Thursday, August 25, 2016

Librarians as Human Googles, The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer, This Pen for Hire by Laura Levine, and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, plus a Study in Ashes by Emma Jane Holloway

I've always had a healthy respect and love of librarians, mainly because they are the priest and priestesses of the holy places that libraries are to me, but also because they never fail to help me find answers to questions large and small. Now that there are computers and search engines like Google, people forget that librarians are still a vital resource in the battle against ignorance. You can get a million answers to a question when you "google it" or you can get the right answer when you ask a librarian.

The 'Human Google' at the NYPL
Noting that "in an era of online searches, librarians at the New York
Public Library are still the most-trusted source," CBS News reported
that at the NYPL's Fifth Avenue branch, "the phones keep ringing for
researchers," who have been called the "Human Google

"One of the number one comments that we get from callers is, 'Thank God
I've reached a human being,' " said Rosa Li, who manages the library's
Ask Desk. "Even on chat sometimes people will say, 'Is this a robot or a
person?' We have to laugh and say, 'I'm a real person.' "

The Ask Desk receives about 300 inquiries a day--via telephone, e-mail,
chat and text message. "Facebook, Twitter, and even snail mail queries
from New Yorkers and even people from around the world," Li said,
adding: "We love the fact that more and more things are online. The
computer is a tool for us, so the faster we can find an answer for
somebody, the better."

CBS News also asked Li what she is able to discern after answering a
question. "Gratitude," she replied. "Also, that moment--that 'A-ha!,'
that 'A-ha!' moment is great to listen to. Hearing that joy in their
voice. It's almost like a little checkmark goes off and it's like, OK,
I've managed to accomplish that!"
The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer was a recent find at the Half Price Books Warehouse sale in Seattle. I was shocked to discover that it was a great read, well written and with an engrossing plot. Here's the blurb: 
A debut novel set in Victorian England with a delightfully cheeky heroine who will have everyone talking.
Susan Rose is not your average Victorian heroine. She's promiscuous, lovable, plump, and scheming. Luckily for Susan, her big heart is covered by an equally big bosom, and her bosom is her fortune- for Susan becomes a professional wet nurse, like her mother before her, and she makes it her business to know all the intrigues and scandals that the upper crust would prefer to keep to themselves.
When her own child is caught up in a family scandal, Susan must use all of her street smarts to rescue her baby from the powerful mistress of the house. The scheme she weaves is bold and daring, and could spell ruin if she fails-but Susan Rose has no intention of failing.
I fell in love with the big-hearted, smart Susan Rose right from the outset. Though the novel is written in a modernized "Canterbury Tales" style, the prose sparkles with wit and humor, and there's a lot of down-to-earth discussions of the plight of women in the 19th century. The plot moves along at a metered but swift pace, and I found myself sorry to read the final page of this fascinating tale. A well-deserved A, with a recommendation to anyone interested in historical women and mothers, as well as those wondering what the life of a professional wet nurse must be like.
This Pen For Hire by Laura Levine is another book that I grabbed off the shelves during the HPB Warehouse sale, mainly for it's cutesy cover of a woman reading in the bathtub. Also, the title intrigued me, as I've worked as a journalist for over 30 years, so I was also a "pen for hire" for awhile. Here's the blurb:
Smarmy personals ads. Daring declarations of love. Freelance writer Jaine Austen has penned them all. But no one needs her help more than geeky, gawky Howard Murdoch. His request is simple enough: a letter proclaiming his undying love for Stacy Lawrence, a gorgeous aerobics instructor. The fact that he's never actually met the woman gives Jaine pause—yet she soon overcomes her misgivings, and the unlikely Romeo lands a date! But his triumph is short-lived. On Valentine's Day, Howard finds Stacy bludgeoned to death with a Thigh Master—and is quickly named the prime suspect.
Jaine is shocked. Sure, Howard's awkward and eccentric. But a murderer? That's hard to believe. Especially after a little sleuthing reveals a plethora of people who harbored less-than-loving feelings towards the svelte Stacy. Now Jaine had better wrangle her clues quickly, before a crafty killer catches on—and puts a whole new spin on her ghost writing career. . .
While things get predictable about 2/3 of the way through the book, (it becomes obvious who the killer is), I still really enjoyed the sassy and silly voice of Jaine, who comes off as a real person with a real appetite and the same insecurities as nearly every woman on the planet. Lots of witty wordplay and well designed plot make this a winner of a mystery. I plan on finding the next few books in this series and indulging in my newfound "friendship" with the hilariously goofy and real Jaine Austen. I'd give this slender volume an A and a recommendation to anyone looking for a great, easy "beach read."
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard was recommended to me by several readers websites and by a friend who knows that I love well written YA Fantasy fiction.  Though I've been honest about having reader's fatigue from reading one dystopian YA novel after another during the past 15 years, I was actually intrigued by the stout and detailed world that Aveyard builds and populates with apparent ease. She never info-dumps on the reader, or makes aspects of court intrigue so intricate and difficult to understand/follow that the reader gets frustrated, or wants to let their mind wander from the twists and turns of the well-crafted plot. But as with JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, the real stars here are the characters. Our heroine Mare Barrow and her family and friends are so well drawn that they nearly live and breathe off the page. Here's the blurb:
Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard's sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king's palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?
Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
The love triangle, the romance and the revolution never get in each others way, fortunately, though Mare does come off as more than a bit naive. While it is a given that Mare will come out of the betrayal by one of the princes alive, there was still the constant fear for her family and her friends that lent a frisson of tension to each chapter, and made the ruling Silver nobility seem all the more evil. I've read that other reviewers compare this series to Graceling (and it does have some similarities), but I found myself thinking of the Hunger Games and Divergent a lot while reading of Mare's adventures posing as a Silver. Like the heroines of those two series, Mare must go to great lengths to feed her family and ultimately to save them from being conscripted and dying as cannon fodder in a war only nominally fought by Silvers over territory. She's as feisty and fearless as either of the other heroines, and she never gives up, even when everything is turned against her, and she faces death by combat. A solid A, with a recommendation to anyone who loves strong female protagonists and well written YA fantasy. 

