Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Start of the 2018 Book List, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman and The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin

Well, it's New Year's Eve, and it turns out that I finished three books (and am 2/3 of the way through a fourth) before the end of the year, so I figured I might as well post a few reviews before the clock runs out on 2017, which was a rough year for me, but not a completely bad year for books.

First, though, here's my starting wish list of books I want to acquire in 2018. Usually by the time I'm ready to make my trip to Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR, I have 50 or more books on the list. This year I plan to try and borrow more books from the library, which should ease the strain on my book buying budget.

1) A Treacherous Curse, Deanna Raybourn
2) Still Me: A Novel, Jojo Moyes
3) Defy the Stars, Claudia Gray
4) Honor Among Thieves, Rachel Caine
5) Heart of Thorns, Bree Burton
6) Blood of a Thousand Stars, Rhoda Belleza
7) War Storm, Victoria Aveyard
8) Daughters of the Night Sky, Aimie K Runyan
9) Taste of Wrath, Matt Wallace
10) Head On, John Scalzi
11) Record of A Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers
12) Hunter, Healer, Lilith Saintcrow
13) A Glorious Freedom:Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives, Lisa Congdon
14) The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, Alan Bradley
15) The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, Theodora Goss
16) Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase, Louise Walters
17) Ordinary Magic Stories Omnibus, Devon Monk
18) The Power, Naomi Alderman
19) Hold Back the Stars, Katie Khan
20) Poison or Protect, Gail Carriger

