Sunday, January 24, 2016

RIP David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, Powells Wins Best Bookstore in Oregon, Indie Bookstores Can't Be Replicated, Ordinary Grace by Willam Kent Krueger, City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen, and Rush by Eve Silver

Musician and actor David Bowie died last week at age 69. He was an amazing talent and he was a book lover. Rest in peace, gentleman.

David Bowie: Book Lover's Lament

"I'm a real self-educated kind of guy. I read voraciously. Every book I
ever bought, I have. I can't throw it away. It's physically impossible
to leave my hand! Some of them are in warehouses. I've got a library
that I keep the ones I really really like. I look around my library some
nights and I do these terrible things to myself--I count up the books
and think, how long I might have to live and think, 'F-k, I can't read
two-thirds of these books.' It overwhelms me with sadness."

--David Bowie, quoted in the Daily Beast in a 2002 interview with Bob

Of course Powell's City of Books was voted best bookstore in Oregon. It is a well-deserved title for a bookstore that is a mecca for bibliophiles nationwide.
Powell's Voted Portland's Best Bookstore
Powell's City of Books, Portland, Ore.,"dominated" the Oregonian's People Choice voting for Portland's best
the paper reported.

Powell's won 32% of the vote. "Broadway Books also made a strong
showing, garnering 19% of the vote, followed by A Children's Place with
nearly 14%. Annie Bloom's Books and Wallace Books were tied, each
receiving 8% of the vote."

One commenter wrote: "Portland has the best bookstore options in the
country, if not the world. So it's hard to pick a single best, kind of
like picking the best song ever. How could you ever do with just one? If
I really had to choose, I say Powell's City of Books! And for anyone who
says it's hard to get to, well try living in another city the size of
Portland for a while and reevaluate that question."

I completely agree with this quote, though, due to there being no bookstores in my community, I have purchased books on Amazon and Barnes and Still, there is nothing that can replace the joy of browsing and buying books in an actual bricks and mortar store, as I used to do when I worked at the Mercer Island Reporter and shopped every week at Island Books.

Indie Bookstores 'Can't Be Replicated by Amazon'
 "For years, has been the place to find the cheapest books and
in the most convenient way. Now, Amazon is trying to emulate the
neighborhood bookstores we adore with its new brick-and-mortar location
in University Village.

"But places like Third Place Books, the Elliott Bay Book Company and my
own place of work, A Book for All Seasons, can never be replaced. The
experience of an indie bookstore just can't be bought.... People are
unique. We don't want to feel like another data point, another sale in
the machine that tells the company how many books to buy. Indie
bookstores also use sales data, but we leave ample room for
experimentation and improvisation. If I remember an amazing book from my
childhood that I think we should carry, I can tell my boss. We have the
freedom to experiment, which means our customers do, too."

--Indigo Trigg-Hauger, a freelance writer and a bookseller at A Book for
Wash., in a Seattle Times opinion piece headlined "Indie bookstores

Last week we also lost another icon, British actor Alan Rickman, a huge favorite of mine from movies like Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves ("and cancel Christmas!") to an indie favorite called "Blow Dry" about a hair styling competition. He was a generous and kind man, from all reports, and a huge bibliophile who said that when he was caught reading the Harry Potter books when he was in his dotage, his grandchildren would say "You're reading them still?" and he'd respond, "Always."
Glenn Frey, founding member of the Eagles rock band also died last week, so many people are calling January a month of death. I don't blame them, it is horrifically hard to learn that actors you've enjoyed watching or musicians you've listened to your whole life are gone from this earth. I freaking HATE cancer, which is decimating the population and for some reason, we've not been able to find a cure for this evil disease.

Magnificent Actor Alan Rickman Dies Too Soon.

For most actors, it's in the eyes – that's where the camera lingers.

Alan Rickman had an extra gift: a voice that sparked shivers of every sort. He used it to disarm Bruce Willis in Die Hard, to woo Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility and to rattle Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter films. That rumbling bass baritone moved audiences and made Rickman one of the most respected actors of his generation. When it was silenced by cancer on Jan. 14, the only thing left to feel was heartbreak. He was 69.