I need to make a small mention here of the final book in Emma Jane Holloway's Baskerville Affair series featuring Sherlock Holme's niece, called A Study in Ashes. I read the other two books in the series, and of course wanted to know how things turned out for Evelina Cooper, who, although a smart woman, somehow becomes a wilting blossom whenever she's kissed or touched by one of her swains, Tobias and Nick. Though I did love the Steampunk aspect of these books, and the solid prose that propelled the plot through some bizarre twists and turns, I kept getting irritated with Evie, who was so strong that she could kill the most evil wizard in existence, but then was so weak that she needed her boyfriend Nick to rescue her so she could whine about the darkness inside of her. She's consistently described as "frail" and "delicate" and small, yet she's got a huge amount of magical power within her, just waiting to be used for the good of all. Yet she somehow can't do that without a man by her side. The same goes for Imogen, her best friend, who manages to battle and kill her evil twin, but then is only able to recuperate with the help of her fiance Bucky, because somehow women in this book aren't complete without a male mate. Nick and Tobias both seemed to be total jerks to me, as they treated the women in their lives like possessions to be used for sex and breeding heirs. They also had to be small and weak and child-like in order to be attractive. This pervasive sexism lent a bad smell to these otherwise well done novels. Here's the blurb:
 As part of her devil’s bargain with the industrial steam barons, Evelina Cooper is finally enrolled in the Ladies’ College of London. However, she’s attending as the Gold King’s pet magician, handcuffed and forbidden contact with even her closest relation, the detective Sherlock Holmes.

But Evelina’s problems are only part of a larger war. The Baskerville affair is finally coming to light, and the rebels are making their move to wrest power from the barons and restore it to Queen Victoria. Missing heirs and nightmare hounds are the order of the day—or at least that’s what Dr. Watson is telling the press.

But their plans are doomed unless Evelina escapes to unite her magic with the rebels’ machines—and even then her powers aren’t what they used to be. A sorcerer has awakened a dark hunger in Evelina’s soul, and only he can keep her from endangering them all. The only problem is . . . he’s dead.

Though I didn't really like this version of Sherlock Holmes, who would never have been this emotional toward a relative, even if he had a sister who produced a niece, I would still give the book a B, and recommend it to Steampunk fans who aren't too put off by sexist male characters. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

RIP Thom Steinbeck, Library Olympics, NFL Book Club, Dark Run by Mike Brooks and Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway

As everyone knows, I am a huge fan of the works of the Bard of America, John Steinbeck. He was a fascinating man who had a rough history with his family. I once spoke with Thom's sister in law (she was married to his older brother John Jr) at length, and she had only kind things to say about the youngest Steinbeck. I read his book Down to A Soundless Sea and found it lovely, if a bit overwrought. Still, both of his sons inherited their father's love of words. Johnny died unexpectedly during a routine operation, and now it appears that the youngest son has also passed too soon. RIP Thom.

Obituary Note: Thomas Steinbeck

Thomas Steinbeck
the eldest son of novelist John Steinbeck "and, later in life, a fiction
writer who fought bitterly in a family dispute over his father's
estate," died August 11, the New York Times reported. He was 72.
Steinbeck "was approaching 60 when he published his first fiction, a
collection of stories called Down to a Soundless Sea, in 2002," the
Times noted. He also published two novels, The Silver Lotus and In the
Shadow of the Cypress.

Steinbeck "gained perhaps his widest attention in 2004, when he and a
granddaughter of John Steinbeck began a lengthy battle for intellectual
property rights to the elder Steinbeck's written works that they said
rightfully belonged to the author's direct descendants," the Times
wrote. While a New York federal judge granted the blood heirs
book-publishing and movie rights to some of the major works, the
decision was reversed by a federal appeals court in Manhattan in 2008.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal.

Yes! I love that there are Olympics for smart people, too!
Librarians Have an Olympics, Too'

Noting that "librarians perform feats of near-Olympian prowess every day
as they lug books back and forth, tame tortuous piles of information and
sustain long hours and complicated reference requests," the Smithsonian
reported on the University of Dayton's Library Olympics
earlier this summer. Many libraries hold similar competitions.