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is January's book for my Tuesday Night library book group. I've had a real soft spot for Gaiman since reading his Sandman series of graphic novels back in the early 1990s. When I find a writer whose work I love, I tend to hurry and uncover all of their books, so that I can enjoy their creative wonders anew. So I read Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Good Omens and Fragile Things. I still haven't read A View From the Cheap Seats and a couple of his children's books. But those of his books that I have read, I've loved, not least because Gaiman is a witty and wise author whose British sense of humor is so delightfully dry that it sets off his gorgeous prose beautifully. We are the same age, Gaiman and I, and those born at the end of the Baby Boom tend to have a particular frame of reference that I understand and enjoy as well. So I embarked on this book knowing that Gaiman had probably also been required to read myths and legends in school, and therefore his treatment of these famous Norse myths would be colored by that. Here is the blurb: Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
I completely agree with the blurb, for a change, in that I'd read these myths many times, from the original and stiff renditions to the more modern takes on the subject, but I still found Gaiman's version fresh and fascinating. I should note, as a Whovian (a fan of the British TV show Doctor Who) that Gaiman wrote one of my all time favorite episodes of Doctor Who, in which the TARDIS comes to life in the body of a woman. It was a brilliant performance that had me laughing and crying and viewing the show in a brand new light. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who thinks Norse Myths are dusty and dull and old fashioned.  Gaiman's version will give you a new appreciation of Thor, Loki and Odin and the whole Ragnarok thing.
The Book of Dust (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman is the first book in a "prequel" series to his Dark Materials series that was so popular (and for good reason!). Its an origin story for Lyra and gives us a view of her early days in the convent and her association with a protective and precocious child of the local tavern owners, Malcolm. Here's the blurb:
Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy....
Malcolm's parents run an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue. 
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust—and the spy it was intended for finds him. 
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he sees suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm. Publisher's Weekly: For more than 15 years, fans of the His Dark Materials trilogy have longed to return to the world Pullman created. Now, finally, begins a new trilogy, the Book of Dust, that again immerses readers in a thrilling alternate landscape of animal daemons, truth-revealing alethiometers, and the mysterious particle known as Dust. Lyra, the beloved heroine of the original books, is just a baby; 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the hero this time, and a worthy one. Malcolm helps out at his family's inn in Oxford and at the priory where Lyra—sought by her mother, Mrs. Coulter (younger but no less chilling than in the His Dark Materials books), and her father, Lord Asriel—is being cared for by nuns. Inquisitive and observant, Malcolm gets involved with scholar-spy Dr. Hannah Relf and meets (and adores) baby Lyra. But free thinkers are at war with the oppressive religious regime, and everyone wants control of Lyra, who is "destined to put an end to destiny." Amid the roaring waters of a historic flood, Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, attempt to keep Lyra safe, braving kidnappers, government enforcers, murderers, and classmates who, chillingly, are being trained to turn in those perceived to be disloyal to the regime. Fortunately, he has a fleet canoe, the Belle Sauvage of the title, and help from Alice, a cranky and courageous 16-year-old. The new characters are as lively and memorable as their predecessors; despite a few heavy-handed moments regarding the oppressiveness of religion, this tense, adventure-packed book will satisfy and delight Pullman's fans and leave them eager to see what's yet to come!
I could not put this book down, and once I embarked on the journey with Malcolm, I was in for the next 12 hours. There were only a couple of things that I didn't like about the book, mainly the character Alice, who is whiny, mean and horrible, though she obviously cares for Lyra and is a good nurse to her, still she made me want to slap her silly at least once every chapter. I was also surprised that the adults were so comfortable with treating children like small adults, and having them work so hard and put themselves in danger didn't seem to bother any of them at all. Even the famous Lord Asriel has no problem dropping his daughter off with anyone who can care for her, and eventually he designates Alice and Malcolm as her caregivers, (though they are only 11 and 16 by the end of the novel). They had both, by this time, been through many dangers, been shot at, starved, beaten and tricked, had to run for their lives many times and fight bad guys with next to nothing. The fascist religious people who are prowling around in search of people to kill or torture or use as leverage were a terrifying specter throughout the novel. I felt that this was somewhat over the top for a YA novel, but still, it was well worth it for the classic storyline and the wonderful prose that flew by like a hawk on wing. A definite A, with a recommendation to anyone who has read the Dark Materials series, starting with the Golden Compass.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is the third and final book in the Broken Earth series, which began with The Fifth Season. Though these SF/F novels slide into horror territory more than once, I was too fascinated by the protagonist, Essun, and her journey to stop reading them. I had high hopes for an HEA ending, but 3/4 of the way through I knew that those hopes were going to be dashed by the end of the book. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
The earthshaking conclusion to Jemisin’s powerful postapocalyptic Broken Earth trilogy (after The Obelisk Gate) finds the fate of a damaged world in the hands of a mother, who wants to save it, and her daughter, who wants to destroy it. Essun believes she is the only person left alive who has the power and skill to open the magical Obelisk Gate and wield its power to save her cataclysm-rocked planet, the Stillness, which is being torn apart by an ancient experiment that got out of hand. But she is caught between that duty and her need to find Nassun, her 10-year-old daughter. Nassun’s father killed her brother and took her away because both children shared their mother’s dangerous talent; he hoped to “cure” her, but instead she has become incredibly powerful. Essun’s search grows urgent when she learns that Nassun is being guided by a dangerous mentor with plans of his own. Jemisin draws Essun and Nassun perfectly, capturing a mother’s guilt and pride and a daughter’s determination to survive on her own terms. The Stillness, where ancient science is powered by magic, is unforgettable. Vivid characters, a tautly constructed plot, and outstanding worldbuilding meld into an impressive and timely story of abused, grieving survivors fighting to fix themselves and save the remnants of their shattered home. 
Though she is young, I could not understand Nassun's love of Schaffa, a murderous, horrific guardian who had abused and used her mother before her at the Fulcrum, training Essun to be "useful" to the regime of non-orogenes in power (regular, prejudiced humans who are afraid of what they do not understand). She was willing even for Schaffa to kill her, just so she could have his "love" and attention. Why Nassun would choose such a vile man as a father figure, for whom she is willing to kill and destroy the world, is beyond me. Nassun's father is a completely evil ass, who, when he discovers that there is no "cure" for being an orogene, tries to kill her (and is therefore doomed because his daughter is powerful and turns him to stone), and her mother, while somewhat cruel in training her as a youngster, gets more hatred and vitriol heaped on her head than the father who literally beat her baby brother to death, which makes no sense. I could not understand Essuns total ineffectiveness in trying to communicate with her daughter, to tell her she was sorry and to explain that she did and does love her,and has been trying to find her for the past year. All Essun does is feel guilty and then allow herself to be turned to stone. Such an ignominious death for such a tough survivor who has seen nearly everyone she loves die.
Still, the prose is evocative and engrossing, while the plot is, as PW says, "taut" and fast, while the characters are unforgettable. Another solid A, though I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is depressed or who finds horror novels too frightening. I would also note that there are triggers for those whose children have died and who are victims of domestic violence. Anyone else, dig in and prepare to be astonished.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Little Women on TV, Send A Book to Congress, Desires, Known by Lilith Saintcrow, Losing It by Emma Rathbone, The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, and the Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin

This is my 52nd and last post of the year (unless I read really fast before New Year's Eve), so I thought I would review 4 books and have these bits from Shelf Awareness start us off. I am a big fan of Little Women, the book, so I'd expect the television program to be just as exciting. 

TV: Little Women
The first trailer has been released for Little Women
the TV adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel from Masterpiece,
BBC One and Playground (Wolf Hall, Howards End), Deadline reported.
Heidi Thomas (Cranford, Call the Midwife) wrote the adaptation and
Vanessa Caswill (Thirteen) directs.

The project stars Maya Hawke (Jo), Willa Fitzgerald (Meg), Annes Elwy
(Beth) and Kathryn Newton (Amy), with Emily Watson as their mother,
Marmee, Angela Lansbury as Aunt March, Jonah Hauer-King as Laurie
Laurence and Michael Gambon as Mr. Laurence. Little Women premieres on
PBS Masterpiece May 13, 2018.

Great idea, though I doubt it will have much effect on the Tyrant in Chief.

Cool Idea of the Day: Send a Book to Congress
A group of concerned citizens in Seattle recently approached Kim
Hooyboer, manager of Third Place Books
sending a copy
of Timothy Snyders book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books) to every member of Congress. Seattle magazine reported that the "response from Hooyboer and her bosses was enthusiastic. Third Place Books offered
the group, who asked to remain anonymous to emphasize the community
effort, a significant discount on more than half the books needed, plus
space to write personalized letters and stuff envelopes." A friend of
the group who lives in Vermont connected them with Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, which is contributing the other half of the books.

"How we can be active resistance hubs: I've been talking about this with
a lot of other bookstores around the country in the last year," said
Hooyboer. "Our role as booksellers is to bring the right books to the
right people at the right time. To be principled, not partisan. That's
why it makes so much sense for this group to come to us and for us to
help in whatever way we can.... I think it's really easy right now to
want to close the doors, turn the lights off, and sit in a corner, but
one of the important things we can be doing right now is educating
ourselves and reading these books and having these conversations with
your community."

Desires, Known by Lilith Saintcrow was something of a surprise to me, as I was expecting a romance novel with some paranormal elements, and what I got was a full fledged Urban paranormal fantasy/action novel with very little romance at all. The protagonist, Emily Spencer, is a stupid coward who spends 95 percent of the book shrieking that what is happening can't be happening, because she refuses to alter her perception to deal with what is actually happening to her, even though it is obvious that it is really happening.  She finds a djinn-bound ring at a thrift store, so she buys it to add sparkle to her Halloween Elvira costume, unaware of its power. She's a real "down to earth" (read: BORING) type of person who is more at home with financial spreadsheets than she is with dating and having fun, it seems. So even when the male stripper at the Halloween party hits on her, she can't deal with it, and basically tells him to buzz off. Meanwhile, at work, her supervisor has been sexually harassing every female in the office who isn't 80 years old, and though she's managed to deal with it in such a way that she can't get fired by the sleazy harasser, neither has she actually done anything about him, like reporting him to HR or to the boss. So when she does finally get the genie's power and asks him to do something about this cretin, the genie puts the guy in the worst possible place without killing him, she finds out and wants him to take it all back and restore this monster to the workplace! Unbelievable! What an idiot! Anyway, here's the blurb: 
Desires, Known by Lilith Saintcrow
A ring. A man. A centuries-old secret.
To accountant Emily Spencer, the junky thrift-store ring is perfect for her Halloween costume. A few too many drinks, a slip of the tongue, and all of a sudden, there’s a guy calling her mistress and demanding to know her desires. If she just ignores the weirdness, it’ll go away, right?
Wrong. Hal is a creature of almost limitless power, eternally bound to serve the owner of the ring. Though modern technology is puzzling, he has no difficulty deciding he likes being out in the world again. Even if he has to train a reluctant but undeniably attractive new mistress.
Unfortunately, the man who lost Hal’s ring so long ago is still around—rich, unscrupulous, and more than a little insane. He’ll try anything—deceit, treachery, torture—to regain control of Hal.
Including murder…
It makes no sense as to why Emily refuses to allow Hal to provide nice things for her, or to help her get rid of the office misogynist/harasser. Even when there are all these creatures and supernatural bad guys gunning for her, she's reluctant to accept his help to survive their attacks! WHY, for heaven's sake, would anyone with a modicum of sense or self preservation say no to that? At any rate, even after she's been through so much, at the end, we are left with Emily and Hal sharing power, but nothing else. Where's the romance? Where's the HEA? Honestly, having read most of Saintcrow's books, I expected better from her. The prose was decent, the plot swift, but the story in general leaves a lot to be desired, so I'd give this book a C, and recommend it only to those who are really into the Arabian Nights/Aladdin stuff.

