Saturday, April 23, 2016

Margaret Wise Brown Prize, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, and Spy Mom by Beth McMullen

I've been a fan of Jane Yolen for years. I'm thrilled that she and her daughter have won yet another award. 
Winners were announced for the inaugural Margaret Wise Brown Prize in
Children's Literature
which showcases the most distinguished picture book manuscript or
manuscripts as selected by a panel of judges. This year's recipients are
Phil Bildner for his book Marvelous Cornelius; as well as Jane Yolen and
Heidi E.Y. Stemple, co-authors of You Nest Here With Me. Hollins
University established the award as a way to pay tribute to one of its
best-known alumnae and one of America's most beloved children's authors.
Winners receive an engraved medal and a $1,000 cash prize.

A moment of silence, please for Prince Rogers Nelson,(RIP) the diminutive rock star whose talent was so huge, it was amazing that it could be contained inside of one body. He was only 57 years old when he died yesterday, which was the age my older brother would have been had he lived beyond his 33rd year. My husband and I saw Prince live in 1994 at the Vh1 Honors Concert in Los Angeles, and I was stunned by how short he was, how thin and jaundiced he looked. You could see his ribs move when he sang. He performed alongside his soon-to-be wife, who would bear him a child who would die, along with their marriage, some years later. I wanted to tell him that he needed to eat some mac and cheese and take a vacation to get healthy back then, but I never quite mustered the courage to get past the huge bodyguard who was employed by his purpleness and his wife. I did love his music, though, and his stance on women of all sizes and colors and shapes being beautiful. I admired his brilliance, and I can't believe that we've lost so many musical icons this year already, though we're not even halfway through the year. Here's a great article on Prince that my friend Caryn posted on Facebook:

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is the first book in a four novel series called The Neapolitan Novels, translated from Italian into English with a very deft hand. 
I read an article on one of the bookish websites who frequent Facebook that mentioned this series as being unforgettable and a fascinating look into young women growing up in Southern Italy in the 1960s. These are girls who were born in the late 1940s, so they are about 14-15 years older than I am, but their experiences are vastly different than girls growing up in the Midwest in the US, so I was interested to read about those differences. What struck me right away was the prose style and the intimacy of the writing. It feels as if you're reading the diary of the main character, Elena, as she navigates life with the help of her best friend and rival Lila, who is as bold as Elena is retiring and shy. Here's the blurb:
A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.
Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a tetralogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction. Publisher's Weekly: The world of Elena and Lila, Neapolitan girls growing up after the Second World War, is small, casually violent, and confined to their poor neighborhood where everyone knows everyone and the few prosperous families dominate. There are rules and expectations, and everyone knows and lives by them. Except Lila: smarter and bolder than the others, she does what she wants, drawing Elena, who narrates the story, in her wake. But this is more than a conventional up-from-poverty tale. Elena completes her schooling; Lila does not. Elena leaves the neighborhood and eventually Naples and Southern Italy; Lila does not. Yet it is Lila and her dreams and caprices that drive everything. In fact, the narrative exists because the adult Elena, hearing that Lila has disappeared, decides to write Lila’s story. And she does, in dense, almost sociological detail (the list of the members of the key families is actually necessary). This is both fascinating—two girls, their families, a neighborhood, and a nation emerging from war and into an economic boom—and occasionally tedious, as day-to-day life can be. But Lila, mercurial, unsparing, and, at the end of this first episode in a planned trilogy from Ferrante (The Lost Daughter), seemingly capable of starting a full-scale neighborhood war, is a memorable character.

