgrimage and realize that he doesn't make it before Queenie passes and is able to speak to him to tell him about her time with his son David and her love of him that has kept her going during his journey. Here's the blurb:
A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot—a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn’t know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.

In this poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy’s voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold’s; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths—about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.

A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person’s life.

More SPOILERS: I felt that the fact that Queenie called out David on his selfishness and cruelty (and, in my opinion, narcissism) hours before his death had nothing to do with his suicide. David, (Harold's son) was a jerk who was likely gay, an alcoholic and a drug addict and doubtless had mental problems as well. The fact that he couldn't deal with any of these things, or deal with his parents, whom he felt were beneath him, doesn't mean that even if he wouldn't have forced himself into Queenie's life that he would have killed himself. He was an emotional cripple and his parents were ridiculous people who seemed unable to deal with their own issues, let alone those of a child. I can't understand why Queenie and everyone else seemed to give in to David, allowing him to steal money from them, take up their time, insist on going to dances with Queenie, and then allowing him to make a spectacle of himself, when he had no real talent for anything other than being a jerk. Why didn't anyone set boundaries with David? Why didn't anyone say NO to him? His mother was a truly horrible person, and his father was a wimp. Queenie seemed to be the only one with a backbone in this whole sad saga. Yet even she couldn't come clean until she was dying. She shouldn't have protected Harold so much, to her own detriment. It was obvious he was too much of a wuss to leave his wife, so why bother to save his job when his boss had nothing but contempt for Queenie and Harold both? There is so much futility and sadness in this book that I'd give it a B and only recommend it to those who aren't depressed and who don't mind reading a very ragged and sad book that doesn't have much of a purpose.

2 a.m. At The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino is a rather bizarre book that tells the story of Madeleine, a filthy-mouthed 9 year old who wants to sing jazz standards because her mother was an "exotic" (stripper) dancer and singer who loved jazz music and left her daughter old jazz records and books when she died. Unfortunately, Mad's father is a complete waste of space who can't function since his wife's death and can't seem to deal with his daughter, who is left to do all the shopping and cooking and can't deal with cleaning, so she ends up in an apartment full of cockroaches and lice. The Cat's Pajamas is an old, once-famed jazz club that is about to be closed due to health and safety violations that have rung up a bill of 30K. Lorca, the owner, is certain that he can do something to save the place, but realistically, readers know that having musicians sleeping/living at the club, smoking and underage players who are allowed to drink there, are all going to sink the place for good once the police return for the fine money. Here's the blurb:
Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

I didn't actually laugh out loud at this novel once, and I found the main character, Madeleine, to be a really nasty piece of work who didn't garner any sympathy with me at all, because she was a snotty bully and not very bright to boot. Her classmates were mean to her because she was such a foul mouthed bully back to them, and I didn't have much sympathy for her wimpy teacher Sarina or the mean principal who is caught with her pants down at the end. Even Lorca and his rude son seemed too pathetic to bother with. Another mean-streets of NYC novel that bored me half to death when I wasn't disgusted with it. I'd give it a C, and only recommend it to those who are really into jazz and don't mind being depressed and left hanging by an abrupt ending.

I grabbed a copy of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier from the library, because the kind folks at Ace/Roc said they were sending me an ARC of the sequel, Tower of Thorns. I didn't know what to expect, as I'd read only a couple of Marillier's previous books. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised that Dreamer's Pool was a marvelous fantasy novel full of redemption and fascinating characters. Here's the blurb:
In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic. 

The imprisonment and release of Blackthorn and Grim by the Fae was reminiscent of Maria V Snyder's Poison Study series, only a bit rougher and more gritty. Prince Oran seemed to be rather foolish and foppish and weak, which was unsurprising, but his growth throughout the novel did provide readers with reason to like and not despise him for his lack of spine (and love of soppy poetry). But the real heroine is Blackthorn, who manages to help a number of people despite her terrible past, and help poor old Grim, whose self loathing is only tempered by his love and faith in Blackthorn. I was grateful for the deft handling of their friendship, so that it was made clear that Blackthorn wants nothing to do with a sexual or love relationship at all, yet she needs Grim as a partner to help her deal with the world. The prose is stunning and rich, and the plot fluid and swift as a river. A real page-turner, I read the book in one day, and found myself yearning for more. A well-deserved A, with a recommendation to all readers who love quest fantasies and stories of the underdog who wins the day. I can hardly wait to read the sequel.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Bibliophile's Dream Vacation, New Martian Trailer, David "Ducky" McCallum Interview, Dietland by Sarai Walker and I'll Have What She's Having by Rebecca Harrington

