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.

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