Losing It by Emma Rathbone was another surprise. I'd been led to believe that this was a funny, poignant and empowering book, about a late-bloomer who is longing for her first sexual encounter.  This is patently false, as the protagonist, Julia Greenfield, is a whiny, whinging weirdo who seems almost autistic or extremely neurotic at the very least in her laser focus on f-ing. Every paragraph, every encounter is examined for its potential for Julia to lose her virginity, which she seems to think is some horrific visible blemish on her life, like a red A attached to her chest, for all to see. This conceit grows tedious after the first 75 pages, and eventually it becomes annoying. Here's the blurb:
Julia Greenfield has a problem: she's twenty-six years old and she's still a virgin. Sex ought to be easy. People have it all the time! But, without meaning to, she made it through college and into adulthood with her virginity intact. Something's got to change. 
To re-route herself from her stalled life, Julia travels to spend the summer with her mysterious aunt Vivienne in North Carolina. It's not long, however, before she unearths a confounding secret—her 58 year old aunt is a virgin too. In the unrelenting heat of the southern summer, Julia becomes fixated on puzzling out what could have lead to Viv's appalling condition, all while trying to avoid the same fate.
For readers of Rainbow Rowell and Maria Semple, and filled with offbeat characters and subtle, wry humor, Losing It is about the primal fear that you just. might. never. meet. anyone. It's about desiring something with the kind of obsessive fervor that almost guarantees you won't get it. It's about the blurry lines between sex and love, and trying to figure out which one you're going for. And it's about the decisions—and non-decisions—we make that can end up shaping a life.
I felt terribly sorry for everyone who encountered Julia, because she's such a dull and distracted ninny, and I felt even sorrier for her Aunt Viv, who had to put up with Julia tearing through all of her belongings and invading her privacy just so she can figure out how NOT to become "an old maid" like Viv. Personally, I thought Viv sounded like she was having a fine life without sex, and that she was just fine with her decision, but doltish Julia can't imagine anyone wanting to remain a virgin in her stunted view of women and women's lives. When Julia finally gets laid, much to everyone's relief, it is treated like no big deal. Julia doesn't transform, as she seems to think she will, she's still a huge pain in the rump. The prose was as dull as the protagonist and the plot was turgid. I'd give this novel a C-, and only recommend it to those who can't find something better to read.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg is the 13th book of hers that I've read and enjoyed. My mother has read all of her novels (except this one, which I will send to her soon) and we both agree that her storytelling is superb. Berg's prose style is similar to Fannie Flaggs, whose books brim with good characters and fascinating situations in small town America. Also like Flagg, Berg's plots are beautifully paced and strong, leaving readers without the ability to stop reading lest they miss something. Here's the blurb:
For the past six months, Arthur Moses’s days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden and to Gordon, his cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life. 
Eighteen-year-old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur—a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. Moved by Arthur’s kindness and devotion, Maddy gives him the nickname “Truluv.” As Arthur’s neighbor Lucille moves into their orbit, the unlikely trio band together and, through heartache and hardships, help one another rediscover their own potential to start anew.
Wonderfully written and full of profound observations about life, The Story of Arthur Truluv is a beautiful and moving novel of compassion in the face of loss, of the small acts that turn friends into family, and of the possibilities to achieve happiness at any age.
“For several days after [finishing The Story of Arthur Truluv], I felt lifted by it, and I found myself telling friends, also feeling overwhelmed by 2017, about the book. Read this, I said, it will offer some balance to all that has happened, and it is a welcome reminder we’re all neighbors here.”—Chicago Tribune
I fell in love with Arthur, because he was such a wonderful, funny old soul, and though I wanted to kick Maddy in the butt for allowing herself to be used by Anderson, her abusive boyfriend, I found myself warming to her as she becomes pregnant and a caregiver for Arthur and Lucille, two elderly people who need her just as much as she needs them. If you can get through this page-turner without laughing and crying in equal measure, you're a better woman than I am. Brava, Ms Berg,Brava. I'd give this warm and delightful novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who loved A Man Called Ova or Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Cafe. Well worth the price, and, as the Chicago Tribune said, it will offer something of a panacea to the wounds of 2017.

