Saturday, September 24, 2016

RIP WP Kinsella, and Edward Albee, Plus The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake and The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam

I am gutted about this. I saw Kinsella speak once and had him sign a book of short stories for my best friend Muff Larson (RIP) who was also a big fan of his books and the movie, Field of Dreams, which was filmed in the same town where Muff and I went to college, Dubuque, Iowa (and nearby Dyersville).

RIP W.P. Kinsella

author of Shoeless Joe, the basis of the hit movie Field of Dreams, died
on September 16. He was 81. He published nearly 30 books and wrote
fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories.

"Kinsella's works were known for their affection toward baseball, with
characters and plots frequently set around the sport," the New York
Times wrote. "They also were infused with a magical realism."

In Shoeless Joe, the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, the star banned from
baseball after the 1919 Black Sox Scandal--even though he likely was not
part of the conspiracy to throw the World Series--inspires an Iowa
farmer to build a baseball field so that he can play the game again.

The 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and Ray Liotta
was a hit and introduced the phrase "If you build it, they will
come"--slightly tweaked from the movie's "If you build it, he will
come"--into the nation's vocabulary.

In an announcement about Kinsella's death, his literary agent Carolyn
Swayze said that he had died in a doctor-assisted suicide but gave no
further details about his health. She called Kinsella "a dedicated
storyteller, performer, curmudgeon and irascible and difficult man."

Canadian novelist W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, which became the 1989 Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, died last week at age 81. Kinsella's novels and short stories were primarily about baseball, with dashes of magical realism, and about the plight of Native Canadians. His first published book, Dance Me Outside (1977), is a collection of 17 stories set on a Cree Indian reserve in Central Alberta. Shoeless Joe (1982) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1987) remain Kinsella's most enduring works. In 1997, he suffered a brain injury during a car accident that kept him from publishing another novel until 2011's Butterfly Winter. Kinsella died via doctor-assisted suicide after suffering from diabetes for many decades.

Shoeless Joe takes its title from Shoeless Joe Jackson, a baseball player banned from the sport after the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series (though he was likely innocent of any involvement in the conspiracy by a group of White Sox players to throw the series). Ray Kinsella, the novel's protagonist, hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn farm. Ray's field summons the spirit of his hero, Shoeless Joe, and other baseball legends seeking redemption. Ray sets out to find to find J.D. Salinger, another of his heroes, and ease the reclusive author's pain. Among several other alterations, the film Field of Dreams replaces J.D. Salinger with fictional author Terence Mann. It also brought the phrase "if you build it, they will come," into popular use, though both versions of Kinsella's story actually say "he will come."  --Tobias Mutter

When I was a theater major at Clarke College, we did several plays by Albee, among them a Delicate Balance, which was so powerful that it convinced me to switch majors and join the theater department.

Edward Albee
"widely considered the foremost American playwright of his generation,
whose psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the
contentiousness of intimacy, the gap between self-delusion and truth and
the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life," died
September 16, the New York Times reported. He was 88. His honors
included a pair of Tony Awards for best play as well as three Pulitzer

In 1959, Albee "introduced himself suddenly and with a bang" with his
first produced play, The Zoo Story, which opened in Berlin on a double
bill with Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. "When the play came to the
Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village the next year, it helped
propel the blossoming theater movement that became known as Off
Broadway," the Times noted.

Albee's Broadway debut came with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in
1962, which was also adapted into an award-winning film directed by Mike
Nichols and starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. During his
career, Albee created about 30 works, including A Delicate Balance, All
Over, Tiny Alice, Seascape, Three Tall Women, The Goat, or Who is
Sylvia, and Me Myself & I.

"All of my plays are about people missing the boat, closing down too
young, coming to the end of their lives with regret at things not done,
as opposed to things done," he told the Times in 1991. "I find most
people spend too much time living as if they're never going to die."