I felt every emotion that Elena felt, and could see and hear whatever she was seeing and hearing, because Ferrante was so descriptive in every paragraph with the details of the heart and mind of Elena and Lila. While this is a fascinating prose style, it becomes exhausting after the first 250 pages, and all the description does slow the plot to a snails pace, at times. I was also shocked at the aforementioned "casual violence" with which the men dominate and punish the girls and women in the novel. They seem to be separated into the gentle and lovelorn boys and the wealthy violent jerks at first blush, but we learn later that this is only an act, and that once married, these boys become abusive and cruel, only wanting to possess and subjugate the females in their lives into wives and mothers who fulfill their every desire. Sadly, this horribly oppressive way of life is taken for granted, and men are allowed to treat their wives as possessions and beat them to death without fear of reprisals. Lila, upon discovering that she's been duped by the local grocer's son, decides to retaliate in the only way she knows, which is to spend as much money as possible on her wardrobe and makeup and hair, and home furnishings while making sure that her husband knows that she thinks he's an unrefined goon. Having been sought-after by all the men in town, this only fuels her husbands jealousy and rage, and he beats her constantly, even enlisting the help of Elena to tell her friend to stop being so independent and smart-mouthed and just knuckle under and be a meek and submissive wife. Though Elena wants to help her friend, she realizes that Lila will never be anything but what she is, a free spirit. I am currently wading through book 2, which is 200 pages longer than book 1, but I am still hoping that things will work out for Elena and Lila, who are both so unhappy with their young lives. This book, while not an easy read, is fascinating as a glimpse into a different world, and as such deserves an A, with a recommendation to anyone interested in the lives of Italian women in post WW2 Italy.

I would not normally pick up a book like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, because it is about death and the cremation and funeral industry in this country from a first person perspective, and I am not the kind of person who likes blood and gore and gruesome death descriptions. But my library book group seemed to think that many of the non fiction titles that were recommended by Jen, the head librarian for the King County Library System (KCLS) during her yearly visit in October were a great idea for the group. So we will be discussing this short volume in May, which is ironic considering that everything is sunny and bright, blooming and lively in spring, while this book focuses on death and decomposition. Here's the blurb:
“Morbid and illuminating” (Entertainment Weekly)—a young mortician goes behind the scenes of her curious profession.
Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like? Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

The descriptions of disintegrating and moldering corpses got to be a bit much for me, so I actually had to put this book down a couple of times and read something else. I think the morbid fascination that the author has for the most grotesque parts of death is chilling and bizarre, and I wasn't at all interested in indulging her disgusting descriptions, but I figured since this book is short, I would just get through it as quickly as possible and move on to something more positive and interesting. Stomach-churning horror novels aren't my thing, either, for much the same reasons. I don't like being scared or grossed out. For me, living life to the fullest means finding things that are enlightening and joyous and beautiful to read and participate in, and this book highlights the opposite of that. Frankly, I found the author creepy and weird, not in a good way, and I would give the book a C+, and only recommend it to people who are interested in this morbid subject, like my mother, who loved the book when she read it last year.

Spy Mom, the Adventures of Sally Sin by Beth McMullen was two novels in one, which lead to a rather long 615 page narrative. I found this book at the bargain table at our local dollar store, and it sounded like something that was right up my alley, with a female protagonist who is a former spy and the mother of a toddler, married to a man who is trying to save the world through various "green" initiatives like solar energy and recycling. Here's the blurb: Meet Sally Sin. Wife. Mother. Retired Spy. Or so she thinks. After nine years with the USAWMD (United States Agency for Weapons of Mass Destruction)--where she desperately tried to stay one step ahead of her dashing nemesis, Ian Blackford--Sally has become Lucy Hamilton, stay-at-home mom to Theo and wife to adoring husband, Will, who knows nothing of her covert past. But now, instead of chasing bad guys through perilous jungles, she builds giant Lego towers, reads Green Eggs and Ham, and crafts exceptional forts from couch cushions and blankets.

Just when she's starting to settle into retirement, Sally's old Agency boss, Simon Still, shows up to recruit her for one more job, involving the illegal arms dealer, Blackford, who is on the move again. Original Sin features Sally's great chase to thwart Blackford, who, conveniently, no one besides her seems to be able to stop. But can she make it to preschool pickup, get dinner on the table, and foil Blackford's nefarious plot?

And just when you think the thrills are over, you'll be ready To Sin Again.

When the Agency Director is taken hostage, Sally is once again called into action. A rescue operation? Easy. That is, until Sally learns of a connection between the kidnapping and her own mysterious childhood, which complicates everything, even Theo's kindergarten applications. Being a mom is hard enough, without having to save the world.

Funny, fast-paced, and compulsively readable, Spy Mom offers two action-packed adventures for mothers and spies, and anyone who has ever dreamed about being either.