Airbnb: 'A New Bookseller Every Fortnight'

Now THIS is my idea of the perfect vacation! I have longed to be a bookstore owner since childhood, and I've loved Scotland since I was a teenager and developed a crush on David McCallum and Sean Connery (and later, Ewan MacGregor and Gerard Butler). Unfortunately, this is a somewhat costly venture, including airfare, so this trip will have to remain on my "Bucket List" for the time being.

"Nestled into the pristine lowlands, the Open Book is a charming
bookshop with apartment above in the heart of Wigtown, Scotland's
National Book Town. Live your dream of having your very own bookshop by
the sea in Scotland... for a week or two."

This is the Airbnb pitch for the "first ever bookshop holiday/residency
experience <>," sponsored by the Wigtown Festival, during which guests can "play-bookshop for a week or
two. We'll give you your very own bookshop, and apartment above,
supported by a team of friendly volunteers and bookshop sellers to make
your trip as lovely as possible....

"Residents will be expected to carry out all the normal duties of a
bookseller including:

* Opening/closing the shop during normal working hours.
* Welcoming visitors
* Selling books (stating the obvious)
* Staffing, stocking, creating awesome window displays and basically
putting your own stamp on the shop."

Recently, Lee Miller spent two weeks as proprietor of Wigtown's Open
Book; read about his experience here

My son and I loved this book, so we're eagerly anticipating the film's release, right before my wedding anniversary on October 5!
Two new trailers are out for Ridley Scott's The Martian
based on Andy Weir's novel, Indiewire reported. Matt Damon, Jessica
Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara,
Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis
and Chiwetel Ejiofor co-star in the movie that opens October 2.

Nifty article on David McCallum’s Role in Man From UNCLE:

It was a complete coincidence that I read Dietland by Sarai Walker and I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington one after the other last week. That said, though they both are about dieting, they're opposites when it comes to POV and message. 
Dietland is a brilliant novel about a young woman Alicia "Plum" Kettle who is fat and full of self-loathing, so much so that she tries to be invisible in society as much as possible, with a work from home job and very little social life. Society humiliates and shuns fat women constantly, while sending out messages that no woman, no matter how thin, is ever good enough just as she is. Women and girls are expected to pay into the billion dollar diet and exercise industry and worship at the altar of the "beauty" industry, which sends out its message of impossible standards through women's magazines like the one that Plum works for as an advice columnist pretending to be her boss. Kirkus Reviews provides the blurb: Hilarious, surreal, and bracingly original, Walker's ambitious debut avoids moralistic traps to achieve something rarer: a genuinely subversive novel that's also serious fun. At just over 300 pounds, Plum Kettle is waiting for her real life to start: she'll be a writer. She'll be loved. She'll be thin. In the meantime, she spends her days ghostwriting advice to distraught teenage girls on behalf of a popular teen magazine ("Dear Kitty, I have stretch marks on my boobs, please help"), meticulously counting calories ("turkey lasagna (230)"), and fantasizing about life after weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious young woman in Technicolor tights starts following her, Plum finds herself drawn into an underground feminist community of radical women who refuse to bow to oppressive societal standards. Under the tutelage of Verena Baptist, anti-diet crusader and heiress to the Baptist diet fortune (a diet with which Plum is intimately familiar), Plum undertakes a far more daring—and more dangerous—five-step plan: to live as her true self now. Meanwhile, a violent guerrilla group, known only as "Jennifer," has emerged, committing acts of vigilante justice against misogynists. As her surgery date nears and Jennifer's acts grow increasingly drastic, Plum finds she's at the center of what can only be described as a literal feminist conspiracy—and she's transforming into a version of herself she never knew existed. But while it would be easy for the book to devolve into a tired parable about the virtues of loving yourself just the way you are, Walker's sharp eye and dry humor push it away from empty platitudes and toward deeper and more challenging turf. Ultimately, for all the unsettling pleasure of Walker's splashier scenarios—and there are many—it's Plum's achingly real inner life that gives the novel its arresting emotional weight. Part Fight Club, part feminist manifesto, an offbeat and genre-bending novel that aims high—and delivers.
I'm not quite sure why nearly every review I've read of Dietland compares it to Fight Club, which was, in my opinion, a deeply misogynistic movie that I loathed from an author who seems to despise women, but if it is because of the radical "Jennifer" who kills a bunch of rapists and serial killers in Dietland, I don't think that is the same thing as a bunch of men beating the crap out of each other in secret because they feel it makes them more "manly." Oh, and the main character is also suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder and blows up the credit card industry in his town to get out of debt. Again, not the same thing as bringing a bunch of slimebags who rape and murder women and girls to justice.  As someone who has been fat for most of my life (and then dieted my way to being "normal" sized for several years), I knew exactly where Plum was coming from. I empathized with her pain and anguish over never feeling like she'd fit in, and wanting to disappear because of the way people, mostly men, treat larger women with scorn and cruelty. I understood Plum's depriving herself on all the various diets, knowing after awhile that they are never going to work, but being unable to go off of them because that's how she's lived her life, in a state of self deprivation and starvation, offset by binges when her body was desperate for sustenence. I just found myself wondering why it seemed to take so long for Plum to realize that fat is a feminist issue, and that she is beautiful and worthy of life just as she is, with all her kind hearted generosity and courage (and many talents) intact. I cheered when she began to talk back to the dirtbags who harrassed her in restaurants, and when she started to wear clothing that was bright and suited her physical form, curves and all. I found myself wishing that there really was a Calliope House to help women learn to value themselves, and that there was a real Jennifer to right the wrongs against women/girls that go unnoticed or are dismissed because there are too many misogynistic men in positions of power in this world who prefer to think of females as disposable. Walker's prose is clean and muscular, and her plot forthright and fast. I give this novel an A+, and if I were able to do so, I'd hand out copies of Dietland at every high school and college in America, and make it required reading. 
I'll Have What She's Having is a much lighter non-fiction book, in which the author goes on the diets that celebrities have publicized either on their websites/blogs or in book form. Harrington glibly comments on these weird and wacky food plans, and while most of them are completely unsustainable, just imagining these women eating these bizarre foods day in and day out is amusing, if sad (Sad because it is ridiculous that women are expected to look a certain way, be a certain size and if they aren't, they're ridiculed and brutalized by the media and the public). It is a shame that a number of the older celebrities mentioned used bad fad diets and cigarettes to maintain their figures, which lead to disease and death. But Harrington doesn't focus on that, she's too busy writing about how awful most of these diet foods taste, and blathering on about her worship of Gwyneth Paltrow, whose blog "Goop" is often lambasted as shallow, stupid and ego-driven. While I admire Paltrow as an actress and singer, I find worship of her lifestyle and her blog just bizarre and sickening. At any rate, Harrington doesn't answer the question posed by anyone with a brain reading her book, which is "WHY would anyone eat this crap and subject themselves to a life of deprivation and pain just to look like a celebrity?" But she does allow a peek inside of celebrity culture and lifestyle, and does it with humor, which is a plus. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who find snarky articles on celebrities good reading.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gloria Steinemn Wins Award, Amazon is Roasted by NYT, The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows, Planetfall by Emma Newman and City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

I've always been a huge fan of Gloria Steinem (and so has my mother). I've read a couple of her books, and I deeply admire her ability to cut through misogynistic BS from politicians and corporate old boys to show the unfairness of the pervasive sexism in America. So congratulations, Gloria on a well deserved award.

Gloria Steinem Wins Dayton Literary Peace Prize
Congratulations to iconic author and activist Gloria Steinem for being
named winner of Dayton Literary Peace Prize's Richard C. Holbrooke
Distinguished Achievement Award
writers whose work uses the power of literature to foster peace, social
justice and global understanding." She will receive the award November 1
in Dayton, Ohio.