I want to read this:
The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict (Sourcebooks Landmark,
$25.99, 9781492637257). "Einstein. Just hearing that name likely brings
a smile to your face, as you picture the mischievous wild-haired
scientist with the twinkle in his eye. In The Other Einstein, readers
get a view of the woman behind the genius, his first wife Mileva Maric,
a strong willed and brilliant physics student who refused to let society
dictate her life's path, but who lost her way when love came on the
scene. Benedict has penned an engaging tale that will likely inspire
readers to investigate the true story behind Maric's genius and her
personal and professional relationship with Einstein." --Sharon Layburn,
South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, N.Y.
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake was an ARC trade paperback given to me by the KCLS librarian, Jen, who comes to talk to my book group once a year about books that we might like to consider for our next year's monthly reading roster. Though I've read books about the Japanese internment during WWII, and many books about the second world war, I've never read any books outlining what happened in Japan during the American Occupation in the years following the war, when we were supposed to be helping the Japanese rebuild their severely depleted country. My father in law, a career US Air Force pilot, lived on the base in Japan during the occupation, and had his first child, Jack junior, known as "Jackie" while there. My sister in law, Jill, was born in the US on a base on the East Coast, and my husband Jim was born on an Air Force base in Ankara, Turkey in 1960.  So I felt compelled to read this book and get a glimpse of what life must have been like in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Japan.  Unsurprisingly, it was fairly horrific, especially for the children, who were scrambling for food and shelter and medical care along with the adults, many of whom were deported from other countries, such as Canada and the US, because they were of Japanese heritage (even if they had been born and raised in North America). Here's the blurb: An emotionally gripping portrait of postwar Japan, where a newly repatriated girl must help a classmate find her missing sister
Born and raised in Vancouver, thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp only to be repatriated to Japan with her father who was faced with an unsettling choice: Move east of the Rocky Mountains or go back to Japan. With no hope of restitution and grieving the loss of Aya's mother during internment, her father feels there's nothing left for them in Canada and signs a form that enables the government to deport him.
     But life in Tokyo is not much better. Aya's father struggles to find work, compromising his morals and toiling long hours. Aya, meanwhile, is something of a pariah at her school, bullied for being foreign and paralyzed when asked to communicate in Japanese. Aya's alienation is eventually mitigated by one of her principal tormenters, a willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, whose older sister has mysteriously disappeared.
     When a rumor surfaces that Douglas MacArthur, who is overseeing the Allied occupation of Japan, sometimes helps citizens in need, Fumi enlists Aya to compose a letter asking the general to find her beloved sister. The letter is delivered into the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese-American serving with the Occupation forces, whose endless job is translating the thousands of letters MacArthur receives each week. Matt feels an affinity toward Fumi but is largely powerless, and the girls decide to take matters into their own hands, venturing into the dark and dangerous world of Tokyo's red-light district.
     Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines the turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of the conquered—and yet the novel also allows for a poignant spark of resilience, friendship, and love that translates across cultures and borders to stunning effect.

 I agree that this was an emotionally gripping story, especially from the POV of these two young girls, who have heard that General MacArthur is some kind of magical being who can grant the requests of whomever writes to him. Some of the letters are heart-breaking in their innocence, even if they are from adults. My husband is a long-time fan of Japanese monster films and Japanese culture, enough so that he learned to speak and write some Japanese after taking lessons from a native speaker for 5 years after we moved to Seattle. Because of his friendship with some Japanese people, we've had visitors from Japan, during the 1990s, and I felt that even now, there is an innocence and purity about the way these Japanese people we hosted view the world. They certainly view the elderly in a more respectful manner, and yet the way that women are seen as lesser beings, and somehow disposable,  counteracts that innocence with a virulent sexism and misogyny that sickens me every time I encounter it. There is also a lot of racism toward mixed race children and adults. And a pathological shaming of anyone who is handicapped or disabled. Still, I felt the author built strong characters with her sturdy yet elegant prose. The plot never lagged, and the story itself, though sad, was beautiful and engrossing. A definite A, with the recommendation that anyone interested in post-war Japan give this a read.
The Man with the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam was a book I found at the library book sale, and I have been looking for another of her books, Bilgewater, for awhile now. This particular novel has mesmerizing prose that drags you in and never lets you go, though the plot is vague and twisty, and the characters full of secrets and lies. Here's the blurb:
The New York Times called Sir Edward Feathers one of the most memorable characters in modern literature. A lyrical novel that recalls his fully lived life, Old Filth has been acclaimed as Jane Gardam's masterpiece, a book where life and art merge. And now that beautiful, haunting novel has been joined by a companion that also bursts with humor and wisdom: The Man in the Wooden Hat.
Old Filth was Eddie's story. The Man in the Wooden Hat is the history of his marriage told from the perspective of his wife, Betty, a character as vivid and enchanting as Filth himself.
They met in Hong Kong after the war. Betty had spent the duration in a Japanese internment camp. Filth was already a successful barrister, handsome, fast becoming rich, in need of a wife but unaccustomed to romance. A perfect English couple of the late 1940s.
As a portrait of a marriage, with all the bittersweet secrets and surprising fulfillment of the 50-year union of two remarkable people, the novel is a triumph. The Man in the Wooden Hat is fiction of a very high order from a great novelist working at the pinnacle of her considerable power. It will be read and loved and recommended by all the many thousands of readers who found its predecessor, Old Filth, so compelling and so thoroughly satisfying.
Why we are meant to think of Old Filth as somehow wonderful escapes me. He's a lawyer who spends most of his time at work, yet is somehow extremely possessive of his wife, whom he extorts to "never leave him" under any circumstances. This is enforced by a grotesque Chinese dwarf who threatens and menaces Filth's wife Betty (and nearly everyone else who comes into contact with Filth) and claims to be jealous of anyone else who spends time with Filth, when Ross (or Albatross, as he's nicknamed) steals his pocket watch and tells him nothing of all the secrets he gathers (such as Betty's infidelity with Filth's rival lawyer Veneering whose son Harry Betty seems to adore, for some bizarre reason). I felt a great deal of pity for Betty, who wanted a husband that would cherish her and spend time with her, only to realize later that her husband loves the law practice more than anything else in his life. When it becomes apparent that she will never have children (a miscarriage and hysterectomy later), she becomes obsessed with gardening and Harry Veneering, and the one night she spent with his father, who claims that he loves her, too (though he's married to an Asian woman who is, apparently, a terrible person for wanting his time and attention, and for being chubby, which is a capital crime in these circles). Though I normally do not finish novels rife with characters I dislike, the prose and storytelling were good enough that I finished this one, though now I am not so sure I want to read anything more by this author. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to fans of post-war British literature who are not bored by books that are more about inner landscapes that exterior action. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Two TV Shows Based on Books, Ankeny's Bookstore, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire, How Not to Fall by Emily Foster and The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

