Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, The Reading Project, Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare, First Impressions by Charlie Lovett, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas and Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Why didn't this exist when I was in college? I would have won this contest with ease! Though I might have faced some competition from my best friend and room mate Muff Larson, who was even more of a book lover than I was, if that's possible.

Cool Idea of the Day: National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest
"There are readers, and then there are book collectors," Smithsonian
magazine noted in its report on an annual competition that "exists
specifically to feed the book-accumulating habits of young collectors."
The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest
"celebrates book collectors whose treasure troves are organized around a
clear theme. A panel evaluates 'the intrinsic significance, innovation
and interest of book collections as presented in entrants' descriptive
essays and bibliographies.' That's right--it's not enough to amass books
to enter the competition. Rather, you have to demonstrate your bookish
chops with a bibliography that shows how well you understand your
collection and how it fits into the wider world." The winning student
gets $2,500, and his or her college library gets $1,000 to support
future competitions. First, second and third place winners are also
invited to attend a ceremony at the Library of Congress.

This is a great idea, though I don't know that I could bear to part with all my beloved tomes in exchange for some emails from fellow book lovers.

"Could this be a new chapter in the way we interact with one another?"
asked the Huffington Post in a feature on the Shaheryar Malik, who "has
left stacks of books
from his own library at popular destinations all over New York City. He
doesn't stick around to see if anyone takes one of his books, nor does
he re-visit his stacks. Instead he leaves a bookmark with his e-mail
address printed on it inside each book, in the hopes that he'll hear
back from whomever decided to pick decided to pick that book up."

Malik's idea, called The Reading Project, started last spring when
he decided to let his books "live their own lives.... I felt much
calmer, relaxed and yet more excited when I walked away from them." Each
stack has a note that reads: "Take a book. Any book. When you finish,
e-mail the artist." He has received about 70 e-mails from more than 30
countries, and has dispersed all but three of his books. "Words in a
book sitting on my shelf are meaningless and lifeless to me until they
are read again," he said. "The people who've taken part in the project
are now connected to me in this weird [but good] way. I've never seen or
met them, but I know what they have read and vice versa. That's pretty
personal. Strange thing is that I've given a total stranger a part of me
and yet, I still have it."

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is the first, very hefty volume in a new Shadowhunters series titled The Dark Artifices, and starring some of the background characters from the Mortal Instruments series that Clare is well known for, and which has been made into a movie and currently a TV series.
Having devoured the Mortal Instruments series, I still wasn't sure this new series would stack up to Clare's previous work. I need not have worried. Though the book is in serious need of an edit, (it's 670 pages long, if you don't count the 20 page little booklet at the end that delves into a day in the life of Clary Fairchild) it's filled with Clare's usual sleek prose and engrossing characters. A master storyteller, Clare is able to keep reader's attention through every twist and turn of the plot, right through to the always climactic ending. Here's the blurb:
The Shadowhunters of Los Angeles star in the first novel in Cassandra Clare's newest series, The Dark Artifices, a sequel to the internationally bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Lady Midnight is a Shadowhunters novel.
It's been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.
Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn't lead her in treacherous directions…
Making things even more complicated, Julian's brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters' help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn't recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?
Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare's Dark Artifices series.
Though I enjoyed learning more about Emma and her parabatai Julian, and their forbidden love, it got to be a bit tiresome about 2/3 of the way through the book. That said, it was still a decent romantic plot and Mark's torment over his fae lover gave the novel a much needed air of gravitas. I was glad to see the return of some other Mortal Instruments characters, like Magnus Bane, and I loved hearing about how they were doing now that the "war" is over and everyone is trying to rebuild the Shadowhunters and shun the fae. All in all, a well deserved A, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the Mortal Instruments series.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas was recommended to me by a friend at the library who knows that I enjoy revamped fairy tales. This particular retelling is of Beauty and the Beast with a little bit of Little Red Riding Hood thrown in for good measure. My book arrived from Barnes and Noble damaged by bad printing, with the first several pages having been sewn into the binding so that I had to cut them open in order to read them and get them to lie flat. Still, though maimed, it was readable, so I figured it wasn't worth it to complain to Barnes and Noble and wait for a fresh copy to arrive. Here's the blurb:
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin--one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin--and his world--forever. Publisher's Weekly:When 19-year-old Feyre kills a wolf in the borderland forest between the human world and the faerie kingdom of Prythian, she unknowingly breaks a wary truce and must repay the murder with her life. Tamlin, the shapeshifting Fae who comes to collect, offers Feyre a way out: spend the rest of her days on his lands in Prythian. She reluctantly agrees, leaving her starving family behind for the deceptive luxury of the faerie world. As Feyre begins to accept and even enjoy her new surroundings, not to mention the attentions of her host, she learns that the faerie world is crumbling under a blight that robs people like Tamlin of their magic and lets monsters roam free. Maas (the Throne of Glass series) draws themes and plot points from several fairy tales, fueling a well-developed world and complex relationships. The gruesome politics and magical might of the Fae may seem to leave Feyre hopelessly outmatched, but her grit and boundless loyalty demand that her foes—and readers—sit up and pay attention.
I honestly didn't expect to become so entranced by this novel that I couldn't put it down, but that's what happened. I was somewhat flummoxed by Feyre's constant fear and anxiety for her crappy family's welfare, when they'd shown her nothing in the way of kindness, love or gratitude for keeping them alive, but she seemed to be the kind of person whose honor demands that if she's given her word that she will do something, she will do it until she dies. Since she promised her dying mother that she, the youngest daughter, would take care of her worthless father (who gambled away the family fortune and was crippled by bill collectors and somehow gave up on being a decent father) and two horrible sisters (who could have easily learned to hunt, or gotten work to help keep the family alive, but of course they don't, they let Feyre do all the work and then try to take the money that she makes for themselves), she can't believe that Tamlin the Beast would do as he says and make sure that her family is well fed and cared for in her absence. When it turns out that they are, she is still accosted by her cruel and cold older sister who demands that she tell her the truth of where she's been and what she is doing. Again, Feyre bows to the whims of this horrid person, though there's no reason to. When she gives everything, at the end, we are meant to think that she will be happy in her new life, but I felt slightly cheated that Feyre wasn't allowed to solve the riddle and survive as a human being, when that was her greatest strength, her humanity. Still, the prose was mesmerizing and the plot intricate and swift. Another well deserved A, and I'd recommend this to anyone who loves old school fairy tales and reboots of them.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett  was recommended to me by my friend and fellow MV Book group buddy Dawn K. She felt that as a bibliophile, and fan of 19th century literature, that I'd love this story of Jane Austen and the mystery of what happened to the first draft of her novel Pride and Prejudice. Here's the blurb:
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
Though I've become rather tired of the conceit of having a book that goes from one century and POV to another in alternating chapters, Lovett manages to keep the plot moving with sterling prose and engaging characters. I did find Sophie to be more than a little irritating and stupid in her willingness to overlook clear signs of evil in Winston just because he was good in bed, but she was saved by good guy Eric at the last minute, so all is well that ends well, if you don't mind a bit of damsel in distress sexism. Still, the story had just the right amount of tension and delved just enough into the life of poor old Jane Austen to keep the pages turning. I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to all Jane Austen fans and those who love a good bookish mystery.