The librarians competed in events like " 'journal Jenga' (stacking bound
periodicals as high as possible and jumping out of the way when they
collapsed. Then they faced off in a circuit of different events,
including balancing bound journals on their heads, running a book cart
through a twisty course, and tossing journals toward a target.... Brains
had a place next to all that brawn, too, as librarians participated in a
tricky speed sorting event in which they had to put books in order by
their Library of Congress call number. To top it all off, they ran
around campus finding objects that corresponded to different LOC call
numbers. The winning team made off with the medal by a single point."

Since we moved to Seattle in 1991, my husband and I have become Seattle Seahawks football fans. My favorite player is a gentleman who actually lives in Maple Valley, not far from our home, named Richard Sherman. Now I read that another Seahawk has started a book club for football players, and it seems appropriate to me that it be someone from one of the most literate cities in America. Good on ya, Michael Bennett!

Cool Idea of the Day: NFL Player's Book Club

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett "wants to try something
new with his teammates: a book club
ESPN reported, adding that the lineman "pitched the idea to Seahawks
vice president of player engagement Maurice Kelly, and Kelly liked what
he heard. The first book on the list is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell."

"Try to get a book and try to have a good conversation about it,"
Bennett said of his book club game plan. "Read a couple chapters and
just go through it. 'What's your take on it? What's your opinion on it?'
It's going to be pretty cool." Thus far, his teammates "have been
receptive. I tell them don't waste too much time staying on the phone
all the time. Every once in awhile, open up a book."

"People think that he just talks, but he does research," Kelly noted.
"He reads a lot. He's not just talking to be talking, just to hear
himself. Sometimes it comes across as if he's just talking just to hear
himself talk. But he knows his history. He leaves his books all over the
damn place. I see 'em in my office all the time." Regarding the book
club, he added: "It's a good thing, kind of taking everybody out of
their comfort zone. I don't know too many guys who read a lot of books.
Mike reads. But to put the onus on everybody else, to challenge
everybody else, I'm accepting the challenge."

Dark Run by Mike Brooks was recommended on an book site FB page as science fiction that would appeal to fans of Firefly Having been a browncoat for years now, I was intrigued. What really surprised me about this novel, however, was that it melded the styles of Firefly with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Limitless the TV show, as well as adding in pop culture references from everything from the Princess Bride to Monty Python's Flying Circus. It takes the Star Trek trope of a small group of misfit protagonists and sets them into trouble out in the galaxy  with only the captain's wits and the crews special talents to see them through. Here is the blurb:In this debut space epic, a crew of thieves and con artists take on a job that could pay off a lot of debts in a corrupt galaxy where life is cheap and criminals are the best people in it.
The Keiko is a ship of smugglers, soldiers of fortune, and adventurers traveling Earth’s colony planets searching for the next job. And they never talk about their past—until now.
Captain Ichabod Drift is being blackmailed. He has to deliver a special cargo to Earth, and no one can know they’re there. It’s what they call a dark run…And it may be their last.
Drift's second in command, Rourke, is a kick-ass woman who reminded me of Ming Na Wen on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. His "brawn"  a Maori warrior named Aprirana is surprisingly innocent and has a sensitive heart, which reminded me of Fezzik from the Princess Bride movie. At any rate, the prose is no nonsense and clean as a whistle, which is why the FTL plot can zoom along at such a rapid pace. Once you pick up this science fiction thriller, you won't be able to put it down. I really can't go into the intricacies of the plot without spoiling it, so suffice it to say that Dark Run gets a well deserved A, and a recommendation to all fans of Firefly and Star Trek.
A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway is the second book in the Baskerville Affair series, a Steampunk romantic adventure that, while being a bit too "ladies lose their minds around men" style, still has much to recommend it. Here's the blurb:
When a bomb goes off at 221B Baker Street, Evelina Cooper is thrown into her uncle Sherlock’s world of mystery and murder. But just when she thought it was safe to return to the ballroom, old, new, and even dead enemies are clamoring for a place on her dance card.
Before Evelina’s even unpacked her gowns for a country house party, an indiscretion puts her in the power of the ruthless Gold King, who recruits her as his spy. He knows her disreputable past and exiles her to the rank alleyways of Whitechapel with orders to unmask his foe.
As danger mounts, Evelina struggles between hiding her illegal magic and succumbing to the darker aspects of her power. One path keeps her secure; the other keeps her alive. For rebellion is brewing, a sorcerer wants her soul, and no one can protect her in the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper.
Though I like Evelina as a protagonist, for the most part, she tends to become stupid around men, especially Tobias and then Nick, who didn't seem like a good guy to me, because he was so violent and possessive. Evelina just can't control her emotions around them, though, and acts like a silly damsel in distress, and when push comes to shove, she is willing to lead a life of slavery to one of the Steam Barons just for the chance of saving Nick, though he is thought to be dead anyway. Evelina also succumbs to the blandishments of the evil Dr Magnus, though she knows he's up to no good, and yet she just can't help herself when she asks him to teach her dark magic, which, again, she knows is wrong and will only lead to pain and suffering. For a supposedly strong and feisty heroine, Evelina needs rescuing a lot, and she can't seem to keep from stepping in it over and over. She's also supposed to be smart, but she acts without thinking things through all the time. Her best friend Imogen is even worse, which of course makes her all the more attractive to all the Victorian sexist men, who seek to use everyone for their own gain/power. the explanation for Jack the Ripper being who she is was inventive, if a bit bizarre. Still, the prose was intricate and engrossing, and the plot full of twists and turns. A nicely done B+ steampunk novel that I'd recommend to those who like their heroines strong, but not too strong, and their male heroes stereotypically macho. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fantastic Beasts Preview, Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw, Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle, A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway, and Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