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin is the sequel to her Hugo award winning science fiction novel The Fifth Season. It says on the cover that it also won a Hugo this year, which wouldn't surprise me at all. Though the dystopia presented in these novels is extreme, and painful and grotesque, I find the characters fascinating. Essun is so tough and adaptable in the face of death and the murder of her children, I am riveted by her ability to continue living, working, breathing in the face of such loss. Because this is the middle novel of a trilogy, a lot has to happen to explain the problems of the first novel and solve some of the ones presented in the second before setting things up to be completed in the third. Here's the blurb:
The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night.
Essun -- once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger -- has found shelter, but not her daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request. But if Essun does what he asks, it would seal the fate of the Stillness forever.
Far away, her daughter Nassun is growing in power - and her choices will break the world. Publisher's Weekly: In this compelling, challenging, and utterly gripping work that combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, Jemisin draws readers deeper into the extraordinary setting and characters she introduced in The Fifth Season. In the world called the Stillness—which the first book hints may actually be our world, thousands of years in the future—orogenes are hated and feared for their ability to control the geological forces that shape the land. Powerful orogene Essun desperately searches for her eight-year-old daughter, Nassun, who was stolen away by her father. He hopes to find someone to “fix” the girl and excise her burgeoning orogene talent. But Essun’s search is interrupted by her old mentor, Alabaster. Alabaster is dying, and he hopes to use Essun’s powers to end the current “season,” a disastrous change in global climate that could destroy all life, by recapturing the planet’s long-lost moon, whose absence is the cause of the ironically named Stillness’s geological instability. While Essun and Alabaster struggle to save the world, an ancient entity with very different goals begins gathering its own crew of young orogenes—and it has Nassun, who in this volume becomes a character as troubled, complex, and fascinating as her mother. The Stillness and those who dwell there are vividly drawn, and the threats they face are both timely and tangible. Once again Jemisin immerses readers in a complex and intricate world of warring powers, tangled morals, and twisting motivations. 
I am not quite sure why Nassun and Essun have to be at opposites,with Nassun hating and blaming her mother for everything that has gone wrong in her life (when it's obvious her prejudiced and insane father is really the cause of her childhood trauma, but for some reason she doesn't want to believe that) when their goal is, in the end, the get the moon back into a stable orbit around the planet and thus end the "seasons" that are killing mankind. But Nassun seems to be in dire need of parental love, so she clutches at the "unconditional love" of a ruthless guardian who once abused her mother and killed many orogene children in his quest for domination and power. Meanwhile, Essun is living inside a giant geode, and dealing with all the political and moral problems that come with any community of people with different backgrounds and levels of power. I was glad that that old bastard Alabaster died, because, despite the author obviously wanting readers to see him in a sympathetic light, I never could stand the man. He was selfish, egotistical and, like everyone else in these books, wants to blame all of his problems on Essun, without taking any responsibility for all the things he's done to put her in an untenable position. Though these novels veer too far into the horror genre for my taste (lots of blood and gore, killing of children, lots of creepy critters who can do horrible things to kill humans), the prose is stunning and the plots move along at an almost military clip. Jemisin's storytelling powers are in full swing here, and with all that is currently happening in our world with climate change and the death of animal species and fouling of air and water, I fear that her science fictional dystopia isn't that far off in our reality. Chilling though it may be, this novel deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who read the first book in the series. 