Wake Of Vultures by Lila Bowen was a recommendation of Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid series and seriously funny guy. I've read several of the books he's recommended on his Facebook page or his website, and 9 times out of 10 he's proven that he knows what a good read is all about. Wake of Vultures was no exception, much to my surprise. I am not normally a fan of the Western genre, but this novel managed to combine urban fantasy tropes with Western era scenes and somehow ended up riveting this reader to the page. Here's the blurb: Monsters, magic and the supernatural combine in this epic debut where a young woman must defeat the evil hiding beneath the surface.
Nettie Lonesome dreams of a better life than toiling as a slave in the sandy desert. But late one night, a stranger attacks her — and Nettie wins more than the fight.
Now she's got everything she ever wanted: friends, a good horse, and a better gun. But if she can't kill the thing haunting her nightmares and stealing children across the prairie, she'll lose it all — and never find out what happened to her real family. The Shadow will begin a journey that leads her to the darkest chambers of the heart — if only she can survive.
Wake of Vultures is the first novel of the Shadow series and introduces Nettie Lonesome, who is much more than she seems. Publisher's Weekly:
Delilah S. Dawson’s first book under the Bowen name, set in a gritty and well-realized paranormal Wild West, is a warm-hearted winner. Nettie Lonesome, a mixed-race young woman who dresses like a man, has been told all her life that she’s worthless. She runs the failing ranch of a married white couple who treat her like a slave, but her heart lies with the nearby Double TK Ranch, where she trains horses and is welcomed with respect and acceptance. When a man attacks her and she kills him, he turns to sand and her entire world flips upside down. Soon tragedy strikes the men of the Double TK, and Nettie, with the help of enigmatic shape-shifter Coyote Dan and some lawmen who are no strangers to the strange, sets out to find her destiny, as well as a child thief called Pia Mupitsi. The unforgiving western landscape is home to supernatural beasties as diverse as the human inhabitants, and no-nonsense Nettie is pragmatic and brave. Themes of self-worth, gender, and the complexity of identity are treated with frank realism and sensitivity, and the narrative is a love letter to the paranormal western genre. Fantastical history fans will be delighted
I honestly had no idea that there even was a paranormal western genre, and I detest novels that are described as "gritty," because that usually means that there's a lot of swearing, violence and gore, all of which do not interest me as a reader. This novel, however, didn't really have a lot of swearing, nor was the gore gratuitous, for the most part, though the horror elements were definitely there, especially towards the end. That said, Nettie is an amazing protagonist and her story of building a life for herself as a mixed race young woman in the old west was fantastic reading. The prose was clear and crisp, the plot ferocious and the storytelling heartfelt and beautiful. A strong A, with the recommendation to anyone who loves a good underdog story in the old west, complete with vampire prostitutes and Native American shapeshifters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Clinton at Powells, The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris and The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Apparently, even former President Clinton can't resist the allure of the wonderful Powell's City of Books. I know that this wonderful bookstore is a mecca for me as a bibliophile, and I make my pilgrimage there at least twice a year.

Clinton Campaign Trail Runs Through Powell's Books
Yesterday, former President Bill Clinton "made a surprise stop at Portland's famous Powell's Books" before heading to Vancouver,
Wash., to campaign for Hillary, KATU reported, adding that Clinton "was
joined by Ore. Gov. Kate Brown at the bookstore just after 4 p.m. and
stayed for about an hour, browsing and greeting shoppers." Governor
Brown announced yesterday she is officially endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

Clinton bought a copy of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of
Franklin Roosevelt, 1905-1928 by Geoffrey C. Ward, and "was also gifted
a copy of Peter Stark's Astoria, a book about settling Astoria, Ore. in
the early 1800s," KATU noted.