 I am really looking forward to seeing this movie, as I am a huge fan of Rowling's HP series and her other books that take place in the HP world.

Movies: Fantastic Beasts, Olympic Preview
"Finding fantastic beasts isn't an official Olympic sport in this sad,
Muggle world of ours, but that didn't stop NBC from airing a new
minute-long ad for the latest 'Harry Potter' movie," Indiewire wrote in
featuring a brief teaser for the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Directed by David Yates, the movie stars Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell,
Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon
Voight and Ron Perlman.

I picked up a copy of Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw at the local library book sale, mainly because the cover looked intriguing and the author's last name reminded me of the main character in the UK TV series "Last Tango in Halifax",  Mr Buttershaw, played by Derek Jacobi. I found out that it was the second book in a series only once I had already read the first 75 pages and was too involved to put it down and seek out the first book, Shadow Cry. The author is pretty good at catching the reader up on what is going on, fortunately, so I wasn't really at sea too long, and the plot moved at a ripping pace on the sturdy, well-wrought prose. Here's the blurb:In Shadowcry, fifteen-year-old Kate Winters learned she was one of the Skilled, a rare person who can bring the dead to life. Even among that rare group, Kate is special. She alone can understand the secrets of an ancient book of knowledge.
In the sequel, Blackwatch, Kate is on the run from the Skilled, who have accused her of murder. And she is being hunted by an elite unit of assassins fighting in the war against Albion, Kate’s home.
 When a potent magic threatens the veil between life and death, fate reunites Kate with enigmatic villain Silas Dane, a man who cannot be killed. Only they can save Albion.

 Publisher's Weekly:Silas Dane, the infamous and immortal soldier without a soul, is on the run. Having just betrayed the High Council of Albion and executed one of its members, Silas steals his way across the country and learns that there is another who shares his kind of limbo existence. Meanwhile, instead of finding refuge among the Skilled, people like her who can manipulate the veil between life and death, Kate Winters is denounced and imprisoned by them. While Silas and Kate each embark on their own pursuits, the veil continues to draw them together until they both face the same formidable enemy and realize that the war between the Content and Albion is just a shadow of a growing new terror that will leave no citizen of either land unscathed. Burtenshaw ups the ante from her first novel, Shadowcry (Greenwillow, 2011/ VOYA online), in terms of plot. While certainly gripping, however, events occur in settings that are not clearly distinguishable from each other, and readers new to the Secrets of Wintercraft series will need to guess what some terminology means. Silas remains the most complex and intriguing character, though his longtime rival, Bandermain, is equally compelling. Kate and Edgar could still use more depth as characters, but their story lines reveal the mysterious history of Wintercraft, Albion, and the Skilled—a great improvement from the convoluted explanations in the first novel. Blackwatch is a satisfying continuation of Kate and Silas's saga and an enjoyable teaser for the next installment in the series.
Of course Blackwatch ends on a cliffhanger, so now I am obliged to find the next book in the series and find out what happens to Silas, Kate and her friend Edgar. Overall, I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first book, or who is looking for dystopian fantasy.

Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle was a find from the U District branch of Half Price Books, in a handsome, huge trade paperback edition that is the size of a hardback book. Haivng read Nightflyers, I assumed that this book was either a sequel or written in that same world. However, I read Nightflyers in the early 1980s, so I don't remember much of the story. At any rate, I found this science fiction/fantasy/romance hybrid a lovely read, full of memorable characters and a zippy plot with plenty of twists and turns. Here's the blurb: Publisher's Weekly: Rereleased 20 years after its initial publication, this gentle tale of a woman's quest to live out her dream to fly by award-winning authors Martin (Sandkings, A Storm of Swords) and Tuttle (Lost Futures) concerns the hard choices that come from having a vocation. On stormy Windhaven, the descendants of long-ago stranded star sailors live on widely separated islands. Lacking metals to sustain industrial technology, the inhabitants depend on flyers, humans with wings made from the original star sail, to bring news and carry messages, uniting far-flung communities. Maris, a land-bound female adopted into a flyer family, loves to fly. But when her stepbrother, Coll, turns 13, he stands as first-born to inherit the irreplaceable wings, even as he dreams of being a traveling singer instead. When Maris tries to resolve both quandaries by stealing the wings, she challenges not only flyer law but the basic assumptions of Windhaven society. Establishing competitions to win wings and training academies for students from non-flyer families, and defending a "made" flyer accused of treason for stopping a war, Maris faces the lifelong consequences of talent come into conflict with privilege. Although Martin and Tuttle make the correct choices rather clear, they never ignore the costs. With a well-constructed plot (with only minor slips in logic) presented in prose that reads as fantasy, the book will appeal to a YA audience in addition to Martin and Tuttle fans. 
Though there is no mention of Nightflyers, I still have a strong feeling that they are connected, as both were written by GRRM, and both involve people flying. Maris, though a beautifully strong woman, annoyed me for trying to avoid being the leader that she is, considering that her insistence on being a flyer, though not born to a family of flyers, sets off a ton of societal changes, such as universities and girls being allowed to train and fly, even after they get pregnant and start families. I did love that they carried her story right through to the end of her life, so readers feel a sense of closure. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who is too daunted by GRRM's overly brutal and political Game of Thrones series, but still enjoys a good tale of science fiction/fantasy.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway was another find at Half Price Books. It looked right up my alley, being a steampunk/Sherlock Holmes/strong female protagonist novel, and much to my surprise, though I've never heard of Holloway, I really enjoyed this rather portly paperback of 550 pages. Evelina Cooper is Sherlock Holme's niece, and her mother disgraced the family by marrying a circus performer, giving birth to Evelina, and then dying, leaving her child to be raised in a wild atmosphere that doesn't suit most of the upper strata of society in the Victorian era. Her grandmother Holmes pulls her out of that environment and places her in a home with a respectable baron's daughter, Imogen, who helps teach Evelina how to be a lady. Unfortunately for our heroine, there's a mystery afoot involving the death of a pregnant servant girl, and with her own brilliant mind and the help of some friends (including her uncle Sherlock, though he doesn't appear until late in the book), Evelina finds her way to answers, if not outright justice. Here's the blurb:Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London Society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.  

I was hoping that Evelina would cast her lot in with the brother of Imogen, Tobias, since he's  marriage material in Victorian society, when her swain from the circus, Nick (from Niccolo) is not, for obvious reasons, but even after Nick stalks her, physically abuses her and threatens her lifestyle and reputation, she still seems to carry a torch for this cad, though other than good looks, I didn't see anything to recommend him. His obsession with and possessive jealousy of Evelina sickened me, and I half expected him to kill her so that no one else could have her, since he couldn't. But other than the creepy Nick, and the even creeper Dr Magnus, who is apparently immortal, I enjoyed the strong characters in this book, and I felt that the ornate prose didn't detract too much from the smart and twisty plot. A well deserved A, with a hearty recommendation to anyone who likes Steampunk mysteries and Sherlock Holmes.

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming is the non fiction memoir that my book group is reading for September's meeting. I am a fan of Cumming, as I've seen him on Masterpiece Mystery, in Cabaret and in movies, such as Circle of Friends. His Scottish burr is so very sexy, and his mischievious twinkling eyes always make me smile. Still, I wasn't sure what to expect from his memoirs, as I gather he is close to my age, and I sometimes feel as if those in middle age don't have enough material for a proper memoir, unless they've lead extraordinary lives. Alan Cumming has lead an extraordinary life, however, and his rise from horribly abused child to star of stage and screen is fascinating reading. Here's the blurb:
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.
A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.
When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.
With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.
That last line of the blurb hits the nail on the head, because I found myself laughing and crying and rooting for poor wee Alan's survival, though it is obvious he made it, the whole way. I certainly wouldn't have been as kind to his horrible father as Alan and his brother were, when confronting the old man about how hideously he'd abused them. As if that wasn't enough, the rat bastard father actually makes up a story to get Alan to believe that he's illegitimate, and that is why the old man never "bonded" with him, because he wasn't his blood relation. Alan finds out that this is pure bunk, of course, and ends his relationship with his father, but again, I would have tried to get the vile old man up on charges for what he'd done, and I really wouldn't care if he was mentally ill or not. No one deserves to be treated with such cruelty, especially a child.
Cumming's research into his heritage on his mother's side yields fascinating results, so the book ends on something of a high note. The prose is honest and tender, and I flew through the book at speed. I'd give it an A, and recommend it only to those who are able to stand tales of abusive parents and their children's struggles to piece themselves together and survive.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Secret Garden's Lone Male Bookseller, Wales First Patron of Lit, Lustlocked by Matt Wallace, Folly Du Jour by Barbara Cleverly, and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

I have visited the Secret Garden Bookstore, and it's a delightful place. I had to laugh at this tidbit from Shelf Awareness about the "token male" bookseller that they have on hand, however, as usually in any given business, there are more men than women.

The Bookstore with 'Exactly One Male Bookseller'
Secret Garden Books Seattle, Wash.,
is the August "Bookstore of the Month" for the Seattle Review of Books
which noted that the shop "currently employs 13 booksellers. Events
manager Suzanne Perry explains that for as long as she's been on staff,
the store has always employed exactly one male bookseller."

"We've always, always, always had one boy," she said. "It's not
purposeful. I've been here ten years and I think we're on boy four. And
they're interesting boys, too. But the rest are just women,
wall-to-wall." She added that Secret Garden's booksellers tend to stay,
and that there is really only one qualification they look for when
hiring: they want people who "you can't get them to shut up about books.
In fact, you have to pay them to be quiet about books."

