Sunday, November 27, 2016

Meditations on Publishing Past and Present, Quote of the Day, Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost, Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington and Seven Black Diamonds by Melissa Marr

There are hundreds of thousands of books written and published each year, and now more than ever it can seem overwhelming to those who read and love literature. Still, I've found that eventually, the list of books that I want is narrowed down by removing books that I know that I won't enjoy reading, from self-published works to horror fiction, military and political books to pornography. There are always exceptions to these categories, of course, but they're rare enough that I don't need to worry about them, for the most part. But many bibliophiles are hearkening back to earlier eras when books were rare and it was easier to choose a novel because so few were published. I agree with Tim Parks, I think, in that yes, there are times when I feel that I've wasted time reading a novel that turns out to be poorly written and edited, but I'd rather navigate those waters than worry about finding something to read because there aren't enough books created for me to choose from over a year's time. Here's Robert Gray's column on the subject: 

Was it really better when we had fewer books
Well, Atlas Obscura featured a piece headlined "Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, with
Horrifying Book Curses
During the Middle Ages, "creating a book could take years.... Given the
extreme effort that went into creating books, scribes and book owners
had a real incentive to protect their work. They used the only power
they had: words. At the beginning or the end of books, scribes and book
owners would write dramatic curses threatening thieves with pain and
suffering if they were to steal or damage these treasures." To wit:

If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried
in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be
broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.

How many books are there? Mental Floss took a shot at answering that
devilish question recently, noting that when Gutenberg "invented the
printing press in 1440, he couldn't have foreseen how his humble
creation would eventually lead to a global industry churning out
millions of books each year.... After some basic arithmetic, it seems
that a low threshold for the number of unique books in existence as of
halfway through 2016 is (another drumroll, please) 134,021,533 total.
And that's all she wrote--for now, anyway."

Is overproduction a blessing or a curse or neither? Does it really
matter? In the New York Review of Books last year, Tim Parks wrote: "How
to respond, then, to this now permanent condition of overproduction?
With cheerful skepticism. With gratitude for those rare occasions when
we come across a book that speaks to us personally. With forgiveness for
those critics and publishers who induce us to waste our time with some
literary flavor of the day. Absolutely without indignation, since none
of this is anyone's particular 'fault.' Above all with a sense of wonder
and curiosity at the general and implacable human determination (mine
included) to fill endless space with dubious mental material when life
is short and there are so many other things to be done."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor Shelf Awareness
In these frightening times after the election of a mad man to the presidency, there are booksellers and librarians who are responding to the climate of fear by offering safe harbor in their stores or libraries, bless them.

Quotation of the Day

"I want you to feel safe here. I don't care how you voted. I only hope
you did. I don't care where you came from. Or what color you are. I've
certainly never cared about who you're sleeping with or which bathroom
you want to use. It boggles my mind that people do. But that's just the
way it is.

What I do care about is this: you.

I love what we share together: a community over the written word.

I believe that reading and being together over the written word is a
great way to reach out to each other. It's what gets me up every day.
Especially on the days when I don't want to get up....

Whatever we decide to talk about, act on, or broadcast going forward,
let's make a promise to each other to do so with grace.   

I am giving thanks for your presence in my life today."

--Kelly Justice
Richmond, Va., in an e-mail newsletter

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost was recommended to me as someone who reads urban fantasy and supernatural fantasy. This is the first in a series, and it's a romantic supernatural fantasy with a protagonist, Catherine "Cat" Crawfield,who I assume is supposed to joint the ranks of kick-butt heroines of other urban fantasy literature, like Merry Gentry. Unfortunately, Cat comes off as more of a Twilight protagonist, wimpy and whining and in love with her mentor, the undead "Bones," a good looking vampire who is, in reality, a domineering jerk.  Here's the blurb:
Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father—the one responsible for ruining her mother's life. Then she's captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership.
In exchange for finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She's amazed she doesn't end up as his dinner—are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn't have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her newfound status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side . . . and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.
Like Twilight, the author seems to delight in describing the sensual delights of having a lover with no heartbeat and cold, dead flesh, which puts me in mind of necrophilia and is completely disgusting. Cat is only half vampire, though, so she does have a pulse, though she's none to bright and gets into trouble by being impulsive and just doing whatever she wants, whether or not it is ill advised and likely to get her completely dead. So while Cat and Bones eventually save the day, and each other, there's a lot of eye-rolling moments inbetween, where Cat acts like her brain cells have stopped receiving oxygen. The prose was mediocre and the plot was fairly smooth, with a few bumps here and there, but for the most part, the story was derivative and predictable, and not really worth further investigation into the series. I'd give it a C, and only recommend it to those who don't have access to Patricia Briggs or Laurel Hamilton. 