The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee is a wonderful bookish memoir from a gentleman who has worked in bookstores, worked as a book rep and has had a strong love of books his whole life. As a fellow bibliophile, I was hoping that Buzbee was as good a storyteller as he is a reader/bookseller, and I was not disappointed. Though it's a small paperback book, YL Bookshop is beautifully rendered both inside and out. Though it is non fiction, Buzbee manages to make his stories in the trade as fascinating as fiction. Here's the blurb:In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Buzbee, a former bookseller and sales representative, celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore - the smell and touch of books, getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through The Weekly Reader in grade school. Interwoven throughout is a historical account of the bookseller's trade - from the great Alexandria library with an estimated one million papyrus scrolls to Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, which led to the extraordinary effort to publish and sell James Joyce's Ulysses during the 1920s. 
If you love the history of books, and are fascinated by the whole process of creating them, you will love the tidbits that reveal the history of literature sprinkled throughout this book. I was also surprised that this book is actually over 12 years old, though it's not as dated as one might think. Buzbee's choice of books for discussion and for passionate readings of his own throughout his life provide insight into his life, as well as seducing readers into buying copies of Steinbeck's oeuvre. (Having been a fan of Steinbeck's work since childhood, I didn't need any encouragement in that department. But it was great to read of someone else's devotion to America's Bard). For bibliophiles and those who worship at the altars of books in bookstores and libraries, this book is for you. For those who are just interested in the history of printing and some behind the scenes of life as a bookseller, this book is for you, too. When I find a book that I love that has wonderful prose, I often take sticky-note arrows and mark passages that I want to transcribe into my journal later on. It's a testament to Buzbee's skills as a writer that his book has a fringe of multi colored sticky arrows all along its edge, awaiting transcription. A solid A, with a recommendation, as above, to book lovers everywhere.

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris is, I would guess, her third or fourth book based in Norse mythology. This book is a cheeky first person memoir from the most lambasted god in the Norse pantheon, Loki the trickster god, the one who always causes everyone trouble. Here's the blurb:
This novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods—retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. A #1 bestseller in the UK, The Gospel of Loki tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself.
 Publisher's Weekly: Harris (Chocolat) reinterprets the Norse Völuspá (which she incorporates into her story as “The Prophecy of the Oracle”) from the point of view of Loki, evoking the voice of a narcissistic celebrity memoir while retaining a timeless folktale aesthetic. Loki emerges as Wildfire from the realm of Chaos to rescue, trick, and infuriate Odin and the inhabitants of Asgard. The troublemaker antihero narrates the personality flaws of the gods, gives post-facto justifications for his own actions, and admonishes the reader to “never trust anyone.” But underneath the braggadocio and wit runs a story with psychological meat, that of the permanent outsider craving the comfort of approval, seeking revenge on those who disrespect him, and trying to save his own skin as he ponders the relationships among free will, forced obligations, and the inevitable. Those familiar with the traditional stories will find Harris’s approach knowledgeable and respectful but fresh enough to be much more than a modernized retelling, while readers without the background will find this version of Loki an easy enough storyteller to follow for the first time. 
Having read 13 of Harris' other books, (and I loved all but two) I wasn't surprised at the wonderful witty prose or the plot that twists and turns with ease, yet still manages to be coherent and smart. What did surprise me was how I began to empathize with Loki, the ultimate anti-hero, and how different his view of Thor and Bragi and Odin are from the views that we're used to seeing in the Avengers movies, with the handsome Chris Hemsworth playing the god Thor. Here's a sad Trickster god who is an automatic outsider, and who is constantly betrayed by everyone around him. Yet for all that, there are many hilarious moments and a number of battles told from a POV that those who love myths and legends need to hear. Another solid A, with a recommendation to any fans of classic Norse mythology and folk tales.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore is the April book for my Tuesday night book group at the MV Library. It's a non fiction account of the origins of Wonder Woman, one of the few female superheroes in existence in comic books and on the screen. I was looking forward to reading more about the origins of Diana Prince and the Wonder Woman that I'd watched on TV, portrayed by Lynda Carter, growing up (I was disappointed in that there was only one brief mention of the show, and it was completely dismissive). Unfortunately, we don't even get to the creation of the comic book superheroine until nearly 200 pages into the book. Prior to this, the "secret history" is basically a recounting of the life of William Moulton Marston (Wonder Woman's creator) and his three wives, plus their grounding in the women's rights movements from the turn of the century on. Reading like a women's history text combined with a cautionary tale, Lepore seems fascinated by Marston's living arrangements, and the four children he produced via two women in his life, both of whom outlived him and lived together until their deaths years later (one of the women who lived with him had had a hysterectomy and was unable to have children). Lepore also seems fascinated by his "kink" of finding bondage erotic, enough so that he continually ties up Wonder Woman in nearly every comic she appears in. Marston comes off as something of a con man and a charming snake oil salesman who was able to get all these women to not only support him financially, but to keep his secrets over the years and to bolster his ego by getting him work and writing articles for women's magazines that favored him with expertise he didn't actually own. Here's the blurb:
A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism
Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history.
Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Beginning in his undergraduate years at Harvard, Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. The Marston family story is a tale of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Byrne wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they themselves pursued lives of extraordinary nonconformity. Marston, internationally known as an expert on truth—he invented the lie detector test—lived a life of secrets, only to spill them on the pages of Wonder Woman.The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights—a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.
What is left unclear in Lepore's history is WHY these women all fell for Marsten, had his children and supported him when he seems to be such a lying jerk. There's more than a few sanctimonious whiffs of "All good women are really lesbians who just have to fake being heterosexual due to the morality and prejudices of the time" in this book, and while I honestly have no problem with homosexuality, I appreciate clarity vs innuendo, and Lepore never actually comes out and says that Marsten's wives were gay. The author also shows men in a jaundiced light throughout the book, and while I dislike sexism, prejudice and misogyny myself, I don't believe that all men are bad or are enemies of feminism (or if they are friends of feminism, that doesn't mean that they're con men/egotists like Marsten). Having taken more than a couple of women's history courses in college, I grew bored during the first half of The Secret History, and I was relieved when the book ended, sooner than I expected, due to a huge index in back for all of Lepore's footnotes. And while I appreciate knowing about the origins of Wonder Woman, I am still unclear as to whether or not she's a homunculus made of clay, or a real woman Amazon from a small fictional island. So I'd give this book a B-, and only recommend it to those who would like to know more about the women's liberation and sufferage movements and who have an interest in Wonder Woman comics from an academic viewpoint. This book is not an easy read.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Amazon-Berkeley Disconnect, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley and Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

