Saturday, December 03, 2016

Penguin Holiday Hotline, Kingkiller Movie, The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd, A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas and Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston

This is a great idea that I wish more publishing companies would embrace for the holidays. I love having someone to call to ask for book recommendations for friends and relatives, since books are my go-to gift for Christmas.

Penguin Hotline Returns for the Holidays 
With the holiday shopping season now in full swing, Penguin has brought
Loosely modeled on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, which provides
turkey-roasting help over the phone during the holiday season, the
Penguin Hotline offers personalized book recommendations over the
Internet. Book buyers fill out a simple online form, describing the
reading preferences and hobbies of the person for whom they're buying a
book and then receive an e-mail with recommendations put together by
Penguin staff members. The Penguin Hotline is publisher-agnostic--books
from all publishing houses will be up for recommendation.

The Penguin Hotline launched two years ago and within days reportedly
received more than 1,500 requests from readers across the globe. Some of
the requests the hotline volunteers have fielded in the past include
books for a father interested in conspiracy theories and aliens; a
cousin interested in shrimp farming; a friend going through a breakup;
and one from a woman wanting to know what book she should buy for the
man who bagged her groceries.

My son Nick and I are both huge fans of Kvothe, the Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. We are, like many people, anxiously awaiting the third book in the trilogy. Since that seems to be a bit farther out, we were both thrilled to read that these magnificent fantasy novels are going to be made into a movie and a TV series. I can hardly wait! Thanks, Mr Miranda and Patrick Rothfuss!

Movie + TV: The Kingkiller Chronicle
Lionsgate has announced that Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda "will
be the creative producer behind an ambitious feature film and TV series
adaptation of Pat Rothfuss's fantasy book trilogy the Kingkiller
the Wrap reported. Miranda will serve as a producer and "musical
mastermind," composing original music, as well as writing the songs. He
also has an option to be involved in future stage adaptations of the
Lindsey Beer is writing the film adaptation, based on The Name of the
Wind, the first book in the series. Simultaneously, a planned TV drama
series will "expand on the world outside of the books," according to
Erik Feig, co-president, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, said, "Lin is
an incomparable talent and a huge fan of the trilogy and, working
closely with Pat, his creative oversight of the franchise will bring an
incredible level of detail and continuity to all of the projects."Miranda said the books "are among the most read and re-read in our home.
It's a world you want to spend lifetimes in, as his many fans will
attest. Pat also writes about the act of making music more beautifully
than any novelist I've ever read. I can't wait to play a part in bringing this world to life onscreen."

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is the 8th Bess Crawford mystery, written by a mother and son writing team who use the pen name of Charles Todd.
In this installment, we are nearing the end of World War 1, and Bess is wounded and recovering in France when she happens upon a decades old mystery. Here's the blurb:
World War I battlefield nurse Bess Crawford goes to dangerous lengths to investigate a wounded soldier’s background—and uncover his true loyalties—in this thrilling and atmospheric entry in the bestselling “vivid period mystery series” (New York Times Book Review).
At the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire, stretcher-bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds. The soldier is brought to battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a rear hospital. The odd thing is, the officer isn’t British—he’s French. But in a moment of anger and stress, he shouts at Bess in German.
When Bess reports the incident to Matron, her superior offers a ready explanation. The soldier is from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. But is the wounded man Alsatian? And if he is, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?
Of course, Matron could be right, but Bess remains uneasy—and unconvinced. If he was a French soldier, what was he doing so far from his own lines . . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight?
When the French officer disappears in Paris, it’s up to Bess—a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse—to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.
Though I have read and enjoyed all of the Bess Crawford mysteries, for some reason, I found Bess rather annoying and aggressive in this book. She continues to badger the parents of a man whom she knows is innocent of attempting to kill a nurse/nun, even though they've told her again and again that they want nothing to do with her, and they throw her out of their cafe, twice. And even when she clears the name of the soldier and others, and find the culprit, everyone involved still thinks she's a horrible nosy person whom they didn't ask to stir up trouble. Still, the trademark crisp prose sails along the clear waters of the plot nicely, and the historic atmosphere of France in 1918 feels accurate and fascinating. I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read any of the other Bess Crawford novels.

I was looking forward to A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, because I've read several other revamped, re-gendered Sherlock Holmes novels this past year, and a couple of them were quite good. This book is meant to be the first in a series, about Charlotte Holmes, who uses the name Sherlock so that she can pretend she has a brilliant brother and use her logical mind to solve mysteries that women in Victorian society were unable to engage with due to the rampant sexual/societal mores of the day.  Unfortunately, the gender switch here is somewhat clumsy and awkward, and Holmes nearly becomes homeless before being taken in by a wealthy former actress, Mrs Watson. Here's the blurb:  
With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.
But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind. Publisher's Weekly: Charlotte Holmes, the independent-minded, upper-class heroine of this promising series launch set in 1886 England from Thomas (My Beautiful Enemy), has no wish to be married off like her older sisters and relegated to second-class status for the rest of her life. Charlotte’s choice to lose her virginity to a married man leads to her banishment from her family’s country house. She settles in London, where she uses her gift for “discernment” to provide helpful guidance to the police under the alias Sherlock Holmes. She writes to the coroner overseeing the inquest for aristocrat Harrington Sackville to suggest that Sackville’s apparent overdose of chloral is connected to the deaths of two of his relatives who expired shortly before he did, each of apparently natural causes. That communiqué brings Scotland Yard into the case and affords Charlotte an opportunity to exercise her skills on a complex mystery. Those looking for a very different Sherlockian lead will be rewarded.

Though I enjoyed the crime-solving aspect of the book, there was little enough of it and way too much blathering on about the restrictions put on women in society, and the horrible parents who continue this system. While I can appreciate that it was hard for women, especially smart women, it seemed to me that Charlotte shot herself in the foot by having sex with a married man, somehow trusting that her father would send her to college to earn her degree as punishment. Considering that she's the soul of logic, that didn't make a lot of sense, especially considering how infantilizing men were with women of that era.I would have thought she'd be smart enough to see that she was never going to get her father's approval to become educated and lead an independent life. That said, I loved the fact that Charlotte likes to eat, especially sweets, and has her caloric intake figured down to the last morsel, by how many chins she will wear if she eats too much plum cake. The prose was workmanlike, and the plot labyrinthine. I'd give it a B+ and recommend it to Holmes fans who like watching genius minds at work.

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston was billed as something of a supernatural romance married with literary fiction. I'd read a couple of Brackstons "Witch" novels, and I was certain that this book would be enjoyable and filled with memorable characters. I was wrong. Things were going along fine until page 100, when the protagonist becomes that most dreaded of creations, the character who is TOO STUPID TO LIVE, or TSTL.Laura Matthews is an artist (paintings) who cajoles her husband into moving out of London (and away from her horrendous mother...what a cliche, British parents who totally suck at parenting! Ugh) and into an old manor home in Wales surrounded by beautiful countryside. Her husband Dan will commute back and forth to London, and Laura will get much-needed time to wander and be alone and paint. Of course, it doesn't work out that way, and her nasty judgemental mother drives down to her new residence and immediately begins to harass her, and her husband kvetches constantly, while her best friend also insists on coming to visit and brings her two sons and her Scottish husband with her. Meanwhile, a local man named Rhys comes calling and is immediately smitten with Laura, so much so that he throws her down and tries to rape her after only having met her the day before. Laura manages to throw him off, but then a day later has sex with this guy, again without knowing a thing about him! Who does that? She claims to love her husband, but has been unable to have a child with him, and somehow she feels that this makes her "haggard" and dried up and unattractive, though the opposite is obviously true, if everyone around her is to be believed about how gorgeous she is. She seems to think that Rhys' attentions, which are flattering to her barren self, are the perfect reason to justify adultery. Ridiculous. I nearly threw the book across the room in disgust. What is wrong with women who somehow think that unless they have babies they aren't women? As if a woman's only worth is in her reproductive system! Here's the blurb:
Artist Laura Matthews finds her new home in the Welsh mountains to be a place so charged with tales and legends that she is able to reach through the gossamer-fine veil that separates her own world from that of myth and fable.
She and her husband Dan have given up their city life and moved to Blaencwm, an ancient longhouse high in the hills. Here she hopes that the wild beauty will inspire her to produce her best art and will give her the baby they have longed for. But this high valley is also home to others, such as Rhys the charismatic loner who pursues Laura with fervor. And Anwen, the wise old woman from the neighboring farm who seems to know so much but talks in riddles. And then there is Merlin.
Lamp Black, Wolf Grey tells both Laura's story and Merlin's. For once he too walked these hills, with his faithful grey wolf at his heel. It was here he fell in love with Megan, nurse-maid to the children of the hated local noble, Lord Geraint. Merlin was young, at the start of his renowned career as a magician, but when he refuses to help Lord Geraint it is Megan who may pay the price.
From New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston, Lamp Black, Wolf Grey is an enchanting tale of love and magic featuring her signature blend of gorgeous writing, an intriguing historical backdrop, and a relatable heroine that readers are sure to fall in love with.
I didn't find this book relatable at all, I found it full of stereotypes and sentimental tropes and very stupid characters. The prose was lush, but not in a natural way. It felt overblown and melodramatic, and the plot "twists" were easy to see coming. I could have told Laura that Rhys was a nutball from the moment he was introduced, and that he was sick and dangerous, but she was too busy falling all over herself and seeing legendary people who were not there, like Merlin and Anwen. This made Laura seem even more idiotic, and I was relieved that the book wasn't longer, though it had an HEA ending. I'd give it a C (and I am being generous) and only recommend it to those who like simplistic characters and easily solved mysteries/plots.

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