Thursday, May 05, 2016

RIP Father Berrigan, What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris, Firecracker by David Iserson and Blush by Cherry Adair

Independent Bookstores fight the good fight every day. I have nothing but respect and love for them all!
"To all the bookstores around the world--We're all pieces of the same
puzzle, working everyday to accomplish what we deem to be the

"We have to be reminded every once in awhile that what we're doing
changes actual lives, even though we may not see it right now. Every
book you sell to a child, a new reader, a soul looking for solace, is a
voice that travels through time to meet them where they're at. And we're
the messengers.

"So Happy belated Independent Bookstore Day to all you who are still
fighting the good fight. #independentbookstoreday."

bookstore, Singapore, in a Facebook post

When I was an undergrad at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, I had several professors who were progressive, social activist nuns. They all admired Father Berrigan and his brothers, and often spoke of his bravery in protesting the war and his love of words in creating poetry. One of my history professors, Sister Helen Humeston, was particularly fond of the Berrigans, and, having met them, often reminded us that religious people could change the world through peaceful protests and speaking out on social issues. I was disheartened to learn that Father Berrigan is gone, but his legacy of activism lives on.

Obituary Note: Daniel Berrigan

The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan
a Jesuit priest, writer and lifelong activist "whose defiant protests
helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him
in prison," died April 30, the New York Times reported. He was 94.
"While he was known for his wry wit, there was a darkness in much of
what Father Berrigan wrote and said, the burden of which was that one
had to keep trying to do the right thing regardless of the near
certainty that it would make no difference," the Times wrote.

Father Berrigan published more than 50 books, including 15 volumes of
poetry, an autobiography, "social criticism, commentaries on the Old
Testament prophets and indictments of the established order, both
secular and ecclesiastic." Included among these are Daniel Berrigan:
Essential Writings, To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography, No Gods But
One, The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power, The Dark Night of
Resistance, A Sunday in Hell: Fables & Poems, Prison Poems and The Trial
of the Catonsville Nine.

The Times noted that Father Berrigan "also had a way of popping up in
the wider culture: as the 'radical priest' in Paul Simon's song 'Me and
Julio Down by the Schoolyard'; as inspiration for the character Father
Corrigan in Colum McCann's 2009 novel, Let the Great World Spin. He even
had a small movie role, appearing as a Jesuit priest in The Mission in

While he and his late brothers Philip and Jerry were still alive, Daniel
Berrigan wrote in "The Wolf and the Child":

My brothers and I stand like the fences
of abandoned farms, changed times
too loosely webbed against
deicide homicide
A really powerful blow
would bring us down like scarecrows.
Nature, knowing this, finding us mildly useful
indulging also
her backhanded love of freakishness
allows us to stand.
What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris is apparently one in a series of "Sebastian St Cyr Mysteries." I've heard of them, but don't recall ever reading one before, but my husband found this and several other promising hardback books on sale for a dollar at a local store, and couldn't resist getting them for me. Because it's an historical mystery/thriller, I wasn't expecting too much from the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well written it was, and how smoothly the plot unfolded. Here is the blurb:
The death of a notorious London diamond merchant draws aristocratic investigator Sebastian St. Cyr and his new wife, Hero, into a sordid world of greed, desperation, and the occult, when the husband of Sebastian’s former lover Kat Boleyn is accused of the murder.
Regency England, September 1812: After a long night spent dealing with the tragic death of a former military comrade, a heart-sick Sebastian learns of a new calamity: Russell Yates, the dashing, one-time privateer who married Kat a year ago, has been found standing over the corpse of Benjamin Eisler, a wealthy gem dealer. Yates insists he is innocent, but he will surely hang unless Sebastian can unmask the real killer.
For the sake of Kat, the woman he once loved and lost, Sebastian plunges into a treacherous circle of intrigue. Although Eisler’s clients included the Prince Regent and the Emperor Napoleon, he was a despicable man with many enemies and a number of dangerous, well-kept secrets—including a passion for arcane texts and black magic. Central to the case is a magnificent blue diamond, believed to have once formed part of the French crown jewels, which disappeared on the night of Eisler’s death. As Sebastian traces the diamond’s ownership, he uncovers links that implicate an eccentric, powerful financier named Hope and stretch back into the darkest days of the French Revolution.
When the killer grows ever more desperate and vicious, Sebastian finds his new marriage to Hero tested by the shadows of his first love, especially when he begins to suspect that Kat is keeping secrets of her own. And as matters rise to a crisis, Sebastian must face a bitter truth—that he has been less than open with the fearless woman who is now his wife.
Though it's number 8 in the series, I had no trouble following the characters and the plot lines throughout this engaging novel. I found it interesting that the fate and lives of homosexual men in Regency England was outlined and discussed via several of the characters, and I was also surprised by the independence of the wife of the main character, who is blatantly called Hero, and who spends a lot of time helping the starving street children of London. Of course the tale of the Hope Diamond that is intertwined with the mystery is fascinating as well. I'd give this novel a solid A, and recommend it to anyone who finds real historical mysteries interesting.