I recently had a conversation online with some people about the Washington Post, now owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. I contended that the journalists that work at WAPO couldn't consider themselves unbiased, especially when it comes to negative news about Amazon, because they were unlikely to print such news and arouse the ire of their boss, who does not take to negative press about his beloved cash cow business. A couple of people disagreed, and indeed started personally attacking me for having spoken against the great Wizard of Amazon himself. Though it would be hypocritical of me to say that I never shop on Amazon myself, when I do (though I shop at regular bookstores and Barnes and for books much more family buys other items on Amazon), I still do not trust someone who has such flagrant disregard for the health and safety and sanity of his workers.  Apparently, I am not the only one.
"There is a disconnect when Berkeley residents and students speak up for
an increased minimum wage, better working conditions, paid sick days,
and all the rest of the things that create an enlightened business
community, and yet continue to think Amazon is awesome because it's so
cheap! Amazon's owner, Jeff Bezos, is reportedly worth $59 billion and
is currently building rockets to launch into space. Where did he get
this vast wealth in less than 20 years? In part, by paying substandard
wages in lousy working conditions, by underpricing smaller competitors
out of business and by avoiding the normal costs of doing business such
as collecting sales taxes. There is a big disconnect when Berkeley
residents and students rightly expect their businesses and neighbors to
be green and sustainable and yet still enjoy having a whim at night that
results in a big truck trundling down their street the next day to
deliver a small package."

--Amy Thomas, president of Pegasus Books, Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., in an
op-ed piece "Amazon delivers hardship for local business owners," in the Daily Californian

Having read all of Ransom Riggs novels, I am really looking forward to this movie, which stars a plethora of great actors and actresses.

The first official trailer has been released for Tim Burton's film
adaptation of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs, Entertainment Weekly reported. Written by Jane Goldman,
the movie stars Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Allison
Janney, Terence Stamp, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson.
It hits theaters on September 30.

 A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro was a surprising book from beginning to end. I had expected it to be more of a mystery-solving crime duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson's great great great grandchildren than a young adult romance full of teenage cliches and sexist stereotypes. But apparently, it is impossible to have a story about teenagers without these tired tropes. Here's the blurb:
The first book in a witty, suspenseful new trilogy about a brilliant new crime-solving duo: the teen descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. This clever page-turner will appeal to fans of Maureen Johnson and Ally Carter.
Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices—and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.
But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other. Publisher's Weekly: Debut author Cavallaro brings Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuths (or their distant relatives, anyway) into the 21st century, casting Holmes as a brilliant young woman and Watson, who narrates, as her admirer and accomplice. Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are descendants of the famous crime-solving duo, each inheriting their forebears’ talents for deduction and bringing murderers to justice. They are students at a Connecticut boarding school, where someone is killing their classmates and framing the two of them as the culprits. Cavallaro gives Charlotte the cold, calculating persona of Holmeses ranging from Doyle’s original to the stars of shows like Sherlock and Elementary, including the tendency toward detailed deductions about people and a drug addiction. This Holmes was sexual assaulted by her now-murdered classmate, but Cavallaro uses the assault as a way to throw suspicion on Holmes as the possible murderer, sidestepping the seriousness of that crime in its own right. This aside, readers will find this to be an involving murder mystery, and a promising start to a planned trilogy.
I honestly  did not feel that there was a lot of witty humor in this book, nor did I feel it was tremendously charming. Charlotte Holmes is a damaged brilliant young woman who, because she had a crush on her math tutor, Moriarty, seems to have fallen into drug addiction. Jaimie Watson has a real creep of a father who manipulates him into going to the same boarding school as Holmes so that the two will meet and solve mysteries together as did their ancestors. Why this isn't criminal child abuse, since neither of these children were raised decently or with love and attention instead of neglect and cold manipulation, is beyond me. And that's before they are targeted for death and nearly killed in an explosion. That Jaimie becomes jealous and possessive of Charlotte almost instantaneously upon meeting her is somehow taken as a sign of him being a good guy and, like his ancestor, a protector of the great Holmes. He wants to kill the thug who raped her, and he loathes anyone else who gets near her. He has a constant sexual longing for her that sounds like the cliche of a teenage boy, the one that assumes that teenage boys have no control over their bodies or libidos, and therefore are not really at fault for raping or abusing young women, even killing them, because they just couldn't help it with all that testosterone flowing through them. That this is total BS, as well as a dangerous social falsehood that perpetuates sexism and rape culture is not touched upon at all. Girls are not prizes that boys earn. It seemed fairly clear to me from the outset that Holmes didn't really need Watson, except to use as a patsy, which she did, twice, to solve the mystery. And anyone who doesn't think a Moriarty is involved is no fan of the original Conan Doyle stories. So apart from him being an annoying idiot, there didn't seem to be a huge point to his being in the story at all, other than as a name and a chronicler. The prose was decent, and the plot straightforward. I'd give it a B-, and recommend it only to those who don't mind being offended for the girls in this novel.