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and a Happy 2018 full of good books and good times!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Scalzi on TV, Two Movies Adapted From Books, Bonfire by Krysten Ritter, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and The Santa Claus Man by Alex Palmer

I've made no secret of the fact that I adore John Scalzi, the witty and wonderful author of the amazing Old Man's War series (and of many other great novels, including Lock In, which is also being made into a series for Netflix, I believe), so I am delighted to read that things are movie forward with a TV movie. I just hope they stay faithful to the novels, which are action packed and thoughtful, and have some insights into the future of mankind and warfare.

TV: Old Man's War
Netflix has acquired John Scalzi's Old Man's War
which is the first novel "in a bestselling six-book series and is
considered to be one of the best of the genre over the past two
decades," to develop as an original film, Deadline reported. Jon
Shestack Productions and Madhouse Entertainment will produce. Scalzi
also has projects in development with FX and Working Title.

I started reading James Baldwin novels when I was 13 years old, though I think my parents would have been concerned had they known how brutally honest his books were about life as a gay black man. I remember the prose being a revelation to me, because it was so elegant and silken while outlining such horrific subject matter. But I am looking forward to seeing what they will do with a movie of such a classic novel. Ready Player One was a novel that both my son and I enjoyed, and I found it so visual as I read it that I am not at all surprised it has been made into a movie. I hope that Nick will accompany me to go see it when it comes out in theaters.

Movies: Ready Player One; If Beale Street Could Talk

full-length trailer for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's
novel Ready Player One
Deadline reported that the author "debuted the trailer at an event at
the Alamo Drafthouse in his hometown of Austin which was live streamed
with a Q&A afterward." The movie, which opens March 30, was written by
Cline and Zak Penn. The cast includes Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben
Mendelsohn, T. J. Miller, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance.
Cline's description of the film: "If Willy Wonka was a video game
designer instead of a candy maker and he held his golden ticket contest
inside the worlds greatest video game--that's the essence of what the
story is."

Emily Rios (Breaking Bad, Snowfall) has landed the role of Victoria in
If Beale Street Could Talk
based on James Baldwin's novel and directed by Barry Jenkins
(Moonlight), Deadline reported. The project also stars KiKi Layne,
Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Ed
Skrein, Pedro Pascal and Regina King. Jenkins wrote the script and is
producing under his Pastel label with Annapurna Pictures and Plan B.