 While I agree that the prose is compulsively readable, and the plots very well calculated to move along at a brisk pace, I found myself growing tired of Sally/Lucy being so cavalier about putting her child in danger by going off on these missions for her former boss. Granted, Simon (who looks like David Bowie at his most dapper) doesn't give her much choice, at first, but then after she's done being bait or doing whatever it was she was supposed to do, she has the option of getting back to her life and just letting it go, which she doesn't do. Ever. She always continues with the mission, even going "rogue" though it will most certainly put her family in danger and threaten the life of her child. That made no sense to me, as Lucy/Sally claims to want to keep him safe, but at the same time brings him along on parts of her mission where her son is introduced to violent sociopathic characters and other horrible men, like arms dealer Ian Blackford, who has kidnapped her and threatened to kill her several times, yet never actually goes beyond drugging her and using her as a messenger pigeon for her boss. I also got tired of Sally/Lucy constantly screwing up her missions, which we flash back to in every chapter, and with her somehow being disheveled and dirty all of the time, and finding all of that to be amusing and urbane, when really it made her look like an idiot, and not in a charming way, which was what I think the author intended. Why isn't it possible for a woman to be well put together and be good at her job and not apologize for it? And why, if her relationship with her wealthy husband is so wonderful, can't she tell him about her previous life as a spy, and also demand that he spend more time at home with their child? Why is childcare only her responsibility? And why, when it is obvious that she's struggling with one child, would Sally/Lucy not use birth control to keep from getting pregnant again? I was also, as a mother, ticked off with Sally/Lucy's poor parenting skills and her belief that it was perfectly okay to never set boundaries or discipline or even say NO to her horribly spoiled and bratty toddler. Not only is it not okay, it is detrimental to children to not give them boundaries and show them that there are consequences for bad behavior, which her son already displays in getting other children to take risks that might harm them. At no time does she even attempt to punish her kid, though he is quite a nasty little guy who vomits and throws tantrums and gets whatever he wants, when he wants it, because his mother is a weak fool. Seriously, I wanted to yell at her to grow up, for heavens sake, and be a parent. Still, despite these flaws in the story and characters, I still enjoyed the books, for the most part. I'd give them a B, and recommend this dual book to anyone who likes female protagonists and spy thrillers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fantastic Libraries of the World, A Harry Potter Prequel Trailer, The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson and Wish by Alexandra Bullen

A trip to see the world's greatest libraries and bookstores is something that has been on my "bucket list" for longer than there has even been bucket lists. Here is a link to some of the places I'd like to visit.
Road Trip: 'Libraries Worth Traveling the World to See'

"For serious bookworms, the greatest libraries of the world are well
worth an international pilgrimage," the New Zealand Herald noted in
showcasing a collection of "libraries worth traveling the world to see

I'm very excited about this new movie, mainly because I have been a huge Harry Potter fan since I laid eyes on the first book by JK Rowling.

"Eddie Redmayne emerged from a suitcase at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards to
introduce the exclusive new trailer for his upcoming film Fantastic
Beasts and Where to Find Them
the Hollywood Reporter wrote. The Harry Potter prequel, written by J.K.
Rowling and directed by David Yates, will hit theaters November 18. The
cast also includes Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Ron
Perlman and Jon Voight.
I just read, a couple of weeks ago, Charlie Lovett's First Impressions, a novel that does a take off of Jane Austen's novels. It was good enough that I thought I might enjoy his first novel, The Bookman's Tale, which, due to it's theme of loving books obsessively, sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was more of a historical mystery than a book about the love of reading and books, and though the main character is an antiquarian book collector and seller, there wasn't much time spent on detailing the love of actually reading books, vs the love of collecting rare books and rebinding books with expensive leather and endpapers. There was also a great deal of time spent on the protagonist's romance and sexual escapades. While I myself find bookstores and stacks of books (and booklovers) sexy, I wasn't prepared for the couple in the book, Amanda and Peter Byerly, to be haring off every couple of chapters for sex among the rare volumes. Peter himself was somewhat autistic in his obsession with books and his terror of dealing with people, which slowed down the pace of the book considerably, once he was learning to live without his wife's friendly buffer between himself and the world. Here's the blurb:  
A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love
Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.
Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.
Though I am a huge bibliophile, I'm not really into collecting rare, expensive books or hunting for them. I buy books to read and enjoy, though I understand that first editions and signed books are more valuable than regular books. Still, something about the buying and selling of rare books without ever reading them (or planning on reading them) sets my teeth on edge. In this book, forged rare books and papers are used as a means of revenge and settling old scores, which seems even more reprehensible to me. Money is the bottom line to some collectors, as they only see books as a valuable item, like a vase or a gilded piece of jewelry. They could care less about the words and story contained therein. To my mind, this is heresy. So I became bored more than once during this book, because I didn't like most of the characters in it, or their cruelty and greed. Fortunately, the author sees fit to have an HEA for the rather pathetic protagonist, so I didn't feel I'd wasted all my time reading the book. I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to those who are interested in refurbishing books, in the mystery of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and in collecting rare volumes and reselling them. 