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley was recommended to me by someone who knows that I generally enjoy stories about Ireland and magic and YA lit. Though it is set in the 1990s, I had assumed it would be a modern enough tale that I wouldn't be wading through a lot of tropes and cliches about teenagers, drugs, sex and rock and roll. I was, alas, wrong. Here's the blurb:
It's 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she'll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life- altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.
The Carnival at Bray is an evocative ode to the Smells Like Teen Spirit Generation and a heartfelt exploration of tragedy, first love, and the transformative power of music. The book won the 2014 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize.
Fair disclosure, though I was 33 in 1993, I wasn't yet married, but was living with my fiance Jim in Seattle, ground zero for Nirvana and the whole "grunge" movement. I'd been watching MTV since it debuted when I was in college in 1981, so I saw the Smells Like Teen Spirit video and yes, I could see it was certainly cynical, loud, pounding music and the men playing it looked like they'd just spent the night in a dumpster. They were wearing flannel, which was and is somewhat common in the Pacific Northwest. Their music was okay. Not really earth-shattering, as far as I could tell, and to be honest, I think that Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, also Seattle natives, did it better (and did more ground-breaking work) 20 years before that in the 70s, when I was a teenager. So I really didn't see the big deal for Maggie to sacrifice nearly everything, including her life, to get to a Nirvana concert in Rome, though Kurt Cobain would commit suicide not long after. I also didn't get her complete adulation of her suicidal junkie uncle Kevin. Yeah, he knew a lot about music and was in an unsuccessful band. So what? He was still a creepy drug addict. Of course, he seemed like the only relative that Maggie had who would pay any attention to her or treat her decently, as her mother was an alcoholic promiscuous idiot  and her father wasn't in the picture. Her sister is just annoying, and because Maggie's not "boy crazy' like all of the other girls at school (especially in Ireland, where it appears the libidos of neither sex of teenager can be restrained) she can't seem to make friends. She allows herself to be pawed and slobbered over and forced into oral sex with a boy she dislikes just because she thinks its what the other kids are doing. Again, this seems ridiculous to me. Why doesn't she have the least bit of self esteem to say no? Both this book and a Study in Charlotte don't seem to think much of teenagers as a whole. Being the parent of a very responsible, kind and not sexually aggressive teenage boy makes me wonder what kind of childhoods these two authors had that they have such a jaundiced view of the teen years. Be that as it may, I found this book rather trying and by the end, depressing, though of course Maggie gets her handsome Irish guy. I'd give it a C, and recommend it only to those for whom grunge music is the only reason for existence.

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop is the fourth book in her "Others" series, which is one of four book series Bishop has written. I've read four books in her Black Jewels series, and I've purchased three more in that series, but haven't gotten around to reading them yet. That I haven't is because, like the Others books, the Black Jewels books have so much violence, horror, death, malignancy and cruel manipulation in them that I can only stomach so much before I have to move on to something more positive, lest I fall into that oubliette of darkness that is a side effect of reading such books for me, anyway.  Still, no one can fault Anne Bishop as a prose stylist. Her Others books are mesmerizing, and Marked in Flesh is no exception. The characters pull you in and don't let you go until the final page of cleanup after whatever big storm or hurricane or deus ex machina has whipped through and done its work, along with the terra indigene who need to feast more discretely on humans. Though I've said it before, it bears repeating that I am not a fan or horror fiction. I do not like being scared or afraid, and Bishop laces her prose with a delicate tension that never fades, leaving readers on edge for the whole novel without realizing why until the final chapter. But the fact of the matter is that once you've started reading one of her novels, you can't put it down. The plots are fast and fierce, but twisted enough that you're never quite sure if one of the main characters is going to die.  Still, I found myself hoping and praying for Meg to find a way for the Cassandras to prophesy without cutting and for her to get over her fears and addictions so that she and Simon can be together, if that's even possible (they are two separate species). Here's the blurb: 
For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community...
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.

But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs...
I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other Other books. I say that sincerely hoping that Anne Bishop will bring this series to an end, soon, so that I can stop waiting for the next one like Simon salivating over fresh meat. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Couth Buzzard Used Books Damaged in Explosion in Seattle, Laura Childs latest, The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt, and The Wtiches of Cambridge by Menna Van Praag

I was horrified to read last week that there was a huge gas explosion in my old neighborhood of Phinney Ridge/Greenwood in Seattle. Fortunately, since it was in the wee hours, there were few injuries and no deaths. Still, many businesses adjacent to the blast had their windows blown out and had structural damage, including the new Couth Buzzard bookshop. I used to live across the street from the original Couth Buzzard Used Bookstore, at 71st and Greenwood, in the 1990s when it was owned by Gerry Lovchik and Marilyn Stauter.  I shelved books in exchange for books, and  I grew to love that ratty, tattered space and its odd book loving denizens. Gerry sold the store to Theo before he passed, and the bookstore moved farther down Greenwood to an old space that used to be a post office. The PNA, where I used to work, has set up a donation station on their website, and other area businesses are holding fundraisers to support the rebuilding of these stores.