I'm excited that two books that I've read are coming to the small screen, soon. I've been a fan of Margaret Atwood's since the 1970s, and I have recently read Maas' series.

TV: Alias Grace, Queen of Shadows

David Cronenberg will join the cast of Alias Grace
the six-part Netflix miniseries that Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell, Take
This Waltz) is adapting and producing from Margaret Atwood's novel,
Indiewire reported. Directed by Mary Harron, the project also stars
Sarah Gadon, Anna Paquin and Paul Gross. It will shoot in Ontario.

Hulu is developing Queen of Shadows
an epic fantasy adventure TV series based on the bestselling Throne of
Glass book series by Sarah J. Maas. Deadline reported that the Mark
Gordon Company "will serve as a studio on the project. Kira Snyder (The
100, The Handmaid's Tale) will write the adaptation, with Anna Foerster
(Underworld: Blood Wars) set to direct the potential pilot episode."

I am amazed that there is a bookstore in Ankeny, Iowa, where I went to school from 5th through 12th grade, but it's even more astonishing that Ankeny is still a growing city, when I though it would become just another sleepy bedroom town. I would have loved having a local bookstore when I lived there, but I managed to feed my book habit from the Kirkendahl library instead.

Plot Twist Bookstore: A Hidden Treasure in Des Moines Suburbs
Plot Twist Bookstore, Ankeny, Iowa,
is one of "10 hidden treasures in the Des Moines suburbs
according to the Register, which noted that the bookseller's opening
"this past year in Ankeny was the perfect gift for a hustling, bustling
town that seemingly already had everything. After all, Ankeny is the
third-fastest growing city in America, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau. But until Mary Rork-Watson opened for business in April, it
didn't have a locally owned, independent bookstore. Now it does and I
can tell you from personal experience that Mary is a pleasure to do
business with. Her business model follows in the odds-beating footsteps
of Alice Meyer at Beaverdale Books
support for local authors and providing a home for small groups like
book clubs. Don't judge by its strip mall cover. Inside, it stands alone
in Ankeny. Check it out."
I could have told you this! I travel to Powells at least once a year, as a bibliophile's pilgrimage, to trade in my old books for the fruits of my wish list. It's utter bliss to shop there, among my fellow readers!

Powell's Books 'Is Its Own Travel Destination'
"I just got back from a week's vacation up north. Where? The City of
wrote David Allen in an Inland Valley Daily Bulletin piece headlined
"Word up! Powell's Books in Portland is its
own travel destination."

Allen observed that "if you like to read, this is a place to which a
pilgrimage is required at least once in a lifetime, a book lover's
Camino de Santiago. It's a travel destination with a Travel section....
Like a golfer who longs to play just once at St. Andrews, a reader can't
help but want to roam the aisles at Powell's.... How was my vacation at
Powell's? It's lovely there any time of year."

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is the October pick for my library book group. I will say that I was trepidatious about this book because I had heard there was a controversy surrounding it, and that it was about a curmudgeon who lives in Sweden, and having known a grumpy old curmudgeon (my stepfather Lloyd was as grumpy as they come, may he rest in peace), I wasn't sure I would enjoy a book with a negative main character.
I couldn't have been more wrong, thankfully!
Ove is a hilarious grumpy old coot, whose wife (the love and light of his life, and his polar opposite) has died and left him trying to commit suicide so he can be with her, and leave behind all the irritating and annoying people he lives near in his housing complex. 
Fortunately for Ove, his pregnant neighbor (whom he refers to as "pregnant foreign woman") and her idiot husband and two children intervene at his first attempt, and soon circumstances and other neighbors, a journalist and a couple of teenagers and a scrofulous cat all keep Ove from going to the great beyond before his time. Here's the blurb:
In this bestselling and “charming debut” (People) from one of Sweden’s most successful authors, a grumpy yet lovable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. 
This really is a charming and profound story, and I couldn't put it down once I started reading it. Like most really good reads, it seemed much too short, but it ended just as it should, and it made me laugh, cry, and realize how interconnected we all are, even if we think that we are not. A well deserved A, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who has ever known a grumpy old guy with a heart of gold. 

