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. 

No comments: