Saturday, November 12, 2016

Prairie Lights Kudos, The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald, Pride's Spell by Matt Wallace, Heaven's Queen by Rachel Bach and Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart

My parents were both born and raised in Southeastern Iowa, on farms in small towns near Iowa City. Prairie Lights is a beacon for book lovers in Iowa. It deserves every ounce of praise it garners.

Prairie Lights: Iowa City's 'Best Bookstore' Again
The Iowa City Press-Citizen has named Prairie Lights
Its citation reads:

"Beloved by readers and writers in Iowa City and well beyond, Prairie
Lights is the top pick in this category once again. The store is known
for a diverse selection of books for adults and children, and for
hosting regular readings by notable authors. 'Live from Prairie Lights'
is an internationally known readings series, featuring some of the best
up-and-coming and well-established authors and poets from all over the
globe. The Staff Selections are always a great place to start for those
looking for a new book. Check out Paul's Corner
selections from book buyer Paul Ingram."

I have four books to review today, so lets get to it. 

The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald is a very short novel (under 150 pages) that was recommended by a book website as being a great book about bookstores and booksellers. This particular story takes place in a small town in England, and is rife with eccentric Brits and the weird, broken-down houses and shops that they inhabit, complete with ghosts (called "rappers"). I was looking forward to this book because I grew up loving Monty Python's Flying Circus, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and British TV comedy in general. Unfortunately, this novel has none of the whimsy and fun of Britcoms, and is merely depressing and full of frustrated, nasty people. Here's the blurb: 
In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop — the only bookshop — in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one. From Library Journal:
Florence Green, a widow, has lived for ten years in a small village in Suffolk, England. With a modest inheritance, she plans to open the first and only bookstore in the area. Florence purchases a damp, haunted property that has stood vacant for many years but encounters unexpected resistance from one of the local gentry, Mrs. Gamart, who has a sudden yen to establish an arts center in the same building. Florence goes ahead with her plan in spite of Mrs. Gamart and meets with some small success. However, Mrs. Gamart surreptitiously places obstacles in Florence's way, going so far as to have a nephew in Parliament write and pass legislation that eventually evicts Florence from her shop and her home. This work by veteran writer Fitzgerald, originally published in Great Britain, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978. Both witty and sad, it boasts whimsical characters who are masterfully portrayed. Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education, Providence 

Unfortunately, I didn't find it witty, just sad, and I didn't feel the characters were "masterfully portrayed." All I felt was disgust at the machinations of Mrs Gamart and her minions, and the locals, who are unsupportive, petty and mean, and blame everything that is wrong in their lives on Florence. Her only champion, Mr Brundish, is a recluse who finally comes out of his crumbling ruin of a mansion to tell off Mrs Gamart, and dies in the street immediately after their meeting. So evil old Mrs G wins in the end, and Florence is left crying at the railway station after closing her shop and selling everything to pay her debts. Fitzgerald's prose dithers and blusters along the dull and meandering plot. Though it was only a bit over 100 pages, I couldn't wait for this book to end. I'd give it a C-, and only recommend it to those who don't mind depressing, dull stories without a flicker of hope at the end.

Pride's Spell by Matt Wallace is the third book in the Sin Du Jour series, short, sharp novels of supernatural fantasy. As with the previous two novels, Pride's Spell is action-packed, and full of hilarious moments that readers won't see coming. Here's the blurb:
The team at Sin du Jour—New York’s exclusive caterers-to-the-damned—find themselves up against their toughest challenge yet when they’re lured out west to prepare a feast in the most forbidding place in America: Hollywood, where false gods rule supreme.
Meanwhile, back at home, Ritter is attacked at home by the strangest hit-squad the world has ever seen, and the team must pull out all the stops if they’re to prevent themselves from being offered up as the main course in a feast they normally provide
Starring: The Prince of Lies, Lena Tarr, Darren Vargas. With Byron Luck. Introducing: the Easter Bunny.
Though we're supposed to adore Lena, one half of the duo of Darren and Lena, who are newbies to Sin Du Jour catering, I find that her bullying and bossy ways begin to grate on me halfway through the novel. I also don't like wimpy, whiny and cowardly Darren very much, and I can't understand why he doesn't come out of the closet and date someone, instead of being jealous of Lena for having an affair with Bronsky. I do, however, love Byron and the procurement team, who always kick butt and don't even bother to take names. In this installment, we meet up again with an angel and God the dog (a white Shih Tsu) during an epic dessert-filled showdown that is as funny as it is fantastic. My only other problem with the novel was the ending, because Lena is again reduced to her sexuality as a character. Oh well, at least we can be certain there will be more culinary hijinks for the Sin Du Jour team in the future. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in the series.