Once Broken Faith, by Seanan McGuire is the 10th book in the October Daye urban fantasy series. It is also the first of her Toby books that I have read where our heroine doesn't barf her way through the plot, though she does, inevitably, die and become steeped in blood several times. Also still on tap are her 'friends and family' who, other than the Luidaeg (pronounced Looshak), are completely worthless at protecting Toby or saving her from being murdered by the ubiquitous forces of evil (it still seems like everyone other than her friends and family totally loathe Toby merely for existing). Even the Looshak makes a comment midway through the book that everyone, including the queen, has Toby pay the price for any help or salvation from the firstborn, instead of taking responsibility themselves, and it's gotten old several books ago. So the queen, who is a big whiny baby, finally agrees to pay the price herself, though she resents Toby and pouts about it throughout the book. This from a fae who is at least 100 years old! Here's the blurb:
Politics have never been October “Toby” Daye’s strong suit. When she traveled to the Kingdom of Silences to prevent them from going to war with her home, the Kingdom of the Mists, she wasn’t expecting to return with a cure for elf-shot and a whole new set of political headaches.
Now the events she unwittingly set in motion could change the balance of modern Faerie forever, and she has been ordered to appear before a historic convocation of monarchs, hosted by Queen Windermere in the Mists and overseen by the High King and Queen themselves.
Naturally, things have barely gotten underway when the first dead body shows up. As the only changeling in attendance, Toby is already the target of suspicion and hostility. Now she needs to find a killer before they can strike again—and with the doors locked to keep the guilty from escaping, no one is safe.
As danger draws ever closer to her allies and the people she loves best, Toby will have to race against time to prevent the total political destabilization of the West Coast and to get the convocation back on track…and if she fails, the cure for elf-shot may be buried forever, along with the victims she was too slow to save.
Because there are worse fates than sleeping for a hundred years.
I realize that it is part of the Hero's gig to always be the one to solve the Big Problem at the center of the plot. However, I still don't see why Toby's friends and family are always conveniently out of commission when shit gets real, so to speak. Her "squire" never seems to learn much except how to be rescued, and her fiance, the King of Cats, once again gets himself nearly killed, when he's got to be on the last of his 9 lives by now. Come on, McGuire, can't we have anything other than Toby dies while taking out evil aristocrat/queen and saves all her friends in the process? After reading all the other books in this series, I feel like I could write an October Daye story myself, I'm so familiar with the plot outline. Why is the Looshak the only competent character in these novels? I'd give this unsurprising story a B, and only recommend it to those who have read all the other books in the series, and don't mind more of the same.

How Not to Fall by Emily Foster is, I think, a semi-self published novel that sounded interesting from the first chapter that I read online. It seemed like a modern romance, and the prose  was clean, clear and bubbling with fun. I realize that most current romance novels have  more than a little erotica interwoven through the plot as a matter of course. Hot sex seems to be what sells in romance these days. Still, I always hope that the story is strong enough that it isn't subsumed by the erotica, making any given romance book just a shell for pornography, which I despise. 
Thankfully, Foster has written a hilarious tale that holds up quite well to the weight of the sex scenes that dominate the second half of the novel. Here's the blurb:
In her witty and breathtakingly sexy novel, Emily Foster introduces a story of lust, friendship, and other unpredictable experiments. . .
Data, research, scientific formulae—Annabelle Coffey is completely at ease with all of them. Men, not so much. But that's all going to change after she asks Dr. Charles Douglas, the postdoctoral fellow in her lab, to have sex with her. Charles is not only beautiful, he is also adorably awkward, British, brilliant, and nice. What are the odds he'd turn her down?
Very high, as it happens. Something to do with that whole student/teacher/ethics thing. But in a few weeks, Annie will graduate. As soon as she does, the unlikely friendship that's developing between them can turn physical—just until Annie leaves for graduate school. Yet nothing could have prepared either Annie or Charles for chemistry like this, or for what happens when a simple exercise in mutual pleasure turns into something as exhilarating and infernally complicated as love. Publisher's Weekly: Foster uses her professional sex-educator expertise as a basis for her debut novel; unfortunately, the reader ends up feeling like a lagging student stuck in a lecture hall. Brilliant Annie Coffey, a senior in psychophysiology at Indiana University, has an enormous crush on postdoctoral fellow Charles Douglas, who runs her lab class. Instead of flirting with him, she asks him directly whether he’d like to have sex. Charles worries about losing his job, but they agree that when she finishes her last class and is no longer his student, they will enjoy a no-strings fling until she leaves for Harvard Medical School. Clinical terms add a humorous tone to the erotic scenes. Foster painstakingly describes one-base-at-a-time sex before moving on to bondage and fantasies and finally investigating the difference between lust and love. The minutiae of Charles’s rock climbing and Annie’s ballet classes further slow the plot.
I don't agree with PW that all the sexual descriptions slowed the plot, though I do think the rock climbing scenes went on too long, and got fairly boring. I skimmed those sections easily, though, and just moved on to the good stuff between Annie and Charles. Though Charles seems like a great guy, I had two qualms about him, one, that he seemed to find it highly erotic to have sex with Annie when she was nearly unconscious and unable to respond (which makes him seem like some kind of creepy rapist) and two, using his childhood abuse as an excuse for "not being able to fall in love" was a stereotype and a cliche of Englishmen (all of whom seem to have had terrible parents and nightmare childhoods) and of men in general ("Oh I can't commit because I was abused so I've walled away my heart" said every guy in every romance novel ever.) Of course our plucky heroine will FIX him and then they will be able to live happily ever after, because that is what plucky young heroines do in romance novels, they make emotionally unavailable man-children fall for them, even though that is totally unrealistic, insert eye rolling here. Despite these faux pas, I liked this novel, and I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to anyone looking for a smart and fun romance novel with a heroine who isn't a complete idiot. 