Ordinary Grace by Willian Kent Krueger is the February pick for my Tuesday Night library book group. In looking at the book, and the subject matter, I was afraid that this would be another grim and horrible novel full of whining from a old guy who wants everyone to know that his dreams never came true, and consequently, the American Dream is dead. 
I was wrong, thank heaven. Ordinary Grace is actually a lovely novel about a 13-year-old boy named Frank, his younger, stuttering brother named Jake, and their beautiful older sister Ariel.   
Frank's mother married his father when he was a law student, and after he lived through WWII and decided to become a Methodist minister in a small town in Minnesota, she has to live the rigid life that is expected of a minister's wife, though she does so will ill grace, reminding him that this is not what she signed up for. 
“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.
Having grown up in a German (with a bit of Irish and Swiss) heritage family in a small town in the Midwest, I readily identified with Frank's life and the way that the whole town knows your business in a matter of moments. Though this book takes place in 1961, when I was only a year old, things didn't change much in Iowa's small towns for years while I was growing up. There was still a great deal of bullying and prejudice, and there was always the "caste system" when it came to school, of the jocks and cheerleaders, the "smartest guys/girls" who were popular if they were good looking, the drama or band nerds and the kids that everyone picked on because they were different somehow. They were too fat or too thin, were obviously gay or lesbian, had cleft palates or some other physical deformity, were Down Syndrome or just plain "ugly" and poor.If you happened to be extremely talented at something, like disco dancing, you could climb the social ladder, but that would only get you so far. It is into this world, during the summer, that we find Frank, who is a somewhat typical PK (preacher's kid) in that he is always finding ways to bend or break the rules, and hoping to not get caught. His younger stuttering brother Jake is his conscience, and takes great umbrage when Frank embellishes stories to make himself the hero.  When a "slow" boy in town (he probably had Down Syndrome) gets hit by a train and dies, he sets off what seems like a chain reaction, with one person after another dying from suspicious causes. Things get really personal when Frank's sister Ariel is found dead in the river, and an autopsy reveals that she was pregnant. I found her affair and love of the local composer (who had been in love with her mother for years, but broke things off when he returned from the war blind and badly scarred) rather grotesque, and somewhat hard to believe, as I found the death of her high school boyfriend who is revealed as gay completely believable. Though he was from the wealthiest family in town, the shame would have been enormous for his family, as small minded small town people would never have let them forget it. The amount of religion in the novel becomes a bit cloying at different points, and though the prose is lucid and elegant, the plot intricate and sublime, I felt that readers could have done with a bit less proselytizing. Still, it was well worth reading, and I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Gilead or Bill Bryson's books about growing up in Iowa.

Rush by Eve Sliver was a book I found for a dollar at our local dollar store, and, as I am a fan of YA Fiction, I was intrigued enough to grab a copy. Unfortunately, this book suffers from the authors laziness and her decision to not seek a less well-tread plot than the dystopian world with a teenage girl protagonist who is forced to learn to fight to protect and save the world from some outside force, in this case, aliens. This novel is basically a mash-up (or rehash) of Twilight and Hunger Games with a little "War Games" thrown in for good measure. The protagonist even has the distant/cold and totally handsome guy tell her that she "smells like strawberries" just like Bella does in Twilight, a book I loathed with all that is in me.  Here's the blurb:
Rush pulls you headlong into the thrilling, high-stakes world of Eve Silver's teen series The Game, about teens pulled in and out of an alternate reality where battling aliens is more than a game—it's life and death. Eve Silver's teen debut offers science fiction and gaming fans romantic thrills at a breakneck pace. New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong says, "Smart and original, Rush is an action-packed ride with plenty of heart."
Sixteen-year-old Miki Jones's carefully controlled life spirals into chaos after she's run down in the street, left broken and bloody. She wakes up fully healed in a place called the lobby—pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game in which she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader, Jackson Tate, who says the game is more than that and what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival—and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn't. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.
Miki, who is Asian, even has the stereotypical ability to use a martial art, in this case, Kendo (sword fighting). This is like having a black teenager with great dancing and singing skills, because that's a racist stereotype. Of course, like Bella, the idiotic girl from Twilight, Miki also has a dead/absent mother and a father who is so caught up in his own life he has no idea what is going on with his daughter, and remains blissfully ignorant of her changes in mood, circumstance, and boyfriends. But then, parents in these now ubiquitous dystopian YA novels are always either stupid, ridiculously blind to their children's lives or dead. What this says to teenagers in the past 20 years and currently reading this sort of fiction, I don't know, but as the parent of a teenager who isn't blind or stupid, I can say I find it offensive. Of course, Jackson Tate turns out to be part alien, and rather mean/cruel, which of course means that our heroine Miki can't help but fall desperately in love with him, because what girl doesn't love being treated like crap by a handsome alien teenager? Granted, he tries to protect her, to his detriment, but when push comes to shove, he uses her to get "out of the game." The prose is workman like and the plot completely predictable. I'd give this book a C, and recommend it only to those who enjoyed Twilight and who like video games and unoriginal storylines.