"Gloria Steinem's words have changed the world, not only opening
horizons for the female half of the world's population, but also opening
the hearts and minds of men to the issues women have faced from the
beginning of time," said Sharon Rab, founder and co-chair of the Dayton
Literary Peace Prize Foundation. "Her work reflects the issues that have
been the focus of winning Dayton Literary Peace Prize books over the
last decade: issues of race, class, gender, and their connections to

In response to news of the honor, Steinem noted that "as a little girl
reading about Eleanor Roosevelt in a Toledo neighborhood library--or a
grown-up recommending books like Sex and World Peace to all who will
listen--I've learned that words give us our ideas of what is possible.
I'm honored to be any part of a recognition that words and ideas must
lead the way."

My husband worked at Amazon in their epublishing department, and he told me a lot of the things represented in this article are true, or were for his department (he was working on contract there). Co workers were encouraged to "rat out" other employees and managers weren't allowed to praise workers, only to be critical of even the smallest detail that wasn't in line with some perfect ideal that Bezos set up. It was a tense and unforgiving environment, and my husband left when his contract was up. That said, had an even more toxic corporate environment for workers, and I've since known several other people who have gone through the meat grinder of Expedia, only to emerge bitter and disgusted by their cruel treatment. So while I understand Bezos might see things through his own rose-colored glasses of top management, I think he needs to realize that the cut throat environment he's set up and encouraged to flourish is burning and churning out workers who are, after all, only human.
Amazon Under Fire in NYT article.
In a long piece titled "Inside Amazon
Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace" and based on interviews
with more than 100 former and current Amazon employees, the New York
Times yesterday outlined the company's corporate culture in grim detail.

 (What follows is a long-form article with many quotes from current and former workers that outlines a workplace in which workers are constantly under pressure to work lots of unpaid overtime and are routinely critical of each other in inter-office memos/emails, and in blistering performance reviews. It also discusses the fact that those who have terminally ill relatives, or are pregnant or have cancer themselves are tossed out on their ear if they try to take time off to recover.)

Still, several Amazonians, including founder and CEO Jeff Bezos himself,
criticized the story. In a company-wide memo posted by GeekWire, Bezos wrote, in part, "The article doesn't describe
the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if
you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to
HR. You can also email me directly at Even if it's rare
or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be
"I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like
the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would
leave such a company."

Bezos, known for his honking, odd-timed laughs, concluded: "But
hopefully, you don't recognize the company described. Hopefully, you're
having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent
the future, and laughing along the way."

City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte (the non de plume of authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch) is the sequel to their book (reviewed here previously) City of Dark Magic.  In this installment, our over-sexed heroine Sarah Weston races around Vienna with the 400 year old dwarf Nico in search of the golden fleece as a cure for her blind piano prodigy friend, teenager Pollina, while dodging another evil immortal and romping in the sack with any handsome guy she encounters because she just can't keep her raging libido under control. Here's the blurb:
In this action-packed sequel to City of Dark Magic, we find musicologist Sarah Weston in Vienna in search of a cure for her friend Pollina, who is now gravely ill and who may not have much time left. Meanwhile, Nicolas Pertusato, in London in search of an ancient alchemical cure for the girl, discovers an old enemy is one step ahead of him. In Prague, Prince Max tries to unravel the strange reappearance of a long dead saint while being pursued by a seductive red-headed historian with dark motives of her own.
In the city of Beethoven, Mozart, and Freud, Sarah becomes the target in a deadly web of intrigue that involves a scientist on the run, stolen art, seductive pastries, a few surprises from long-dead alchemists, a distractingly attractive horseman who’s more than a little bloodthirsty, and a trail of secrets and lies. But nothing will be more dangerous than the brilliant and vindictive villain who seeks to bend time itself. Sarah must travel deep into an ancient mystery to save the people she loves.
As in their last novel, which is actually a paranormal romantic adventure, the authors provide clean and swift prose and a whirlwind plot to keep readers intrigued. However, the characters are nearly cliches, and Sarah seems right out of most men's dreams of a heroine who isn't picky about who she has sex with when the mood strikes, which is often and in odd places (like a horse barn that's on fire). While she continually muses on her "love" of Max, the prince from the last book, both Sarah and Max (who also muses on his love of Sarah while having sex with other women) only decided to be a couple toward the end of the novel, and then only after Max's bed partner has proven to be in the hire of the evil immortal, and a drug addicted spy and saboteur. Sarah's lover turns out to be an epileptic and a blind and stupid patsy for his evil murdering brother, so obviously he won't do as a permanent mate. Sarah discovers that she has the ability to travel through time, and she finds her new path after (SPOILER) saving Pollina and routing the evil immortal, and all is well at the castle on Christmas. While Flyte's books are fun and fast reads, I am always left unsatisfied after reading their works, probably because they're the equivalent of a cupcake, all sweetness and no nutritional value. Still, I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who wants something engrossing to read for a few hours, and who likes history and music.