The Summer Before the War is Helen Simonson's second book, after her successful Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which I read last year (or the year before). Major P was a treat of a book, with a nice sense of humor and interesting characters. This book deals with much more serious subject matter, such as class divides in England, the education and health of children in same and all the horrors of the first World War, including its devastating impact on an entire generation of men and boys (and the women they left behind) in England. Here's the blurb: The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.

When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.

But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.

Though I really liked Beatrice the protagonist, I was saddened that she succumbed to the "ideal" of women having to have a husband to be complete. I realize at the time, women had very little control over their lives, and even women/girls who were raped were considered "fallen" women, despised by society and considered at fault for something they had no control over, which is horrific. So I was glad to read that a gay male character was willing to wed a young Belgian refugee who had become pregnant after being raped by German soldiers (and while her father cowardly waited nearby and did nothing to help her), but I was also unsurprised when said gay male poet dies in France during the war. That was just a tad too tidy, as was the ending. Still, the prose was splendid and helped the crisply marching plot to move along as deftly as a clock. Good characters save this from being a very depressing novel, and therefore I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to those who are interested in England and it's people before and during the Great War.

Wish by Alexandra Bullen was an impulse buy from the YA section of the Sequel bookstore in Enumclaw. It looked to be a fun novel and light reading, which unfortunately lead to the book being full of teenage novel cliches. Here's the blurb:
If you could have anything, what would you wish for? The impossible...or a real chance at being happy?Olivia Larsen's twin sister, Violet, is dead. Olivia knows nothing that can change that . . . until the day she receives a beautiful dress. The dress doesn't just look magical: it has the power to grant wishes. And all Olivia wants is her sister back.
But Violet's return isn't what Olivia expected. As love, secrets, betrayal, and a haunted past collide, Olivia begins to wonder what a wish is worth . . . and if her life will ever look the same. Publisher's Weekly: Bullen delivers an enticing first novel about twin sisters—one alive and one dead. Grief-stricken high school junior Olivia moves with her parents to San Francisco to pick up the pieces after Violet's unexpected death. One night, while wearing a beautiful dress—a gift from a mysterious seamstress—Olivia wishes to have her sister back. She wakes up to find Violet's ghost waiting for her. Olivia is both shocked and overjoyed, and soon finds out that her seamstress is a cross between a fairy godmother and a genie—and that she has two more wishes (and new dresses) to come. The sisterly dynamic will draw readers in as Violet offers Olivia everything from fashion advice to counsel about boys, and Olivia gradually re-enters the world of the living, making new friends and finding romance. As Olivia's life becomes fuller it gets more complicated, too, but the story never surrenders to melodrama or gloom. Bullen's prose is solid, her head-to-toe descriptions of clothing are lavish, and she makes the sights of San Francisco come alive in this sweet story of siblings determined to remain inseparable.Bullen has taken every cliche from every YA novel about teenage girls (and the boys they yearn for) and added them all to a rather lame plot device of a magical dress that grants a wish to the wearer. The girl is entitled to three such dresses (as in the famed 3 wishes of the genie in the lamp) before they're on their own. I disagree with Publisher's Weekly saying that the story never surrenders to melodrama, when it seemed to me that the whole story was a melodrama. Poor Olivia, her parents aren't getting along, her sister is dead, she's too shy to try and make friends with the popular girls at school...oh, the drama! Of course, all teenage girls are boy crazy, clothes-horses who laugh and sneer at the foibles of their ridiculous parents and spend a lot of time at parties indulging in underage drinking, which their parents never seem to notice. Bullen has taken a page from Laurel K Hamilton's paranormal novels and describes every single item of clothing on every single character in the book, until the reader feels like they're reading about a fashion show, with a little bit of story around it to keep things interesting. Olivia is moody, shallow and not terribly bright, in addition to being shy and fearful of nearly everything in her life. It takes her ghost sister to explain to her that she needs to actually get out there and live a life, instead of hiding away and being morose. The prose in this novel is simplistic, while the plot is fairly facile and filled with "careful what you wish for" moments. I'd give this book a C+, and recommend only to teenagers who don't mind reading a fluff piece filled with cliched characters.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Bookstore Shelf Life, In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker, Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch and The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