I loved Phillip Pullman's fantasy series, and I found this fascinating, as I had no idea that they had a "first patron of literature" in Wales, a country with many bookstores that I long to visit. Doctor Who, which is filmed in Cardiff, is only one of the reasons it's on my bucket list.

Philip Pullman Is First Patron of Literature Wales
Bestselling author Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy), who was
born in Norwich and "attended secondary school at Ysgol Ardudwy in
Harlech, before going on to study English at the University of Oxford,"
was announced as the inaugural Patron of Literature Wales

"Making it possible for school children to meet a professional writer (I
don't say 'real' writer, because children are real writers too) is one
of the best ways of encouraging them to think that writing has a
purpose, and brings pleasure, and can be a means of exciting discovery
and a source of lasting satisfaction," Pullman said. "It is also a great
stimulus to reading. I strongly approve of the work being done by
Literature Wales to bring children and professional writers
together--it's really beneficial for both parties."
Lustlocked by Matt Wallace is the second book in the Sin Du Jour Affair series, after Envy of Angels, which I reviewed recently. One thing that I loved about the first book was it's brevity in telling a rather rollicking tale of the government sponsored catering company to the hidden supernatural elements of society. These books are generally 210 or so pages long, and the prose is tight and clean, while the plot screams down the tracks like a runaway bullet train. The main characters are two hapless out of work chefs, Lena and her best friend Darren, who seems to be infantile and somewhat hapless, while also being easily dazzled and not too bright. Lena, on the other hand, is former military and very sharp, while also being protective of Darren. In the first book, they take a temporary assignment with Sin Du Jour because they are desperate for the money, and Darren kicks off a series of unfortunate events by going into a pantry he was expressly forbidden to enter, and unleashing a demon.  Many twists and turns follow, and now, in the second volume, Lena and Darren are once again summoned to Sin Du Jour to sign a year long contract and help with a Goblin Royal wedding. Though Lena is reluctant to go back into the insanely dangerous environment of Sin Du Jour, the pay is better than she'd get anywhere else and she and Darren also would never get this kind of exciting atmosphere and unique cooking opportunities anywhere else. Here's the blurb:
Love is in the air at Sin du Jour.
The Goblin King (yes, that one) and his Queen are celebrating the marriage of their son to his human bride. Naturally the celebrations will be legendary.
But when desire and magic mix, the results can be unpredictable.
Our heroes are going to need more than passion for the job to survive the catering event of the decade! Publisher's Weekly: The Sin du Jour gang of magic-wielding culinary artists is preparing to cater the wedding of the year, and Lena Tarr and Darren Vargas, still reeling from the events of Envy of Angels, have been offered contracts to continue working for the famous executive chef Byron “Bronko” Luck. It’s an offer they can’t afford to resist. The goblin king and queen are planning the wedding of their son and his human fiancé, and nothing less than perfection will do. These “aren’t Lord of the Rings goblins,” as Lena puts it; they’re ethereally beautiful, and the king and queen moonlight in the human world as a rock star and a supermodel, respectively. (Their human aliases aren’t given to the reader, but clues make it obvious exactly who they are.) The lovely bride is worried about impressing her in-laws, and Sin du Jour’s resident witch, Boosha, attempts to help, with disastrous and frequently hilarious results. Also included is a slyly poignant bonus story about how the choicest delicacies—namely gold and jewels, which goblins eagerly consume—are procured for the wedding feast. Magic and humor combine with delicious results in this unusual, wildly fun novella. 
I really enjoy Wallace's sarcastic, cynical and bizarre sense of humor and I also love his realistic characters having to deal with the supernatural characters in times of crisis. In this instance, the protection spell on the wedding venue turns out to be a Disney cartoon character who is spoiling for bloodshed, and the horrible spell of Boosha's that turns all the guests into feral giant lizards in heat is only the beginning of the wedding crisis.  I found the interaction of the characters fascinating, though I was hoping to avoid Lena getting into a clinch with Dorsky, the sexist head chef, who apparently has had a crush on Lena since he first laid eyes on her. Since it seems like putting two characters into a dark closet while trying to avoid being raped by lizards automatically puts them in the mood for romance and sex, I gather that hope was in vain. Still, I was okay with everything until the final page, when Wallace puts in a truly terrible cliffhanger that I won't spoil for you.However, said cliffhanger makes me desperate for a copy of Pride's Spell, the third book in the series, so I can find out what happens next. A well deserved A, and a recommendation to anyone who has read Envy of won't want to miss this next installment of the Sin Du Jour saga!