I received an advanced reader copy (ARC) of Planetfall by Emma Newman from  Ace/Roc publishers in their Roc Stars reader program. 
Planetfall is something that is fairly rare nowadays, social science fiction that doesn't automatically begin with a dystopian Earth filled with people struggling to survive. Here's the blurb:
From Emma Newman, the award-nominated author of Between Two Thorns, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
God's City colony has everything it needs to survive, and thrive. Everyone recycles, their homes are all bio engineered to keep them cool and comfortable and they have 'printers' that recycle old things to keep them all in new clothing and food. The only problem is that they've built a religion on a lie, one that is perpetuated by Mack, the colonist's politician and PR guy, and Ren, the mentally-ill lesbian engineer who builds everything and keeps it running. SPOILERS follow.
I know that readers are supposed to like Ren, who is vulnerable yet competent, tough yet weak, etc. I didn't like her from the outset, because she seemed to do most things against her better judgement at the behest of Mack, who is a real tool. Though Ren is 77, apparently on this new world people don't age fast, and she's expecting to live another 50 years, at least. However, having lost a child back on Earth and followed her lover Suh to this planet years later, Ren has become a hoarder whose home and the tunnels beneath are packed with refuse and filth. She even has a corpse packed away down there, and while her shy and retiring nature (which borders on Aspergers, in my opinion) keeps her secret for over 20 years, a young man from outside the colony slowly insinuates himself into her life and brings all the colony secrets to light, including Rens. The fact that he is doing so only to destroy the colony and its residents out of revenge doesn't become clear until the books final pages, when Ren decides to just lay down and die inside God's City, for some unknown, bizarre reason. I became frustrated with the book after the first chapter, looking for a protagonist I could understand or empathize with or like, and I remained frustrated for the entire novel. Newman gave us little reason to care about Ren, unless the reader is suffering from OCD/hoarders syndrome or Autism and doesn't mind reading about a pathetic protagonist who lives among piles of disgusting filth and doesn't recognize that she has a problem. Most social science fiction that I've read in the past 45 years has been written with a moral in mind, some message that we're supposed to discern from the chaos of the novel itself. The only message I discerned from Planetfall was that humans are weak and stupid creatures who need religion (which is a sham) to keep any society together. When that religion is proven false, society devolves into barbarism. If this is, indeed, the message Newman is pushing, it's a rather grim one, and it leaves the novel with an unsatisfying, depressing ending. The prose is clean and the plot moves along at a mechanical pace, but the characters are unlikable, weak or cruel. I'd give this science fiction novel a C+, and only recommend it to those who are interested in social experiments on new worlds but have no faith in humanity as a whole.

I was really looking forward to reading The Truth About Us by Annie Barrows, co author of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which I loved reading with my book group). For 3/4 of the novel, I was delighted. Unfortunately, the last 1/4 of the book is awful. Here's the blurb: 
Annie Barrows once again evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters. Her new novel, The Truth According to Us, brings to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