Firecracker by David Iserson is a YA novel that reads like a cross between Youth in Revolt and Artemis Fowl, with a female instead of male protagonist. The author has written for Saturday Night Live and the sarcastic TV show New Girl with Zoey Deschanel, so the smart-arse dialog that punctuates every paragraph was inevitable. But what surprised me about the book was the fact that, though she's a "poor little rich girl" who seeks to be something like her sociopathic grandfather, I actually liked Astrid from the moment I met her, and I found myself rooting for her, though I knew she was up to no good. Here's the blurb:
Being Astrid Krieger is absolutely all it's cracked up to be.
She lives in a rocket ship in the backyard of her parents' estate.
She was kicked out of the elite Bristol Academy and she's intent on her own special kind of revenge to whomever betrayed her. 
She only loves her grandfather, an incredibly rich politician who makes his money building nuclear warheads.
It's all good until...
"We think you should go to the public school," Dad said. 
 This was just a horrible, mean thing to say. Just hearing the words "public school" out loud made my mouth taste like urine (which, not coincidentally, is exactly how the public school smells).  
Will Astrid finally meet her match in the form of public school? Will she find out who betrayed her and got her expelled from Bristol? Is Noah, the sweet and awkward boy she just met, hiding something? Publisher's Weekly: Film and TV writer Iserson debuts with the story of privileged, caustic 17-year-old Astrid Krieger, whose recent expulsion from preppy Bristol Academy has forced her to enroll in public school. Astrid will do anything to be readmitted to Bristol, and she hatches a deal with the school's therapist: if she successfully completes a series of selfless acts, the school might reconsider her suspension. For this chauffeur-driven master manipulator—who's learned everything she knows from her ethically dubious ex-senator grandfather—altruism is a foreign concept. As Astrid strikes up a friendship with a hair-chewing misfit and a modest boy who is intrigued by her, she begins to understand the source of her own isolation. Astrid's narrative vacillates between moments of wicked hilarity and details that shoot into bombastic territory (Astrid casually mentions that JFK once shot her grandfather during a game of Russian roulette and that she has robbed several convenience stores). Iserson doesn't ask readers to feel sorry for his spoiled and outlandish heroine, but urges them to trust that beneath her explosive tendencies is a kernel of compassion.
Astrid, it turns out, has more than a kernel of good beneath all the cruel vengence, and this unlikely heroine manages to turn her bizarre life around and have an HEA in the bargain. I wish that I'd had Astrid's moxie when I was in high school, I would certainly have been much less miserable. I also wish I'd had her confidence and self esteem. Astrid never doubts herself as a person, and never feels that she's less of a person because she's a girl, or because she is different. There are some laugh-out-loud moments in this novel, and some moments where profound truths about being a teenager are revealed. Though there is swearing and bad behavior in this A-level book, I'd still recommend it to any teenager over the age of 14. 

I've not read an actual romance novel in quite awhile, especially one like Blush by Cherry Adair, that is unabashedly erotic and makes no apologies for the appetites of its main characters. I've actually met and spoken to Ms Adair, (whose name is a non de plume for a gal who never thought she'd be a successful writer) and I read several of her spy thriller/romances about 20 years ago. I bought this particular novel, however, because it was in the bargain bin of Barnes and Noble, and because, as I've said, it's been awhile since I read a romance genre book. Romance novels, back when I was a teenager in the 70s, were formulaic Harlequin books that were very chaste and unoriginal. Yet I loved reading them because they were hopeful, and when I was 13 and 14 years old, that hope, that every girl could find a boyfriend, no matter how different she was, was something that I clung to, for whatever ridiculous reasons. I've learned a lot about men in the ensuing years, of course, and when my son was a toddler and used my old Harlequins as teething toys, I wasn't too wreaked about it. I've since read all kinds of modern romances, and though I think many of them are still horribly formulaic, I have a fondness for science fiction/romance and paranormal romance hybrids, and I've even enjoyed YA and Steampunk romance novels, particularly well written ones by authors like Maria V Snyder and Devon Monk. Blush, however, had no real agenda, other than the main characters getting plenty of chances to have sex that was described in excruciating detail. Of course they fall in love, and the mystery of who ordered the hit on the wealthy beautiful protagonist must be addressed, as well as a small subplot about an abusive alcoholic scumbag beating up his wife and child (and yes, he gets what is coming to him), but it seems like the main characters can't keep their hands (or other body parts) off of each other for more than a few pages before its back in the saddle again. Here's the blurb:
In the same pulse-pounding style as Maya Banks and Kresley Cole, New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair delivers a sizzling erotic romance about a sexy billionaire who’s on the run—and the hit-man-turned-handyman who’s supposed to kill her.
Sex with a stranger. Learn to drive. Learn to cook. Learn to pole dance. Sex under the stars. Buy a truck. These are just a few of the things on Amelia Wentworth’s bucket list, but as the CEO and face of a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic empire, she’s never quite found the time to do them.
Until, after a series of accidents, Amelia discovers that someone wants her dead. But who? And why? She has no time for questions as she changes her name to Mia, buys a secluded fixer-upper near the Louisiana bayou where no one will recognize her, and starts checking things off her bucket list like there’s no tomorrow—which there might not be.
Meanwhile, Cruz Barcelona is a hit man who’s promised himself this will be his last job. Then he’ll take the money and move to a warm, sunny place where he doesn’t have to hide anymore. But when Cruz goes undercover to Mia’s ramshackle house, he starts to realize there’s far more to this poor-little-rich-girl than he thought—and he starts to fall for her. Which is going to make his job a whole lot harder…
I appreciate that Adair doesn't use a lot of cutesy euphemisms for body parts, and she's not afraid of the f-word, either. I also appreciate her easy, breezy prose style and straightforward plot. That said, I still don't get the contemporary romance trope of mind-blowing sex every single time. Or women who scream and faint after that fifth orgasm of the night. Or the idea that the only kind of sexy woman is one who is petite and doll-like, with perfect skin who always looks ravishing without any makeup, even after she's been shot at or fighting off a drunken abuser. Because none of that is realistic. 62 percent of the women in this country are a size 14 or larger. That's a majority. Why aren't there more pudgy protagonists? Sexy fat daring women over 40? Women who are mature enough and smart enough to protect themselves? Why aren't these women represented in contemporary romance novels? At any rate, I'd give this romance a B, and recommend it to those who want some sexy escapism and don't mind the resultant sexism and stereotypes. 

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