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.

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