Heaven's Queen by Rachel Bach is the third and final book in the Paradox series of science fiction/adventure novels. After reading and enjoying the first two books, in which our heroine Deviana Morris and her mechanical armor suit the Lady Gray kick butt all over the galaxy, I was ready for the last book to tie things up for Devi and the psychic little girls lead by Maat who have been enslaved by Captain Caldswell and his "Eyes" for hundreds of years. Here's the blurb:
From the moment she took a job on Captain Caldswell's doomed ship, Devi Morris' life has been one disaster after another: government conspiracies, two alien races out for her blood, an incurable virus that's eating her alive.
Now, with the captain missing and everyone — even her own government — determined to hunt her down, things are going from bad to impossible. The sensible plan would be to hide and wait for things to blow over, but Devi's never been one to shy from a fight, and she's getting mighty sick of running.
It's time to put this crisis on her terms and do what she knows is right. But with all human life hanging on her actions, the price of taking a stand might be more than she can pay. Publisher's Weekly: What began for Deviana Morris as a simple high-risk security job has now dropped her into a galactic conflict between godlike forces, a struggle in which whole worlds die and humans are browbeaten into sacrificing the young psychic Maat in the name of the greater good. Devi herself is a pawn in this great game, carrier of a virus lethal to the shadowy “phantoms” invading our universe. Determined to end the war and bring Maat the freedom of death, Devi and her lover, Rupert, will have to defy their bosses and stage a daring jailbreak before the virus kills Devi. Bach brings the trilogy to a satisfactory conclusion, tying up the loose ends and providing cathartic resolutions for the various players. Fans of Fortune’s Pawn and Honor’s Knight will find this installment the last act they hoped for, the gratifying denouement that Bach has clearly been working toward all along.
Though I wasn't surprised to learn that the "phantoms" were not the bad guys everyone thought that they were (they were just trying to go back to their reality/space, but Maat was blocking their exit by will of the Lelgis, who are the real bad guys here), I was surprised that after "killing" her holographic double (he doesn't know its not really Devi) and after hunting her, beating her, strangling her, turning her in and wiping out her memories, Devi still loves Rupert the symbiont. WHY is never fully explained. (He says he's what? Gee, I am sorry I've betrayed you and tried to kill you multiple times, and my symbiont, which takes over when I am asleep might try to kill you again if I am not locked up? Really?) Devi is a very sensible, intelligent warrior in every other respect, but she becomes an idiotic, besotted teenager around Rupert, which doesn't track at all with the character. The sexist idea that love turns even warrior women to goo really bothers me in a series with such a strong female protagonist, who normally wouldn't consider being attached to someone so abusive.
Its for that reason that I have to give this book, and this series, a B and not an A. The prose is beautifully clean and bright, and the plot never flags, but the "love conquers all" stuff ruins an otherwise great series.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart is the second book in the Kopp Sisters series, books that are based on the real life story of the first female police officer deputized before the Great War (WW1). Constance Kopp, in this installment, feels she's let the local sheriff down by allowing a nefarious criminal to escape from the hospital, where he fakes illness to create a diversion. She fights to track him down and bring him to justice, all while working as the "matron" for the women's jail, and bringing in money to take care of her two sisters, Norma and Fleurette, back on their ramshackle farm. 
Publisher's Weekly blurb: In this comic mystery set in 1915 and based on actual events, Constance Kopp, the first female deputy sheriff in Bergen County, N.J., is still packing a pistol and an attitude after her first crime-fighting adventures in Girl Waits with Gun. Stewart’s second volume in her Kopp Sisters Series is a clever, suspenseful, and funny tale of a formidable woman facing crime, politics, social stigma, all while nailing evildoers. Constance has proved to be a capable deputy in a male-dominated profession, but her new career is in jeopardy when a prisoner she is guarding—Baron von Matthesius, a sneaky, dangerous con man facing undisclosed but serious charges—escapes her custody. She is demoted to jail matron, but when the scandal threatens the sheriff and his family, she vows to catch the baron, save the sheriff’s job, and redeem her own reputation. Across Bergen and Passaic Counties and into New York City, Constance investigates the baron’s past, known associates, and recent activities, asking questions nobody else asks and following leads other cops overlook. As she pursues the baron and his accomplices, she also becomes involved in a curious murder and a stolen property case. Her sisters provide comic relief, Norma with her carrier-pigeon hobby and Fleurette with her acting classes and dreams of Broadway. Fans of the first Kopp Sisters novel will find another treat in this follow-up.
Constance reminded me of Sherlock Holmes in this novel, with her dogged determination to bring in the Baron, who was very Moriarty-like. There was plenty of action and lots of surprises along the way, but I was still flumoxed as to why her sisters can't seem to get it together enough to go out into the world and get jobs to help preserve the farm. Norma spends all her time with a ridiculous hobby, working with carrier pigeons to send messages to other pigeon enthusiasts. Fleurette, who is really Constance's illegitimate child, is a teenager with a head full of fantasy who wants to be a star of stage and screen. The fact that Constance indulges them and takes on the mantle of her mother in shielding them from real life and its consequences is sweet, but unrealistic for this most pragmatic of characters. I don't see how she can continue to do so, either, as Fleurette is now in her late teens and will soon be awash in suitors. To keep her so child like doesn't really help any of them, and will likely end in tragedy. Still, the prose is solid and sturdy, and the plot moves along at a measured pace. I think this sequel deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who has read and enjoyed the first novel in the series.


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