I adore Benedict Cumberbatch, not only as a consumate actor, but also as a movie star who doesn't take himself too seriously. His latest movie is based on a comic book, Dr Strange, and he recently visited a comic book store in his full Dr Strange regalia, which was awesome of him. 
In a blog post headlined "Our 'Strange' Encounter With Benedict
Rene Rosa, a manager at JHU Comic Books, wrote: "Well, during the day,
the crew came in to check out the place because they were shocked to see
a comic book store where they were filming.... It started to get really
cold so many more of them started coming in and I told the PA that if
ANYONE on the crew needed to use the bathroom, our door was open to
them. A couple of hours later and in walks Dr. Strange.

"Everyone there was excited, laughing and couldn't believe it. Benedict
Cumberbatch was incredibly nice, gracious and he and I went back and
forth with some banter for a little bit before he had to go right back
out and shoot more scenes. He didn't have time to do much more than
shake hands, talk and take a few pictures, but we totally understood
that and were lucky just to have him in!"

I couldn't agree more!
"Confusing the future of bookshops with the future of books is a rookie
mistake. I made the mistake myself with public libraries until I
suddenly realized it was what was inside the libraries that really
mattered. This includes books, of course, but there were also people and
people are conduits of history, knowledge and skills, which transfers
into physical happenings and events. Good bookshops, like good public
libraries, are where people that want to escape the frantic pace of
modern life can go for some quiet contemplation. They are somewhere that
people can go to escape the torrent of digital distraction too.

"Bookshops and pubs, together with post offices and schools, are the
four pillars upon which a local community is built and to my mind no
fragile friendship built online can compete."