City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen is the 13th Molly Murphy mystery, and the 10th or 11th that I've read. Here's the blurb:
Molly and Daniel Sullivan are settling happily into the new routines of parenthood, but their domestic bliss is shattered the night a gang retaliates against Daniel for making a big arrest. Daniel wants his family safely out of New York City as soon as possible. In shock and grieving, but knowing she needs to protect their infant son Liam, Molly agrees to take him on the long journey to Paris to stay with her friends Sid and Gus, who are studying art in the City of Light.
But upon arriving in Paris, nothing goes as planned. Sid and Gus seem to have vanished into thin air, and Molly's search to figure out what happened to them will lead her through all levels of Parisian society, from extravagant salons to the dingy cafes where starving artists linger over coffee and loud philosophical debates. And when in the course of her search she stumbles across a dead body, Molly, on her own in a foreign country, starts to wonder if she and Liam might be in even more danger in Paris than they had been at home.
As Impressionism gives way to Fauvism and Cubism, and the Dreyfus affair rocks France, Molly races through Paris to outsmart a killer in City of Darkness and Light, Rhys Bowen's most spectacular Molly Murphy novel yet.
Molly is, in this novel, the mother of an almost one year old child, and yet she seems content to leave him with strangers, so she can go sleuthing, and she doesn't mind putting herself in extreme danger, knowing that her child could grow up without a mother. Molly also comes off as rude, or more rude than usual, pushy and deceitful, as she continues to hide her crime-solving obsession from her husband Daniel, who has gotten her to agree to give up her private investigation business in order to become a wife and mother. Because the book is set in 1905, I understand that women had no rights at this time, and were dependent on men for a place to live and access to money, etc. Still, Molly's friends Sid and Gus, who are wealthy and live together in a "bohemian" lifestyle (code for their being a lesbian couple) somehow manage to live free and do whatever they want without much censure, though the staid Daniel clearly disapproves of them and their friendship with his wife. I find it tough to believe that someone as feisty as Molly would agree to give up something she loves so much, ie solving mysteries, for a life as a housewife and mother. Still, mysteries seem to find Molly, and now that Sid is somehow a suspect in the murder of a notorious artist and anti-semite, Molly has to go to work to solve the murder and save her friend. Sid used to be quite the feisty gal herself, until she's in trouble, and suddenly she becomes quite the weak and weepy woman, afraid of her own shadow. It bothered me that Sid and Gus also had no problem putting Molly in danger, though they know that Liam, her son, needs her. I found their selfishness upsetting, and the way that Molly kept running afoul of so many famed artists of the era, who also happen to all be rather lecherous and mean, seemed contrived, (though I did enjoy her encounter with famed female artist Mary Cassat, whose work was dismissed at the time because she painted women and children in domestic scenes.) Bowen's prose is sterling, and her plots, though meandering, always end up with a nice little twist. I'd give this novel a B+ and recommend it to anyone interested in Paris at the turn of the century, and in the Paris art scene of the time.

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