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman is the sequel to the exciting Invisible Library, which I got as an ARC sometime last year. I loved the Invisible Library, so I had high expectations for the sequel and, for the most part, I was not disappointed. Here's the blurb: The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time...
Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.

Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.

But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear....

Cogman's prose is crisp and bright, and her characters are, as they were before, first rate. I am a big fan of Irene and her take-charge attitude. The fact that this book takes place in an alternate, opulent, masquerade-riddled Italy makes the world she's built seem even richer and more fascinating. But once again, Irene has to deal with some very rude and cruel dragons who claim that they will destroy her world should she not rescue Kai. Though she obviously has something of a crush on Kai, I think it's obvious that he's more of a liability to the library and to her work than he is a help or an asset. A smart heroine would send him packing, and tell his royal uncle and family that they can keep him, because the world shouldn't have to hang in the balance every time he's too stupid to live and gets himself kidnapped. I also think the Vale/Sherlock Holmes character is a bit of an ass. He treats Irene, who is clearly his superior, as if she's a fragile and stupid school girl, and once he blunders into her case, he always starts ordering her around and being bossy and arrogant, which is highly inappropriate for someone with Irene's talents as a librarian. Once again, I'd tell him to take a long walk on a short pier and go on about my business, if I were Irene.
She has no need of these men, who only complicate her life, as she goes about finding books for the Invisible Library.
Still, this was a rollicking good read, a page turner with a fast-moving plot and lots of beautiful world-building. A well deserved A, with the recommendation that anyone who has read The Invisible Library should dive right into the Masked City. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15th Anniversary Moment of Silence, Devils and Details by Devon Monk, Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter, and Cast in Shadow/Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Jim and I were at home in the bungalow we rented in Ballard with our twenty-two-month-old son Nick, and we were getting ready to make our first foray into Maple Valley to look for a home to buy so that we could give Nick space to grow. 
We got a phone call from a friend in Canada, who said "I am so sorry" and when I asked him what he was sorry about, he said "Your country is under attack. Turn on the TV." It was just so astonishing and horrifying that Jim and I were stunned into silence. 
We picked up our realtor and went house hunting anyway, but it was a bizarre experience since there were very few cars on the road, and no people walking around or shopping, so it looked like the Day the Earth Stood Still outside. We managed to find a good home, and bought it for a great price, I think mainly because no one had the heart to negotiate. Oddly enough, my parents had experienced almost the same thing when they found their first home in Davenport, Iowa on the day that JFK was shot and killed. At any rate, a moment of silence is in order for those who died, both in the buildings, airplanes and the first responders who gave their lives to try and save others. God bless them all.

I'd like to start my reviews with Devils and Details by Devon Monk, the second book in her Ordinary, Oregon paranormal romance/mystery series. The reason I'd like to talk about D&D first is that Devon Monk never disappoints her readers. She's written four other series, from Steampunk to a fantasy/science fiction take on Frankenstein. I've read them all, and each was wonderfully distinctive, full of sparkling clear prose and plots that never flag, but soar on swift wings. Her characters are marvelous, funny and fascinating and so well drawn you feel that you know them and could take them out for a cup of coffee after you're done with the book. Monk never bores the reader, never takes them for granted, never "talks down" to her readers or frustrates them with a Winchester House plot that meanders and never gets to the point (or gets to it so slowly you're on the verge of tossing the book into the recycle bin).
Sadly, this isn't true for another series I've been trying to read, Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra, starting with "Cast in Shadow," one of the most disappointing novels I've read in awhile. I happened to get the sixth book, "Cast in Chaos" at a warehouse sale, and it looked to be right up my alley, with a strong female protagonist. Unfortunately, as I struggle through the last third of Cast in Chaos, I realized that nothing could be further from the truth. The contrast with Monk's work is like night and day. But I will get to that later.
For now, I'll post the blurb for Devils and Details
Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea...Police Chief Delaney Reed is good at keeping secrets for the beach town of Ordinary Oregon–just ask the vacationing gods or supernatural creatures who live there.

But with the first annual Cake and Skate fundraiser coming up, the only secret Delaney really wants to know is how to stop the unseasonable rain storms. When all the god powers are stolen, a vampire is murdered, and her childhood crush turns out to be keeping deadly secrets of his own, rainy days are the least of her worries.