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington was a YA book that I picked up at the Dollar Store. It turned out to be a delightful and a fun read, about a 12 year old girl named Sarah who is undergoing many changes in her life, and decides to write to Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, initially as part of a summer project for school, but later because she feels a connection with the character. Here's the blurb:
Love can be a trouble word for some people. Crazy is also a trouble word.
I should know.
You've never met anyone exactly like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. While most of her friends obsess over Harry Potter, she spends her time writing letters to Atticus Finch. She collects trouble words in her diary. Her best friend is a plant. And she's never known her mother, who left when Sarah was two.

Since then, Sarah and her dad have moved from one small Texas town to another, and not one has felt like home.
Everything changes when Sarah launches an investigation into her family's Big Secret. She makes unexpected new friends and has her first real crush, and instead of a "typical boring Sarah Nelson summer," this one might just turn out to be extraordinary. Publisher's Weekly:Ten years ago, Sarah Nelson’s mother, Jane, attempted to drown Sarah and her twin brother, Simon, who didn’t survive. Now 12, Sarah has moved from town to town with her sad, alcoholic father, trying to escape media attention while her mother resides in a mental institution. Desperate to know more about her mother, but fearing insanity is genetic, Sarah monitors herself for “signs of crazy,” wondering if writing letters to Atticus Finch, confiding in her plant, and taking refuge on a tree stump in her yard qualify. She is also obsessed with word definitions; many appear in the book, accompanied by her pithy reflections. Over one watershed summer, Sarah tries to learn about being a woman from her 20-year-old neighbor, Charlotte; develops her first crush—on Charlotte’s 19-year-old brother, who shares her love of words; and struggles to figure out how to live as her mother’s daughter. Harrington skillfully portrays watchful, contemplative Sarah’s coming of age.
Harrington manages to portray Sarah as a latter-day Scout, with some of Dahl's Matilda woven in for good measure. I loved that Sarah finds the family she needs in the neighbors and friends she charms into her life, and that she has such a big heart and sharp mind that understands the motivations of those adults around her who can't seem to get it together. Sarah even has the courage to want to confront her insane mother, whom it is made clear wouldn't even recognize her (I assume because she's on a lot of medication due to killing one of her children and attempting to drown the other) when she visits the secure asylum where her mother will live out the rest of her life. Harrington's prose is eloquent and heartfelt, and the plot of the book moves at a measured pace without flagging. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys well written YA literature with unforgettable characters.

Seven Black Diamonds by Melissa Marr is a YA fantasy book that I picked up at Powells this past summer. I believe it is one of those rare creatures, a stand-alone book that's not part of any larger story arc or series, which is something of a relief, if you've read as many YA series as I have. Marr's prose reads much like Victoria Aveyards or Amy Ewings, in that both of those authors have a way of creating fully-realized characters and the worlds that they inhabit with seeming ease. I kept having deja vu, as I read this book, because it felt familiar, as if I'd read something else by this author, but I couldn't remember what. Here's the blurb:
Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal—she’s half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born her very blood has been illegal. A war has been raging between humans and faeries and the Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir due to the actions of reckless humans.
Lily’s father has always shielded her from the truth, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell—the Black Diamonds. The Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families, and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them … and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.
Melissa Marr’s newest series explores the precarious space between two worlds—and the people who must thrive there.
I found the conceit that half blood fae are the actors/celebrities and rock stars of our world because of their beauty to be quite interesting. It somehow made sense to me that such mythical creatures would inspire scrutiny and fascination among mere mortals. However, I found the typical "Evil Fairy Queen" to be all the more tiresome in the face of the fresher characterizations of the fae teenagers sent out to destroy humanity on her orders. The whole "off with their heads" if they don't obey me, is an archetype that has been used too many times in YA fiction since the publishing of Alice in Wonderland. Fortunately, Marr's clean and crisp prose makes her plot move at a juggernaut slicing through the waters pace, so readers don't have much time to be bored by cliches. Despite it's flaws, I enjoyed Seven Black Diamonds, mainly for it's tough little protagonist Lilywhite, and her refusal to allow herself to be used by the evil queen. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who liked Victoria Aveyard's or Amy Ewing's series of YA books.

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