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. 

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