Seattle Bookstore Damaged in Huge Gas Explosion

Broken windows at Couth Buzzard Books.
A huge natural gas explosion
early yesterday morning in the Greenwood neighborhood in Seattle, Wash., destroyed three businesses, damaged 36 others and injured nine firefighters. Among the damaged stores was Couth Buzzard Books, a used and new bookstore that includes the Espresso Buono Cafe; and performance and community gathering spaces.

Owner Theo Dzielak told local TV station Q13
that the store lost most of its windows, which have since been boarded up with plywood. When the explosion occurred, he was at his nearby home and said it was so loud that "my first thought was, 'Oh my God, someone's dead from this.' "

On Facebook
the store wrote: "Under extremely stressful conditions we interacted the First Responders and Seattle Police, PSE employees and others, and all responded to our questions, needs and concerns clearly, efficiently, and with great compassion. Thank you all!"

The store is closed for the time being, and fundraisers are being organized for the affected businesses.
My mother and I are both huge fans of Child's tea shop mysteries, and, as veteran tea drinkers, we are both always excited when a new book comes out.
bookstore, Minneapolis, Minn., hosted a signing for Laura Childs and her
new book, Devonshire Scream: A Tea Shop Mystery (Penguin). Pictured:
Childs (c.) with the new owners of the store, MegKing-Abraham (l.) and Devin Abraham.
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie Schmidt is a translated children's book that I'd heard a lot about from friends and cat fanciers. It's one of those stories that is just as interesting to adults as it is to children. Unfortunately, my child is now 16, and wouldn't be caught dead having his mother read to him, otherwise I'd be repeating his review of this fantastic little tome here on my blog. Here's the blurb:
In the tradition of The Cricket in Times Square comes this charming tale of courage, friendship, and what it really means to be human. This classic, which originated in Holland and has withstood the test of time worldwide, will appeal to readers young and old—and dog and cat lovers alike!

An act of kindness brings shy reporter Mr. Tibble into contact with the unusual Miss Minou. Tibble is close to losing his job because he only writes stories about cats. Fortunately, Minou provides him with real news. She gets the juicy inside information from her local feline friends, who are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Tibble is appreciative, but he wonders how she does it. He has noticed that Minou is terrified of dogs and can climb trees and rooftops with elegance and ease. . . . It’s almost as if she’s a cat herself. But how can that be? From Publisher's Weekly: In this delightfully quirky story from the late Dutch author Schmidt (1911–1995), which was originally published in the Netherlands in 1970, a timid, feline-obsessed reporter is about to lose his job for filing stories on cats instead of more newsworthy fare. Mr. Tibble leaves his editor’s office knowing that he’ll be fired if he doesn’t produce better stories, only to rescue a woman named Miss Minou from a tree. When the woman shows up at his attic apartment, she confides that she used to be a cat, which seems outlandish to Tibble until her feline behaviors—such as sleeping in a box, hiding from dogs, and rubbing up against people—begin to convince him otherwise. In exchange for housing, Minou activates a “cat press agency,” enlisting local cats to feed her scoops that Tibble turns into hard-hitting articles. Tibble’s newfound wealth and influence is tested when a tip reveals the sinister side of a beloved philanthropist. It’s a satisfying and triumphant fantasy—one that will have readers watching what they say in front of their cats. Ages 10–up. (Jan.) 

Mr Tibble and Minou are so charming, and the other cats such vivid characters that I can't imagine anyone not loving this slender volume.  The prose is polished and delightful, and the plot zings along like lightening. Having spent the last 30 plus years as a reporter, I was able to empathize with Mr Tibble and his grumpy editor who only wants him to write hard news stories, when Tibble is more interested in cats and lifestyle articles. I was never that good at doing the boring city council round up or the articles about schools or politics, but I excelled at talking to people and getting their stories on paper, because I find people endlessly fascinating, just as Tibble finds the lives of cats fascinating. To my mind, in 50 or 100 years, no one will care about a squabble within the city council or road improvement plans, but I think people will still want to read about the human beings who made up the community, who founded it and nurtured it and had their own stories published in the paper. Currently I figure that I brought people closer to learning about and understanding their neighbors, which helps foster community, which is what newspapers are for, in my opinion. lMr Tibble feels the same about the community of cats in his town, who all talk to each other and gather news just like the AP Wire service. Once Tibble is able to get this news from Minou, who has been turned into a human from being a cat, his career soars, and he learns of a local politicians corruption. This was an altogether lovely tale well told, and I'd give it an A, with a recommendation to all parents with children ages 9 and over who enjoy a good cat story with a happy ending.

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna Van Praag looked like a combination of an Alice Hoffman novel and Sarah Addison Allen tale, so I was immediately intrigued by it, but I was also nagged by a feeling that I'd already read something by Van Praag. Turns out that if I have, I've forgotten it and not posted a review, because I can't find any evidence of Van Praag in my database. Still, it looked like magical realism or fantasy/chick lit, which I love, so I delved in with all due haste. Here's the blurb:
For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Witches of Cambridge reveals an astonishing world where the heart’s deepest secrets give way to the magic of life-changing love.
Be careful what you wish for. If you’re a witch, you might just get it.

Amandine Bisset has always had the power to feel the emotions of those around her. It’s a secret she can share only with her friends—all professors, all witches—when they gather for the Cambridge University Society of Literature and Witchcraft. Amandine treasures these meetings but lately senses the ties among her colleagues beginning to unravel. If only she had her student Noa’s power to hear the innermost thoughts of others, she might know how to patch things up. Unfortunately, Noa regards her gift as a curse. So when a seductive artist claims he can cure her, Noa jumps at the chance, no matter the cost.