Folly Du Jour by Barbara Cleverly was a library book sale find, and though I'd seen Cleverly's books before, I'd never gotten my hands on a used copy of this mystery series, set in the "roaring 20s" in Paris, before now. This series is developed around the sleuth Detective Joe Sandilands, a smart and taciturn fellow who uses his military training and common sense to chase down the bad guys/gals. This time Sandilands is out to clear the name of a retired military man and diplomat George Jardine, who was involved in helping to prosecute a man who raped and murdered a 12 year old servant girl years before. This man was only stripped of his rank and not hanged or shot for his actions, which leads to the evil rapist coming back for revenge on George years later. Here's the blurb: 
In a box at the famed Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, an ex-soldier and knight of the realm is dead, his throat savagely cut. In a jail cell, diplomat George Jardine, his evening clothes stained with the slain man’s blood, awaits the arrival of his old wartime friend, Joe Sandilands. In spite of the evidence, Sandilands believes Jardine is innocent. His search for a crucial witness—a notorious beauty who quickly vanishes—leads to the discovery of a shocking series of unsolved murders. Is Sandilands hunting a serial killer? Or has he stumbled upon something even more sinister and carefully orchestrated? As the final, chilling pieces of the puzzle fall into place, Sandilands launches his own counterattack against a killer whose sadistic agenda is about to become horrifyingly clear.… 
Cleverly's prose is dense and lush with description, but it tends to slow down her twisting, turning plot to a rather sedate pace for a thriller. Though I liked the full bodied characters, I found the sexism toward the female characters more than a bit galling. Still, I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who finds the 1920s era in Paris of interest, and who enjoys twisty mysteries.

Imprudence by Gail Carriger is the second book in her "Custard Protocols" series, which is one of three series she's written that I've read. Steampunk and wit are Carriger's stock in trade, and I usually adore slipping into the pages of one of her books and reveling in the strong female protagonists and the bizarre and wonderful steam creations that they use in alternate Victorian England and Egypt. Something of a problem cropped up in this tome, however, that lead me to be less than enchanted with the whole story arc. Rue's friend Primrose, a lovely, strong and organizationally brilliant character, is sexually harassed throughout the novel by a centuries-old werelioness named Tasherit. I don't care whether you're an ancient vampire who stalks the local beauty in Twilight, or you're a golden goddess of a woman who can assume the form of a jungle cat, trying to force your sexuality on someone you fancy who doesn't share your sexual orientation, or who plans on marrying a man and having a family, as does Primrose, is just plain WRONG. Primrose is genuinely frightened and uncomfortable with Tasherit's chasing her, yet her best friend Rue doesn't come to her rescue or attempt to get Tasherit to back off at all! I found this behavior reprehensible, and it made me question whether or not I want to continue to read any more of Carriger's books. Here's the blurb:
Rue and the crew of the Spotted Custard return from India with revelations that shake the foundations of England's scientific community. Queen Victoria is not amused, the vampires are tetchy, and something is wrong with the local werewolf pack. To top it all off, Rue's best friend Primrose keeps getting engaged to the most unacceptable military types.
Rue has family problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue's beginning to suspect what they really are... is frightened.I don't see, personally, what is wrong with Primrose marrying a man and having a family if that is what she wants to do with her life. It is her life, after all, and not being a were-creature would put her in a bad position, even if she were to be a lesbian and want to become involved with Tasherit. I have no qualm with gays or lesbians, BTW, but I don't like sexual predators or sexual harassment. At any rate, the prose is, as usual, top notch and the plot, though it starts slow, picks up steam by page 45 and moves swiftly to the conclusion.  Though I felt bad about Rue's father, I was a bit put off by Rues mother, Alexia, being so cold and indifferent to her daughter. Still, this fun romp deserves a B+, which would have been an A, but for the aforementioned harassment. I would recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in Carriger's series.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Jessica Jones Binge Watch, Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and Radio Girls by Sarah Jane Stratford