--Author Richard Watson, in a blog post for the Bookseller headlined "Do

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson was something of a shock for me, as I was expecting a book more about booklovers who opened their own bookstore in 1962. I was not really expecting a paranormal romance/historical mystery novel that had elements of The Time Traveler's Wife and Life After Life, the latter of which I didn't like at all. Still, Swanson, who looks as if she might have been born in the late 1960s or 70s, but certainly wasn't an adult during that era, manages to pull off an engaging and riveting story about two lives lived, each with regret for the people and places of the other. Here's the blurb:
A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.
Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .
Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.
Then the dreams begin.
Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.
Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?
As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?
 This book's prose is beguiling, and the plot runs along like a swift spring river with lots of picturesque twists and turns that by the time you've looked up after picking the book up, you'll find yourself 2/3 of the way through and gasping to know what happens next. Kitty is a woman at the crossroads of life who has just had too many emotional blows to the heart, and finds herself retreating into her dreams to find solace and answers to the whys of her life. Her triplets are both the joy and sorrow of her life, as one of them, Michael, is autistic, something that wasn't well known or easily dealt with in the 1960s. Kitty reminded me of my own mother, who had to deal with a daughter with severe asthma and allergies in 1965 and a son with type 1 diabetes in 1968. Though she was a nurse, there were still many doctors who blamed children's disabilities on mothers, saying that they'd either done something wrong while the baby was in utero or had treated the children with too much affection or too little while they were babies. This completely bogus and unnessesary guilt weighs on Kitty, as she has little idea of how to deal with her son's outbursts and behavior. My mother was able to find doctors who could help my brother and I, but I am sure she still had to hear all kinds of prejudice from ignorant medical personnel and people that she and my father knew socially. Poor Kitty has only her husband (who is supportive) and herself, after she discovers that a nanny she hired to care for Michael is abusing him. I won't spoil the big reveal at the end, but suffice it to say that I figured out which life was "real" by halfway through the novel.  An imaginative and well written page-turner, I'd give the Bookseller an A, and recommend it to anyone, particularly a woman, who has wondered what her life would be like if she'd taken a different tack at some point. 
I'd read the first book in this series, Snow Like Ashes, so I thought I was prepared for Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch. I wasn't prepared for the over wrought constant internal monologues of the protagonists, Mather and Meira, or the exploration, in detail, of their every thought, feeling and emotion. To be frank, the book was exhausting to read and grew tedious by the third chapter. Here's the blurb: 
Game of Thrones meets Graceling in this thrilling fantasy filled with shocking twists and heart-pounding action, the highly anticipated sequel to Snow Like Ashes. This action-packed series is perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes and A Court of Thorns and Roses.
It's been three months since the Winterians were freed and Spring's king, Angra, disappeared—thanks largely to the help of Cordell.
Meira just wants her people to be safe. When Cordellan debt forces the Winterians to dig their mines for payment, they unearth something powerful and possibly dangerous: Primoria's lost chasm of magic. Theron sees this find as an opportunity—with this much magic, the world can finally stand against threats like Angra. But Meira fears the danger the chasm poses—the last time the world had access to so much magic, it spawned the Decay. So when the king of Cordell orders the two on a mission across the kingdoms of Primoria to discover the chasm's secrets, Meira plans on using the trip to garner support to keep the chasm shut and Winter safe—even if it means clashing with Theron. But can she do so without endangering the people she loves?
Mather just wants to be free. The horrors inflicted on the Winterians hang fresh and raw in Jannuari—leaving Winter vulnerable to Cordell's growing oppression. When Meira leaves to search for allies, he decides to take Winter's security into his own hands. Can he rebuild his broken Kingdom and protect them from new threats?
As the web of power and deception is woven tighter, Theron fights for magic, Mather fights for freedom—and Meira starts to wonder if she should be fighting not just for Winter but for the world.
 Meira seemed way too naive to be a leader of her people, and Mather's tortured soul who wants to punish himself was something of a cliche. It was inevitable that prince Theron, another naive and tortured soul who was a POW of the big bad, Angra, would be the third leg of the love triangle between Meira and Theron. It was a foregone conclusion that he would betray them all as well. the prose, though generally clean and decent mired the plot when allowing the characters to constantly maunder on and on about their feelings and anxieties and guilt. They never seemed in the moment, but always looking back with regret, which is boring after awhile. I was also not a fan of the political machinations of the various seasons. The book could have used an edit of about 100 pages, and a lot less whining and worry with more decisive action. The ending was left wide open for the third book in the series, which I am uncertain that I really want to read at this point. I'd give this book a B-, and only recommend it to those who loved the first book enough to have the stamina to wade through the angst of the second volume.
Kage Baker's In The Garden of Iden was, I was assured, a science fiction novel that was imaginative and well written. I heard this from a fellow bibilophile who was shopping at Finally Found Books final sale last year. Having not read Kage Baker for a long time, I was intrigued. The book was published the year I got married, 1997, and the paperback copy I snagged was in rough shape, but not unreadable. I gather that this series has at least 10 books in it, which was a delightful surprise.  Here's the blurb:
This is the first novel in what has become one of the most popular series in contemporary SF, now back in print from Tor. In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company. 
Riveting reading for fans of history, of course, but also of interest to those who wonder what it would be like to be an immortal traveling incognito, so as not to get burned as a witch or tortured by the Spanish Inquisition (and if you are like me, you just heard Michael Palin of Monty Python fame shout, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!") Mendoza is a child of Spain, an impoverished street urchin who would have died had she not been snatched up by Joseph, or Doctor Ruiz as he's known in the Elizabethan era. Joseph takes Mendoza and other children who show promise out of their time period and puts them in a school/hospital, where they are surgically turned into immortal cyborgs, who still have flesh and bone, but with the help of cybernetic implants, can move through time (the past only) and save plants, animals and works of art or writing that would have been lost to humanity. Unfortunately, Mendoza is a 16 year old and this is her first mission, so it seems inevitable that she makes the mistake of falling in love with a religious zealot on the wrong side of the religious reformation of Bloody Mary Tudor. Things go sideways, inevitably, and Nicholas is burned at the stake, while Mendoza and her group have to flee for their lives. Though the prose was workman like, the picture that Kage builds of the lives of regular people during the 16th century is fascinating. The sounds and smells and ignorant attitudes of what the time travelers refer to as "the monkeys" or non immortals, is absolutely fascinating, a peek into the past. Mendoza comes off as a stereotypical hysterical teenage girl, however, and while that is understandable, it is somewhat pathetic in light of her immortality. She's going to have to get used to watching humans die in the past. The fact that she nearly screws up the mission her first time out doesn't bode well for the rest of the series. Still, I am hoping to get a few more of Bakers SF/Historical novels and finding out what happens to Mendoza on her other forays into the past. A well-earned B+, with a recommendation to those who enjoy paranormal history novels.