Noa’s not the only witch who’s in over her head. Mathematics professor Kat has a serious case of unrequited love but refuses to cast spells to win anyone’s heart. Kat’s sister, Cosima, is not above using magic to get what she wants, sprinkling pastries in her bakery with equal parts sugar and enchantment. But when Cosima sets her sights on Kat’s crush, she conjures up a dangerous love triangle.
As romance and longing swirl through every picturesque side street, the witches of Cambridge find their lives unexpectedly upended and changed in ways sometimes extraordinary, sometimes heartbreaking, but always enchanting.

Unfortunately, Van Praag's characters don't have the backbone that Allen and Hoffman's characters have, and they seem rather wimpy, whiny and too afraid of life to really live it.
At any rate, I was hoping for strong female characters who could navigate their lives without men. I was disappointed in that, because all of the characters, from the recently widowed Amandine to gullible Noa and stupid Cosima all are willing to die to have a romantic relationship with a man, or to get over said relationship, in Amandine's case. Kat is also remarkably stupid, for a brilliant mathematics professor, when she doesn't seem to realize that the man she's had a crush on for years is gay, and when she is oblivious to the student who has a crush on her, mainly because she assumes that no one younger than she is would find her attractive. Cosima, Kat's sister whom she had to raise herself, is well aware that she has a disease that prevents her from surviving pregnancy, yet when her husband breaks up with her because he'd cheated and gotten another woman pregnant, Cosima is even more determined to have a baby. So she magically seduces Kat's friend and love interest, George, who, after sleeping with Cosima realizes that he has made a mistake. Of course, Cosima gets pregnant after one night, and dies in childbirth, thereby leaving Gay George with a child he's not prepared to raise and a bakery cafe he has no idea how to run. That everyone is married or paired up and somehow happy at the end boggles the mind, because they've really had no time to get to this happy place. Despite it's shortcomings, Witches of Cambridge was a charming novel with a very European feel to it. Though I would wish for a lot less angsty drama around the women and their love lives, I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys magic, baking and romance.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Nellie Bly, Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner, Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard and Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

March has come in like a lion in the Pacific Northwest, with rain, wind and stormy weather that is perfect for settling in for a good read. I've read several books, and I'm excited for 7 more that are coming via UPS this week, just like early spring flowers popping up to renew your spirits after a long winter. 
Last year I read a book about Nellie Bly and her journey around the world, and I was impressed by her perseverance and bravery. Now there's a new book coming out about Bly that I would love to read. This is the run down via Brain Pickings:
The Gutsy Girl: A Modern Manifesto for Bravery, Perseverance, and Breaking the Tyranny of Perfection
In 1885, a young woman sent the editor of her hometown newspaper a brilliant response to a letter by a patronizing chauvinist, which the paper had published under the title “What Girls Are Good For.” The woman, known today as Nellie Bly, so impressed the editor that she was hired at the paper and went on to become a trailblazing journalist, circumnavigating the globe in 75 days with only a duffle bag and risking her life to write a seminal exposé of asylum abuse, which forever changed legal protections for the mentally ill. But Bly’s courage says as much about her triumphant character as it does about the tragedies of her culture — she is celebrated as a hero in large part because she defied and transcended the limiting gender norms of the Victorian era, which reserved courageous and adventurous feats for men, while raising women to be diffident, perfect, and perfectly pretty instead.

Writer Caroline Paul, one of the first women on San Francisco’s firefighting force and an experimental plane pilot, believes that not much has changed in the century since — that beneath the surface progress, our culture still nurses girls on “the insidious language of fear” and boys on that of bravery and resilience. She offers an intelligent and imaginative antidote in The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure (public library) — part memoir, part manifesto, part aspirational workbook, aimed at tween girls but speaking to the ageless, ungendered spirit of adventure in all of us, exploring what it means to be brave, to persevere, to break the tyranny of perfection, and to laugh at oneself while setting out to do the seemingly impossible.