Hunting a murderer, outsmarting a know-it-all god, and uncovering an ancient vampire's terrifying past isn't how she planned to spend her summer. But then again, neither is falling back in love with the one man she should never trust.
First of all, I love Delaney Reed (and her kick butt sisters are fun, too) because she faces all her problems head-on, even when she's scared half to death. She also realizes that she can't just stop loving Ryder because he's temporarily "dumped" her. She struggles with keeping the vampires from killing the werewolves and the gods from rioting because their stored powers have been stolen by a demi-goddess. She finally learns what Ryder has been up to, and he learns the hard way that Ordinary isn't. My only minor qualm with our heroine Delaney is her inability to see to her own safety, by never locking her apartment door and going out alone, without weaponry or backup, and hoping for the best. She's got to know by now that this is a foolish policy on her part. Still, her good attributes far outweigh her short-sightedness about her own safety. I loved this book, (just as I loved the first installment Death and Relaxation), and I'd give it a well-deserved A, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys Pacific NW area paranormal mysteries with a bit of romance added to sweeten the plot.
 Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter is the third paranormal mystery in the Jackaby series, which began with the novel Jackaby two years ago. Jackaby is an American steampunk version of Sherlock Holmes, if the detective were a "seer" with the ability to see the seelie and unseelie magical creatures that live among us, yet are invisible to the mortal eye. Here's the blurb:  
Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder--her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Ghostly Echoes, the third installment in the New York Times bestselling Jackaby series, features its much-loved quirky, courageous characters and sly humor in the scariest and most exciting volume yet
Jackaby's assistant Abigail Rook takes on the spirit of Jenny in "possession," yet as she does, she also becomes a conduit for a horrifying secret society, the Dire Council, bent on stealing the souls and magic of otherworldly creatures to use for their own destructive ends. Though I love Jackaby's fascinating use of his seers eyes and all of his magical and mystical friends to help solve the murder mysteries, I find his lack of empathy and his flighty attitude a bit disturbing. Yet Ritter's sterling prose and his faster-than-lightening plots will keep readers turning pages into the wee hours.  A solid A, with the recommendation that those who love paranormal steampunk mysteries hop on board this train ASAP. 
Cast in Shadow and Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara were books that I found used, and therefore didn't worry about the quality from the outset. I've also read many other books of with the "Luna" imprint, which is supposed to be paranormal romances only, I gather, and again, it bespoke quality reading to me, so I bought them without really reading the back or a few pages to ascertain whether or not I'd like the prose. Unfortunately, the prose in the first book is dense, murky and dull. The plot meanders and stalls more than a few times, making this novel feel like a slog through cooling caramel in January. Here's the blurb:
Seven years ago Kaylin fled the crime-riddled streets of Nightshade, knowing that something was after her. Children were being murdered -- and all had the same odd markings that mysteriously appeared on her own skin . . .
Since then, she's learned to read, she's learned to fight and she's become one of the vaunted Hawks who patrol and police the City of Elantra. Alongside the winged Aerians and immortal Barrani, she's made a place for herself, far from the mean streets of her birth.
But children are once again dying, and a dark and familiar pattern is emerging, Kaylin is ordered back into Nightshade with a partner she knows she can't trust, a Dragon lord for a companion and a device to contain her powers -- powers that no other human has. Her task is simple -- find the killer, stop the murders . . . and survive the attentions of those who claim to be her allies!
The protagonist, Kaylin, is loathed by her cruel bosses, (who always seem on the verge of killing and eating her) and treated like an idiot slave by virtually everyone else (even her supposed friends) in this novel. No one can explain why this is, it just seems to be because she is female, human and mortal (this is not unlike Seanan McGuire's October (Toby) Daye, without the puking). Kaylin seems to revel in her own stupidity, and allows the other races on the planet to abuse her in every chapter, while she shows them her throat in submission. This gets old, fast. She has healing powers that she doesn't value enough, nor does she value herself enough to eat and sleep regularly. The male protagonist, Severn, grows up in the mean streets of the town, a starveling like Kaylin and two other children they rescue, and after he murders these two children in cold blood, he's somehow forgiven because, he explains to Kaylin, it was "necessary" that they die at his hands before this serial killer dragon could get to them and kill them in a ritual fashion anyway. WTF? I found this, along with the redundant, dull prose, hard to swallow. But I held out hope for Cast in Chaos, which is the sixth book in the series, because I assumed that Sagara had perhaps learned to winnow her prose and enliven her plots, while making her protagonist into something other than a wimpy idiot. Alas, though the prose is somewhat better, it's still full of redundancies and the plot still creeps along like a drunken slug. I've got 170 pages to go in Cast in Chaos, and then I plan to be quit of these novels for good. I'd give them a cumulative C+, and only recommend them to those who don't mind their protagonist being treated like a naughty child surrounded by predatory adults and two men who desire to possess her like chattel,which is pretty creepy all on it's own.  