I don't normally do movie or TV reviews on my book blog, but yesterday I had just finished a book, and I was in that zone bibliophiles sometimes enter, where you have to mourn the end of a good tale and get your mind and heart ready for a new volume. Sometimes, that's the work of a few hours, and sometimes it takes days to get over an intense, well written story.
I'd heard a lot of good things last year about a Netflix show called Jessica Jones, and when I heard that my favorite Doctor Who, Doctor number 10, played by David Tennant, was in it, that piqued my interest. I never got around to investigating further, however, and because I had also heard that it was violent, gory and had rape in the story arc, so I put it on the back burner and focused on more positive entertainment options. All of this lead me to yesterday, when I was browsing on Netflix and saw Jessica Jones, and decided to just watch one episode to see if I wanted to risk continuing to view the program, as I am not a fan of "gritty, dark drama" or "horror" genre films, TV shows, graphic novels or books.
Fast forward to 6 hours later, when I suddenly realize that it's evening, and I've been so engrossed in Jessica Jones and her plight, that I've not moved from in front of my computer all afternoon. After taking a short break to use the restroom and eat and talk to my family, so they'd know I was still alive, I resumed watching the show, all the way through to the final 13th episode at 5 AM.
I was riveted by the bizarre nature of Jessica's journey, from abused orphan to alcoholic PI with super strength and jumping powers, whose ability to break free from Kilgrave, a man whose power is to mentally manipulate and mesmerize people into doing whatever he wants them to do, including kill themselves or others, was used on Jessica until he had her kill a young woman, after which point she was immune to his mental manipulation virus.
Jessica has nightmares and PTSD from her time with Kilgrave, who raped her and used her powers for his own ends. Kilgrave, played masterfully by Tennant, has become obsessed with Jessica since she left him, and now he's using other women and people around Jessica to spy on her and to get her involved with him again. Jessica, meanwhile, has started an affair with another man with powers, Luke Cage, who is best described as HOT chocolate. The two can't keep their hands off one another whenever they're in the same zip code, and unfortunately, Jessica discovers that Luke's wife was the woman that Kilgrave had her kill when she was under his influence. Luke finds out about this, and, once he's under Kilgrave's influence, he tries to kill Jessica for revenge.
What was unclear to me about this whole story was why Jessica didn't kill Kilgrave when she has the chance, and why Kilgrave seems to want her dead, but he also wants to have her under his influence once again so that she will "love" him, because she's the only woman he considers his equal in terms of power.  It takes Jessica forever to figure out what every other character has been telling her in nearly every episode, that the only way to get rid of Kilgrave's influence and to stop the killing is for him to die. I won't spoil the ending, but it was slightly anticlimactic, though I have to say that the woman playing Patsy was one lucky gal, being able to snog David Tennant. What I liked about the show was it's fast paced plot and the kick butt female protagonists. What I didn't like was the self-loathing of so many of those hard core female protagonists, (they regularly refer to themselves as being full of sh*t) and the anorexia of Jessica, who apparently, like Seanan McGuire's female protagonists, can live on liquids, either alcohol or coffee, and not end up in the hospital, like most people. I also didn't like all the gore and violence and death,  but I loved the casting of Trinity from the Matrix movies as a vile lesbian lawyer. There were questions left unanswered by the end, such as what happens to Luke once he's no longer under Kilgrave's influence (it has a time limit, once you're out of range of him). What happens to Simmons, and will Jessica's neighbor, who is now her sidekick/secretary, be able to get Jessica dried out and back in action as a PI? I'd give this one-season graphic novel adaptation a A, and only recommend it to those over the age of 18 who aren't bothered by blood, gore and cruelty.

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine is book two in her "Great Library" series, after the wonderful Ink and Bone, which I read as an ARC from the publishers. The tag line on the book is "Let the world burn," and that is, in essence, what happens to many of the rare and valuable libraries in this novel. But first, the blurb: In Ink and Bone, author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history...
With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.
Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.

Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn't safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control...

Jess and the gang spend most of this book on the run from library enforcers and from the head librarian, who is a horribly corrupt despot/dictator who will do anything to keep his power over knowledge.  Fortunately, at least they are able to rescue Thomas and Morgan, who is freed of her slave collar by Wolfe's mother. Unfortunately, we are left with something of a cliffhanger by the last chapter, in which our library rebels are forced to enter burner territory in America. I loved that Jess found a way to turn off the lions, sphinx and spartan automata and that the gang saved some books from the black library. The prose was clean and bright, and the plot was fast paced and intricate without being over written. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who read Ink and Bone.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is not, to my knowledge, part of any of her series of paranormal fantasies. Instead, this was somewhat like Alice in Wonderland/Narnia crossed with Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransome Riggs. Unfortunately, there's too much of a horror element to the storyline, and McGuire glamorizes anorexia in her female protagonist, Nancy, much as she glamorizes bulemia in her October Daye series of paranormal urban fantasy. What made me finish this short novel was the interesting concept and world building that surrounds these stolen children and adults. Here's the blurb:
Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.
No matter the cost.
McGuire divides the fantasy worlds that the children enter into sections and sub sections, from "nonsense" worlds to "logical" worlds, and it is by those lights that these misfits are able to put their experiences into context, while mourning the loss of their lives there and yearning to return. Of course, the major mystery is who is killing people in the home, and why, so Nancy and her transgender friend Kade, along with cross-dresser Jack (whom we assume is gay) do their best to hunt down the perp while hoping for a doorway into their fantasy worlds. The prose was nice and tidy, as usual, and the plot never lagged, but I still didn't care for the horrific theme and the fascination with death and starvation/stillness that makes Nancy invisible, as this sends a message to young women that they shouldn't exist. Hence, I'd give the book a B, and recommend it only to those with healthy self esteem and no eating disorders.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford is a hidden gem of a book that covers the early years of the British Broadcasting Company in the 1920s-30. Here's the blurb: 
The Great War is over, and change is in the air, in this novel that brings to life the exciting days of early British radio…and one woman who finds her voice while working alongside the brilliant women and men of the BBC.

London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.

Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living. 

This is historical fiction, and the fact that they used the life of a real woman, Hilda Matheson, as the basis for most of the tale is truly amazing. Though she's fictional, I loved Maisie's rise from mouse to lioness, and I was fascinated to learn that radio hasn't changed much in the last 80-90 years, because my husband, who worked as a producer and board operator in radio for over 20 years, had many of the same issues that Maisie and Hilda face at the BBC, when trying to produce quality programming that appeals to listeners from several demographics. Politics in management never changes, apparently, no matter which side of the pond you live on. Stratford's prose is dense by elegant and lithe as it propels her complex plot to a very satisfying conclusion. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of broadcasting and especially of women in broadcasting. Nicely done, Ms Stratford.