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner is the story of a political family told through the eyes of the matriarch, Sylvie, and her daughters Diana the ER physician and Lizzie, the recovering addict and general screw up youngest child. I've read 4 of Weiner's other novels, and, while I loved "Good in Bed," I haven't really adored any of her other novels, though they were all competently written. Unfortunately, I have to add this to the list of her books that were a disappointment. I couldn't empathize with any of the Woodruff women because they were all such horrible people.  Sylvie is basically a slave to her senator husband Richard, who can't do anything for himself as a result. Of course, he's also a creep who has an affair with a much younger woman, though he claims to love his wife who has been so devoted to him for over 30 years. Sylvie is very tightly wound and still in love with her husband, so she flees the furor over his affair by going to their country home on the shore in Connecticut. 
Soon to follow is Diana, who, though she's smart enough to be a doctor, isn't smart enough to marry anyone but this dull, repulsive man with no ambition and zero sexuality because she knows he will never leave her...she's such a catch, after all, so beautiful and wealthy and smart, if you don't count her cold heart and obsession with running and controlling every aspect of her young son's life. She inevitably finds a hot young intern to have an affair with, and she snaps to when he comes calling, so they can have illicit sex in locker rooms and nearly everywhere else. It boggles the mind that she doesn't ditch the creepy dull husband and just get on with her life, but she doesn't. So when things blow up with the hot young intern, she returns to Connecticut as well. Then there's Lizzie, who is as stupid as Diana is smart, supposedly. She can't seem to find a career or anything to do with her life until she meets this one nice guy and gets unexpectedly pregnant (apparently she's too incompetent to use birth control). For some reason she has tons of sympathy for her lout of a father, so she helps him regain some semblance of a life and then returns to being a live in nanny/slave to her evil sister. When she interrupts her sister doing some mild bondage with the hot intern, Diana fires Lizzie, who goes running to Connecticut and their cold mumsy, who ignored them in favor of their father while they were growing up. But of course, now mumsy's done a 180 and has become some kind of earth mother who wants a second chance at mothering her daughters who are all grown up but still can't handle their lives. Ugh. Insert eye rolling here. Here's the blurb:
From one of the nation’s most beloved writers, Fly Away Home is an unforgettable story of a mother and two daughters who seek refuge in an old Connecticut beach house.
When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips, and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician’s wife—her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored knit suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her husband, the senator.
Lizzie, the Woodruffs’ younger daughter, is at twenty-four a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, trouble always seems to find her. Her older sister, Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve—a husband, a young son, the perfect home—and yet she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER’s exam rooms, she finds herself craving more.
After Richard’s extramarital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider her life, who she is and who she is meant to be.
Written with an irresistible blend of heartbreak and hilarity, Fly Away Home is an unforgettable story of a mother and two daughters who after a lifetime of distance finally learn to find refuge in one another.
I didn't find this book at all irresistible, I found it frustrating, annoying, full of cliches and stereotypes and characters who had no moral compass at all. I also found the ending implausible, because of course Sylvie goes back to her beloved befuddled husband who is so, so sorry that he couldn't keep his dick out of another woman, poor man.  I was just disgusted with the lot of them, so I'd give this book a C, and recommend it to anyone who can tolerate the kind of BS storyline that sets back feminism 50 years. Seriously, Jennifer Weiner should know better.

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard was a book I found at the Maple Valley Library sale, and was delighted to discover that the author is local (she lives in Enumclaw). Though it is supposed to be YA fiction, I think it would appeal to an even younger crowd, the "tween" girls of today who would enjoy the modern take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Here's the blurb:
To impress the popular girls on a high school trip to London, klutzy Callie buys real Prada heels. But trying them on, she trips, conks her head, and wakes up in the year 1815!
There Callie meets Emily, who takes her in, mistaking her for a long-lost friend. As she spends time with Emily's family, Callie warms to them,particularly to Emily's cousin Alex, a hottie and a duke, if a tad arrogant.
But can Callie save Emily from a dire engagement, and win Alex's heart, before her time in the past is up? More Cabot than Ibbotson, Prada and Prejudice is a high-concept romantic comedy about finding friendship and love in the past in order to have happiness in the present.
Callie has, at first, no faith in herself, very little self esteem and a dire need to fall in with the popular crowd. Thankfully, a stint in 19th Century England knocks some sense into Callie, who pretends to be an American friend while she attempts to figure out how to get back to her time, 200 years in the future. Callies struggle with the clothing and manners of 19th century women are funny and endearing, and her ability to blend in and adapt to her surroundings is fascinating.  Written in a breezy, light style, this short novel could be read in an afternoon, which is a plus for young teens with a short attention span. I found it especially heartening that Callie returns to her time and is able to be herself without fear and without the need to be like the other girls. There's a fun HEA ending following a slick and swift plot that pulls it all together. A fine first effort that I'd give a B+. 

Kingfisher by Patricia A McKillip, (who is my favorite fantasy author), is a rare book in her canon, since I don't think she's had anything new out for at least 15-20 years. I was delighted to buy a copy when it came out last month, and thrilled that McKillip's lush and mesmerizing prose is still as gorgeous as ever, and her characters just as entrancing. Reading a book by McKillip is like falling head first into a realm of sensory poetry that delights and engages the reader for hours. I always feel like I've walked into the fairy realms and I'm living in a waking, lucid dream that is achingly beautiful. Here's the blurb:
In the new fantasy from the award-winning author of the Riddle-Master Trilogy, a young man comes of age amid family secrets and revelations, and transformative magic.

Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, unexpectedly, strangers pass through town on the way to the legendary capital city. “Look for us,” they tell Pierce, “if you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden’s court.”

Lured by a future far away from the bleak northern coast, Pierce makes his choice. Heloise, bereft and furious, tells her son the truth: about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen, and Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.

As Pierce journeys to Severluna, his path twists and turns through other lives and mysteries: an inn where ancient rites are celebrated, though no one will speak of them; a legendary local chef whose delicacies leave diners slowly withering from hunger; his mysterious wife, who steals Pierce’s heart; a young woman whose need to escape is even greater than Pierce’s; and finally, in Severluna, King Arden's youngest son, who is urged by strange and lovely forces to sacrifice his father’s kingdom.

Things are changing in that kingdom. Oldmagic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to its former glory—or destroy it...

I took my time reading Kingfisher, (an entire week) because I didn't want to miss a single perfect sentence or glorious metaphor. That the old god of the king should clash with the old god of the women mages was something of a surprise, as was the fae restaurant owner who had kept everyone glamored into near starvation for so many years. The cauldron is finally found, and order restored, but I couldn't help but feel that there was more to the story, somehow. Still, a divine read with excellent prose and a magical plot that wove its way to a solid conclusion. I'd give Kingfisher an A, and hope that McKillip doesn't keep us waiting for so long for another of her beautiful books.