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Luminaries and In Dubious Battle Make it onto the Screen, Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard, Carrier of the Mark and Shadow of the Mark by Leigh Fallon and Last Writes by Laura Levine

I've had a copy of the Luminaries in one of my TBR stacks/piles for about a year, and I've just not gotten around to it yet. It looks like the TV series will come out before I do, which is sad, because I always like to read the book and get the real story before producers and directors and scriptwriters hack it up into maliable bits. Still, Catton herself is the one doing the hacking, so I can only assume this series will be faithful to her original vision.

TV: The Luminaries

BBC will adapt Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize-winning novel The
six-part drama series, which will also be written by the author. Filming
of the hour-long episodes, produced by Working Title Television for BBC
Two, begins in 2017 in New Zealand.

"Learning to write for television has been a bit like learning a new
musical instrument: The melody is more or less the same, but absolutely
everything else is different," Catton said. "I'm having enormous fun,
learning every day, and just so excited to see the world of the novel
created in the flesh."

I have read In Dubious Battle, however, but I read it a long time ago.
Still, I hope that it will do justice to Steinbecks great storytelling.

Movies: In Dubious Battle
The first trailer has been released for In Dubious Battle
adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck. Deadline reported that "James
Franco directs and stars alongside Nat Wolff and an impressive ensemble
cast," which includes Vincent D'Onofrio, Bryan Cranston, Ed Harris, Sam
Shepard, Selena Gomez, Josh Hutcherson, Ashley Greene, John Savage and
Zach Braff. Matt Rager (The Sound and the Fury) wrote the script.

I bought a copy of Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard in all due haste, after reading the first book in her series, Red Queen, because it ended on a cliffhanger and I was anxious to see how it all turned out. Mare Barrow is one of those compelling protagonists who throws herself into danger so often that, though readers know she can't be killed (at least until the last book) you're still on the edge of your seat to see how close to death she becomes, and how many of her friends and family will have to be sacrificed to keep her alive and moving toward her goal. Here's the blurb:
The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they've always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.
Mare Barrow's blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.
Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever? Publisher's Weekly:In this startling follow-up to her debut, Aveyard sends readers hurtling back into the world of Red Queen with a fierce battle scene, reunions with old friends, and a story arc fraught with deception and betrayal. The powerful Silvers continue their reign, but the Red rebellion is rising, led by Mare Barrow. She plans to track down other mutant "newbloods" like herself to form an army capable of defeating the crown. Collecting newbloods is dangerous work, and the death toll mounts in a race against King Maven, a manipulative man who is slaughtering the mutants in a bid to force Mare back under his control. The story exposes painful truths about real-life bias and bigotry as well as the brutal costs of war, and children are not always spared gruesome fates. At the epicenter, Mare is an exquisitely flawed heroine who at times gives into her basest desires for revenge, raising questions about her own morality and revealing striking similarities to Queen Elara, whom she so despises. A cliffhanger finale should leave fans anxiously awaiting the next installment.
Though this book was just as much of an exciting, fast-paced read as the first book, I was taken aback by the escalation in violence and death. I'm reminded of the words of another author of YA fantasy who once said, in response to my query as to why things seem to go to heck in a hand basket in sequels, said "The middle book is where sh*t gets real, yo." In other words, things have to get worse before they can get better in the final novel of the trilogy. Accepting that is hard, however, when (SPOILER) the protagonist sacrifices herself to the mad king in order to save her friends and stop the slaughter of innocents. I have serious doubts that King Maven will keep his word, and not wipe out everyone Mare knows and loves as soon as he can get his blood-soaked hands on them. But I have to wait until next year to read what happens to our heroine while she's on Maven's leash, literally. Aveyard's prose is sterling, and her plots move on wings, they're that swift. Along with her storytelling chops, this is what makes her 450 page tomes seem like 200 pages that leave you yearning for more.That more won't happen until next year, sadly. A solid A, with the recommendation, barely needed, for those who read Red Queen to continue the journey here.

