Friday, July 22, 2016

Indie Bookstore Love, Chimes at Midnight and the Winter Long by Seanan McGuire, Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim, and A Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen

Amen to this! I have always felt that bookstores and libraries were havens for bibliophiles like myself.

"I don't think I've ever been at an indie bookstore I didn't like. One
of the things I like is that they are so different in so many ways, but
at the same time they are similar: you get to meet people who really
care and know about books, and you get to meet a new community at each

--Jacqueline Woodson,
whose novel Another Brooklyn is August's #1 Indie Next List Pick, in a
Bookselling This Week interview

Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire are the seventh and eighth books, respectively, in her October Daye paranormal urban fantasy series. I've read all the other Toby books, and though I have enjoyed the strong female protagonist/heroine who saves the day, no pun intended, I have many frustrating questions about the way that these books are written. 
WHY, for example, are Toby and Tybalt (hottie King of the Cats) the only ones who can fight effectively and save one another (and in Toby's case, everyone else in the fae kingdoms)? Why, in a kingdom full of "pureblooded" fae, who have all these powers (according to their heritage) and "firstborns" who are nearly god-like in their powers and abilities, do they all consistently rely and depend on a half-blood changeling fae with bulemia and a caffeine addiction to save their children (and usually prevent a war) from some insane, power-hungry vengeful fae who inevitably hates Toby? And speaking of hatred, why, other than her posse of friends/lovers, does everyone seem to automatically loathe the sight of Toby? There are plenty of changelings in the fae/human world...why is Toby so despised, even by the people she helps? WHY is Toby the ONLY changeling who can form a coherent plan of action (she always asks if anyone else has a better plan, and she never gets a response) and then take the most heinous risks to kill the bad guy/gal/ruler, when everyone else has more power, allies, soldiers and resources? Sure, Tybalt or Sylvester or Quentin are always there when she wakes up from being disemboweled, or beaten nearly to death, or exsanguinated, but where the heck are they when the plans are being formed? Where are they when the battle rages? Usually, they are being held hostage or getting their asses kicked or being imprisoned in an iron cage. Why rely on a hero who can't even hold down a solid meal? That's something else I don't understand, Toby's seemingly squeamish attitude about blood when she's a blood-working fae, and her consistent pride in vomiting up every meal she eats, and still surviving, despite the fact that she doesn't have a decent diet or sleep pattern that allows her to be healthy or work towards recovery from her frequent near death experiences. She is a physical and emotional disaster, and that is supposed to make us root for her as a character? I love a good underdog protagonist as much as the next gal, but seriously, I don't get Toby's love affair with death and the stupidity/cruelty/racism of nearly everyone around her. Her mother is a lunatic (who is MIA), her father is dead, and her substitute dad and liege lord, Sylvester, is a lying, weak jerk whose wife and daughter despise Toby, seemingly just for existing. Here are the blurbs:
Chimes At Midnight: Things are starting to look up for October "Toby" Daye. She's training her squire, doing her job, and has finally allowed herself to grow closer to the local King of Cats. It seems like her life may finally be settling least until dead changelings start appearing in the alleys of San Francisco, killed by an overdose of goblin fruit.
Toby's efforts to take the problem to the Queen of the Mists are met with harsh reprisals, leaving her under sentence of exile from her home and everyone she loves. Now Toby must find a way to reverse the Queens decree, get the goblin fruit off the streets--and, oh, yes, save her own life. And then there's the question of the Queen herself, who seems increasingly unlikely to have a valid claim to the throne....To find the answers, October and her friends will have to travel from the legendary Library of Stars into the hidden depths of the Kingdom of the Mists--and they'll have to do it fast, because time is running out. The Winter Long via Publishers Weekly: McGuire continues the misadventures of changeling PI October Daye in this intense eighth urban fantasy novel (after Chimes at Midnight), which serves to wrap up and tie together many storylines from the previous installments. Toby Daye gets the shock of her lifetime when her old enemy, Simon Torquill—the man who turned her into a fish for 14 years—shows up on her doorstep, claiming he's been on her side all along. The shock compounds when she learns that they're related. Finally, it seems as though Toby will learn the true motivations behind the fateful events of so long ago, but the true mastermind is the last person she'd ever expect. Now Toby and her friends must face off against a terrifyingly powerful foe before the entire hidden kingdom of the Fae falls under the sway of evil. As usual, McGuire puts her heroine through the wringer, repeatedly pushing her to the brink of death in her quest to do the right thing. The tension is high, and the stakes have never been higher, as McGuire draws on elements all the way from the beginning of the series to deliver a pulse-pounding, often surprising tale
So Toby becomes addicted to goblin fruit accidentally, after a pie is thrown in her face, and miraculously recovers after finding a hope chest. She manages to depose the evil queen, but then finds, in the next installment, that both Simon (brother of Sylvester) and the Lushak are under the geis of someone she previously thought of as an ally. It didn't surprise me, at this point, that yet another ruling figure has it out for her, since most of them seem to hate her anyway.  I did enjoy the continuance of the story, but I strongly feel that the example that Toby sets of an eating disorder and cutting herself to work magic is a dangerous one for teenagers, especially teenage girls, who might find her behavior glamorized because she's the hero of the book. So I am giving these books a B, and only recommending them to adults (over 21) who don't have psychological problems.

Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim is a memoir that I had to read for my Tuesday night book group at the library. Because the head book librarian for KCLS gave us a talk about new and interesting titles for our book group back in October 2015, this year's roster of books was heavily tilted towards non fiction titles that Jen the librarian touted as good reads. Unfortunately, most of them were either terribly boring, dull or too bizarre for my tastes, and that's saying something, considering how long I've been a fan of the science fiction and fantasy genres.  Still, though I didn't vote for this book, I was game to read the tale of a South Korean/American woman's experiences teaching English in North Korea to boys (girls, apparently, aren't worthy of the same education). Here's the blurb: Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields—except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has gone undercover as a missionary and a teacher. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them English, all under the watchful eye of the regime.
Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but from her colleagues—evangelical Christian missionaries who don't know or choose to ignore that Suki doesn't share their faith. As the weeks pass, she is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. At the same time, they offer Suki tantalizing glimpses of their private selves—their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished. She in turn begins to hint at the existence of a world beyond their own—at such exotic activities as surfing the Internet or traveling freely and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. But when Kim Jong-il dies, and the boys she has come to love appear devastated, she wonders whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged.
Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world's most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls "soldiers and slaves."
When I wasn't bored out of my mind by this continual recitation of the deprivation, mind control and constant survelance and criticism of Suki, I was depressed and disgusted by her rabbit-like fearful attitude and her whining. She came off as cowardly, in not actually answering her students honestly about the outside world, only giving them half-truths and evasions so she could keep her job. I felt most sorry for her students, however, who had so little access to freedom of thought or freedom to learn about other cultures and lands. Their belief that things like kimchi are beloved the world over came off as pathetic boasting by ignorant, brainwashed children. The only bright spot came when she was finally allowed to show only one class of students the third Harry Potter movie (against the wishes of the religious missionaries, who somehow believed Harry Potter books/movies to be satanic). It seemed to me that teaching these boys to speak English was worthless, because they'd never really get the chance to use the language, since most will never be allowed to venture outside of North Korea's walls. I'd give this book a C, and only recommend it to those who are interested in Korea and it's history.

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen is the 16th book in the Molly Murphy mystery series, and it takes place during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in California. I've read most of the other books in this series, so I generally know what to expect, but while I understand that Molly is a woman of her time, I am always surprised that she allows herself to be bullied and bossed around by her husband Daniel, who doesn't want her to investigate mysteries anymore, but still doesn't hesitate to put her into danger when he's in trouble himself, as he is in this novel. Molly also manages to get her son into trouble, in this case when he's abducted during the quake by a Chinese nanny, and Molly has to tear him from the grasp of a crazy woman who is trying to steal him away. Most mothers would never put their children at risk in the first place, and though she's supposed to be a smart woman, bringing an almost two year old child on a mission to San Francisco seems stupid. Here's the blurb: Molly Murphy Sullivan's husband Daniel, a police captain in turn-of-the-century New York City, is in a precarious position. The new police commissioner wants him off the force altogether. So when Daniel’s offered an assignment from John Wilkie, head of the secret service, he’s eager to accept. Molly can’t draw any details of the assignment out of him, even where he’ll be working. But when she spots him in San Francisco during a movie news segment, she starts to wonder if he’s in even more danger than she had first believed. And then she receives a strange and cryptic letter from him, leading her to conclude that he wants her to join him in San Francisco. Molly knows that if Daniel’s turning to her rather than John Wilkie or his contacts in the police force, something must have gone terribly wrong. What can she do for him that the police can’t? Especially when she doesn’t even know what his assignment is? Embarking on a cross-country journey with her young son, Molly can’t fathom what’s in store for her, but she knows it might be dangerous—in fact, it might put all of their lives at risk, in Rhys Bowen's Time of Fog and Fire
Even Publisher's Weekly calls this particular installment of the series "weak." I can't say that I completely disagree, as I found the plot contrived and not as well paced as previous novels. Overall it wasn't a bad novel, per se, and Bowen's prose gets cleaner and clearer with each installment. Still, I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to those who are interested in the San Francisco earthquake and its aftermath.

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