Honestly, Barrow's storytelling abilities are tremendous, and set her well within the pantheon of great writers like Carson McCullers and Flannery O' Connor. Her child protagonist (there are three female protagonists in this novel, Jottie, Layla and Willa) Willa is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, all niaviete and raw emotions. Jottie is the aunt every child wishes they had, kind and caring and a good cook, and Layla is the traditional superficial rich girl who learns who she is from Jottie and the other characters in the novel.There are charming letters written by Layla, and funny stories told by Jottie about her family's past, and Willa's childish spying on the adults to learn their secrets. All this is wonderful, with the exception of Willa and her sister Bird's father, Felix. Felix was heir to the family sock factory until his best friend (and Jotties boyfriend) Vause Hamilton supposedly took thousands from the company safe and burned down the factory, effectively killing Jottie and Felix's much beloved father, as well as the town hero Vause, while casting suspicion onto Felix for the whole disaster. Felix, being the slick womanizer and liar that he is, denies the allegations, and forces Jottie to relinquish any contact with Sol, the young man who accused Felix of setting the fire and stealing the cash. Because there's no concrete proof, Felix is never held accountable, and he essentially loses the family business, blackmails Jottie into becoming a spinster aunt caring for his two daughters (because their mother left his two-timing arse, and it is never clear whether they divorced) while he lies and says he's a chemical salesman when he's actually running bootleg liquor (the book takes place during prohibition in 1938) during his long absences from home. 
Though readers are supposed to fall for this charming jerk, I never liked him, and I was especially sad to see Layla fall into bed with him when it was obvious he was only using her, as he uses all the other women in his life. When Willa finds evidence that her father actually did burn down the factory and steal the money, she blurts it out, only to have Felix  whine that he hates himself for killing Vause, but he couldn't bring himself to confess to his crimes because he couldn't bear to lose his sister and his children. The fact that he's blackmailed his sister and kept her thinking that the love of her life was a bad guy means nothing to this asshat. So while he's banished from the house (for all of a month or so) Jottie plans on marrying Sol and having her own life for a change, but then Felix interferes again, and gives her Vause's jacket, and for some bizarre reason, Jottie then chooses to cleve to the ghost of her boyfriend rather than start a family of her own and have a real life, which makes no sense at all. Then, Willa invites her father back into the house, and gives a speech about how to not forgive and forget is ashes, and suddenly Jottie and Willa and even Layla, who felt like a fool for believing Felix was in love with her and would marry her, all forgive Felix for destroying the family name and their lives, and he just goes back to being a creep and a criminal. WTF? Felix is a narcissist who only cares about himself, and uses people to get what he wants. He's evil, and should be kept away from his children, who need to learn that actions that harm or kill others have consequences! But this loathsome toad gets away with everything. Horrible ending that made no sense at all, and has left me with a sour taste in my mouth that will make me wary of reading anything else that Annie Barrow writes. Shame on you, Annie Barrow, for breaking reader's trust that justice will prevail. While most of the book deserves an A, the last 30 pages get a D, leaving this book with a grade of C+, and I recommend it to those who enjoy Southern fiction with crazy characters and bad endings.   

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Harry Potter's Birthday, Final Daily Show, Martian Movie Clip, and Love in Bookstores, Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan and Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

It's hard to believe that beloved literary icon Harry Potter, from JK Rowling's brilliant novels, is turning 35 already. Seems like just yesterday he was a poor orphan 10 year old living under the stairs at the Dursleys.
Image of the Day: Happy Birthday, Harry!

To celebrate Harry Potter's 35th birthday, on August 1, the Country
Bookshelf in Bozeman, Mont., hosted more than 200 people for an afternoon party featuring trivia games, a
costume contest, pin the scar on Harry, quidditch pong, wand making, a
sorting hat, a magical creature hunt and lots of Harry Potter themed
food. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle quoted events coordinator Carson Evans
"There's such an energy about Harry Potter fans; there's no other series
that people get so excited about and know so much about." Pictured:
Country Bookshelf staffers Cindy Hinson, Carson Evans (dressed as
Moaning Myrtle) and Kyle Butler.

              **    **
Another icon, this time of television, has taken his final bow. Jon Stewart, whose witty and wise political commentary kept America laughing and learning, decided to end his 16 year run on a classy note by promoting his wife's book.

Final Daily Show

Last night, just two nights before the Daily Show's final episode, Jon
Stewart made his final book recommendation--and it was a special one.
The book is Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and

How We Can Make Their Lives Better by his wife, Tracey Stewart. To be
published on October 6 by Artisan Books, Do Unto Animals is a guide with
illustrations by Lisel Ashlock on how to improve animals' quality of
life at home, in the backyard and on the farm. Stewart, a veterinary
technician who has 19 rescue animals at home, mixes facts about animals
and their behavior with practical advice, projects and stories of her
own family's experience.

Jon Stewart said on the air last night
"I've always known that my wife is kinder and a nicer person than I am,
but to learn that she is funnier and a better writer? I'm not gonna lie
to you--stings a little bit!" Acknowledging that the book isn't
available yet, he recommended viewers "head down to your local
bookstore, your independent bookstore, and ask them to order it."