Carrier of the Mark and Shadow of the Mark by Leigh Fallon are the first two books of a supposed YA romance fantasy trilogy that has its roots in Twilight (only much better written, of course), with a bit of the Discovery of Witches and more than a bit of Cassandra Clare's Shadow Hunters series thrown in for good measure. The author apparently started these books on an online writing community, and it was popular enough to be discovered by a real publisher, HarperTeen, though they seem to have missed passing it by a copy editor before putting it out on the shelves.  Though there are signs that Carrier of the Mark was originally an amateur production, Shadow of the Mark is much tighter and has fewer plot holes and problems than the first book. Here are the blurbs:
When Megan Rosenberg moves to Ireland, everything in her life seems to fall into place. After growing up in America, she's surprised to find herself feeling at home in her new school. She connects with a group of friends, and she is instantly drawn to darkly handsome Adam DeRís.
But Megan is about to discover that her feelings for Adam are tied to a fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that brought them together could be their ultimate destruction.
Publisher's Weekly:Fallon’s debut novel, first published on the HarperCollins online writing community and then selected for print, is a better-than-average offering that occasionally betrays its amateur roots with some uneven pacing. The setup is familiar and briskly handled: 17-year-old Megan Rosenberg has moved to Kinsale, Ireland, with her father after several unsettled years following the death of Megan’s mother. Megan fits right in with the popular crowd at her new school, but a broodingly handsome boy, Adam DeRís, keeps staring at her, and Megan stares right back, despite her friends’ warnings. Several chapters of teenage day-in-the-life narration ensue before Fallon suddenly dumps mysterious marks, elemental forces, and the Celtic goddess Danu into the mix, and the story takes off in a paranormal direction that the first third of the book has only hinted at. The intense, immediate romance between Megan and Adam remains the focus and the main draw. It’s an engaging story, heavy on the “snogging” and light on the mystical perils, from an author likely to improve with time.
Shadow of the Mark, Kirkus Reviews:In this sequel to her debut, Carrier of the Mark (2011), Fallon assumes readers have nearly complete knowledge of her previous book, but if new readers can figure out its basic premise, they'll muddle through. Four teens gathered in a small town in Ireland have control of the elements: earth, air, fire and water. Druids and knights who protect the elements, but not necessarily their human carriers, help when they're not fighting with one another, and members of the evil Knox family try to thwart everything. Protagonist Megan, the carrier of air, is permanently and completely in love with handsome Adam, the carrier of water, except when she's almost irresistibly attracted to Rían, the carrier of fire. However, whenever Megan and Adam kiss, she inadvertently draws his element from him, coming close to killing him, except for the times that doesn't happen. It's quite a dilemma for poor Megan, who only wants to be young and in love. Young she certainly is. Whenever someone tells Megan not to do something, be sure that she will do it as soon as the whim strikes. As thin as the air Megan controls, the book's major entertainment value lies in various suspenseful episodes, and the author handles these fairly well. Characterizations, emotional encounters and dialogue plumb all the depths of the common TV soap opera. Light--very light--entertainment for the Twilight crowd.
I agree with the reviewers that these two books are very light entertainment, however, when they weren't falling into the dire romance tropes that most of us dread (that the female protagonist can't live without the male, that she needs saving all the time, that she cowers behind him in times of stress, that all the men/boys are devastatingly handsome and the girls find them totally irresistible, and of course the men are in charge of everything) there is some fun to be had here in the paranormal fantasy aspect of the books. Unfortunately, it appears that the author is MIA, and since it has been three years since Shadow of the Mark hit the shelves, one can only assume that the final book of the trilogy won't be forthcoming, which is a shame. I enjoyed the background of the stories being in Ireland, because I've been there, and I developed a love of the landscape and the people of that beautiful country. However, I'd still only give these books a C+, and recommend them to anyone looking for something that is more of a distraction than a serious read.

Last Writes by Laura Levine is the second book in her Jaine Austen mystery series. I enjoyed the first book in the series, mainly because the dialog was hilarious and the characters engaging. Unfortunately, it would appear that Levine has decided to make her novels follow a set pattern or guideline, and the second book becomes flip and silly, where the first was earnest and charming. Here's the blurb:
Wisecracking pen-for-hire Jaine Austen is back—and she's about to discover that working on the set of a Hollywood sitcom is no laughing matter. . .
Jaine still hasn't found a good man—or a way to keep all those sugary snacks from going straight to her hips. But—with a little help from her best friend Kandi—she's finally landed a gig as a sitcom writer! True, Muffy 'n Me (aka "Bewitched with Tits") isn't going to win any Emmys. And her office at Miracle Studios needs a little sprucing up, and a few dozen rat traps. But it sure beats writing boring brochures and bad resumes, so Jaine's not complaining. Until the plot thickens—with murder.
Jaine figures the trouble all started when Muffy 'n Me's hottest star, gorgeous Quinn Kirkland, seduced the head writer—whose husband also works on the show. But when Quinn's caught in bed with the barely-legal actress who plays his niece, things really heat up—and his many jealous girlfriends start to figure things out. . .
So when the no-good heartthrob drops dead after nibbling a poisoned doughnut, Jaine isn't terribly surprised. But who could have done it? A competitive co-star and a couple of scorned lovers top Jaine's list of suspects, but the police have zeroed in on her man-crazy pal Kandi. She fell hard for Quinn—and nearly fell apart when she learned of all his other women. Now Jaine has to figure out who finally stopped Quinn's cheatin' heart—before her best friend ends up behind bars. . .
Who actually "dunnit" becomes obvious in the first half of the novel, and Jaine's best friend, who comes off as a whiny, self absorbed jerk, doesn't really seem worth saving from jail. Why she relies on Jaine, who barely seems able to care for herself and keep herself out of trouble for all of five seconds, is the real mystery here. Cops, as usual, come off as stupid louts who can't run an investigation to save their lives (or anyone elses). I found my interest flagging long before the end of this tedious tale. I'd give it a C, and only recommend it to those looking for a fast and silly, somewhat satisfying read.