As I've said before, my son Nick and I both read and loved this book, which is being made into a movie with the way-too-old Matt Damon in the lead role.

In a new clip from The Martian
Andy Weir's novel, the crew of the ARES 3 "prepare for their mission to
Mars by spending 10 days in isolation," Entertainment Weekly noted.
"After their 10 days are up, a NASA psychologist interviews them to
judge their psychological state, and we learn more about the astronauts
who are making the journey to the Red Planet, as Jessica Chastain shuts
down sexism, Michael Peña recaps Goodfellas, and Matt Damon
ponders the scientific accuracy of Aquaman." Ridley Scott's film hits
theaters on October 2.

I've always found bookstores and libraries to be very sensual places, and probably because I love books so much, I find love stories/marriage proposals in bookstores to be the height of romance.

Bookshops: 'Where Love Stories Begin'

In an ode to bookshops as places "where love stories begin
Bert Wright, curator of the Mountain to Sea dlr Book Festival and former
bookseller, observed in the Irish Times that while there are many
reasons to root for the survival of bricks-and-mortar bookstores, one of
the most important "is the conviction that bookshops, like libraries,
art galleries and theatres, satisfy a fundamental human appetite for
culture and community and are therefore worth preserving. Always too, of
course, there is the feeling that you meet more interesting people in

Noting that the "notion of bookshops as hang-outs for cruising and
schmoozing often crops up in novels and in popular culture in general,"
Wright added that "it's not just readers and writers who find bookshops
romantic, for many a bookseller has met their soul mate on the job.
Twenty years ago this August I met mine. Reader, I married her."

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan was the August book for the library's Tuesday night book group that I head up. Because it is a fictionalized account of the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and his divorced wife Fanny Osborne, I was expecting an exciting tale of Stevenson's muse and the wrestling of books like Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde into existence. What I actually read was a dreadfully dull recounting of the lives of these two co-dependent people who were both unpleasant people. Here's the blurb: 
From Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium—with her three children and nanny in tow—to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires.  Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated “belle Americaine.”
Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing—and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson’s charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair—marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness—that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson’s own unforgettable tales.
Though they both traveled to exotic locales and seemed to love one another, Stevenson was an invalid for much of the book, and Fanny was mostly concerned with taking care of him, though she also eventually sought some fame as a writer as well. Stevenson comes off as a weak willed, sick and rather needy person who treated most everyone around him poorly and like servants, which he seemed to expect as his due, for some reason. Fanny was not a kindly person and she treated her children like lap dogs. There is way too much period detail and narration in this novel and not enough characterization of the protagonists, so that in the end, you don't really care when they die. Horan's novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, Loving Frank, was a much better novel, and I was therefore surprised that it took me four tries to actually get through this long-winded novel. I'd give it a C+, and recommend it only to die-hard fans of RL Stevenson.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop is the third book in the "Others" series. I've read and reviewed the first two, and, as I am not really into horror fiction, I read the first book under protest. However, the characters were so well written that I couldn't stop thinking about them, so I read the second book and found myself yearning to know what happens next to our intrepid cassandra sangue, (blood prophet) Meg as she develops her relationship with Simon Wolfgard and the other terra indigene shape-shifters. This brought me to a dilemma, as the third book, Vision in Silver, is new and still in hardback, so it's expensive and I couldn't afford to buy a copy. However, a friend reminded me of my beloved library, and I was able to snag a copy right away, and read it in a day. Anne Bishop's prose is mesmerizing, and her plots fly like the wind. Her characters are the real stars of her novels, however, and they are so well drawn that within her detailed world they come alive. Here's the blurb: 
The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

I feel compelled, almost against my will, to keep reading Anne Bishop's Others series, though I know that there will be way too much death and gore and horror for me to rest easy at night. In fact, I had a nightmare last night that ended with me sitting bolt upright in bed, puffing as if I'd run a marathon and afraid that whatever was chasing me in the nightmare was going to take a bite out of my leg any minute. I do not like being frightened, and I like terror even less. Yet I know when the next Others book comes out, I will be anticipating it with the fervor of a Humans First and Last fanatic, unfortunately. Damn you, Anne Bishop!  Still, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first two novels. But be warned, they are addictive, and once you start reading them, you will be hooked.