I'm going to post a Shelf Awareness review of Bonfire before I add my own thoughts, because to be honest, I was expecting the beautiful actress who plays Jessica Jones to have little or no writing talent at all, and I was secretly kind of hoping she'd fail miserably at creating a novel that stood on its own merits and wasn't read just because it was written by a celebrity. I am chagrined to report that I was wrong. Ritter is a talented prose stylist whose book was a page turner full of twists and turns that I never saw coming.
Bonfire: A Novel by Krysten Ritter "In this fast-paced thriller, successful environmental
lawyer Abby Williams is brought back to her small Indiana town for work,
where Optimal Plastics, a company that has helped rebuild the town and
its economy, is under suspicion for water pollution. While investigating
the pollution claims, Abby also becomes obsessed with discovering what
happened to a classmate who disappeared 10 years earlier after a scandal
that left many unanswered questions--a disappearance that has haunted
her for years. In both cases, the search for truth leads Abby down a
dark path of corruption and secrets. This is a remarkable debut novel
and the must-read thriller of this fall." --Rebecca Olson, Saturn
Booksellers, Gaylord, Mich.
Abby, the protagonist, comes off as kind of Jessica Jones "lite" with the same snarky sense of humor and the same drinking problem. Still, she's persistent and fierce, and refuses to give up, even when everyone else thinks she's nuts and won't help her. Here's the official blurb: It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as she tries desperately to find out what really happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” it will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide.
I honestly could not put the book down once I started reading it. And I couldn't find fault with the prose or the storytelling or the characters, because they were all solid. This strikes me as somewhat unfair, overall, that Ritter should be so adept at acting and writing, but then, Kate Mulgrew, of Orange is the New Black and Star Trek Voyager wrote a fantastic memoir called Born With Teeth that proved she's also a brilliant actress and prose stylist. I'd give Bonfire an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is a Hugo award winning science fiction novel that I've been hearing about for at least a year. It was recommended to me by several friends and websites, so I put it on my list for books for my birthday and managed to get a copy before Thanksgiving, prior to my birthday by weeks. Though it is somewhat measured and deliberate to start, once the characters get going and the pace of the plot picks up, it's a toboggan ride of a novel. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: Humans struggle to survive on a ruined world in this elegiac, complex, and intriguing story, the first in the Broken Earth series from acclaimed author Jemisin (the Inheritance Trilogy). The Stillness is a quiet and bitter land, sparsely populated by subsistence communities called comms. Essun lived quietly in a comm with her husband and children until her secret got out: she—and her children—are orogenes, those who have the ability to control Earth forces. They can quell or start earthquakes, open veins of magma, and generally cause or rein in geological chaos. Authorities keep a brutal hold on orogenes, controlling everything about their lives, including whom they breed with. Those who escape servitude and seek safety in the comms face expulsion and execution at the hands of the fearful. Soon after Essun’s secret is revealed, her husband kills their son, and her daughter goes missing. Essun sets off to find the girl, undertaking a journey that will force her to face unfinished business from her own secret past. Jemisin’s graceful prose and gritty setting provide the perfect backdrop for this fascinating tale of determined characters fighting to save a doomed world. Readers hungry for the next installment will also find ample satisfaction in rereading this one. 
I was not aware that the other two storylines (with two other female characters) were just the past history of the main protagonist, Essun. Essun has had to reinvent herself from childhood on, and her brutal upbringing at the hands of the Guardians (who are sadistic and controlling, treating their young charges like disposable slaves) was chilling, and left me amazed that this bright child managed to survive the school for orogenes. Once she escapes as a young woman, and despite being forced to breed the next generation of orogenes with a gay man of tremendous power, she sets up a life for herself that seemed satisfying and happy. Unfortunately, it doesn't last, and Essun ends up having to reinvent herself again, remarrying a man who kills her young son when it becomes obvious he's an orogene, and abducting their daughter. Essun journeys the length and breadth of this destroyed land with a "stone eater" and a transgender woman whom she met up with in her youth, as the three find a community of orogenes and stone eaters and others living underground in a giant geode. Though it wasn't a hopeful novel, and brutality, cruelty and violence are everywhere in this ruined world, I was captivated by the characters and their hopes and fears and strength. I am not surprised that this book won the Hugo last year. I'd give it an A and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of George RR Martin and Ursula LeGuin and Octavia Butler.
The Santa Claus Man by Alex Palmer was our library book group choice for December.  It was recommended to me by a Barnes and Noble online book concierge, who thought it would be an uplifting read for the holiday season. This was probably the least uplifting non fiction book I've ever read, to be honest, and I found many parts of the book dragged because the author included reams of research on the Jazz age in New York City from the end of WW1 through the 1920s until the Great Depression. Here's the blurb:
Before the charismatic John Duval Gluck, Jr. came along, letters from New York City children to Santa Claus were destroyed, unopened, by the U.S. Post Office. Gluck saw an opportunity, and created the Santa Claus Association. The effort delighted the public, and for 15 years money and gifts flowed to the only group authorized to answer Santa’s mail. Gluck became a Jazz Age celebrity, rubbing shoulders with the era’s movie stars and politicians, and even planned to erect a vast Santa Claus monument in the center of Manhattan — until Gotham’s crusading charity commissioner discovered some dark secrets in Santa’s workshop.
The rise and fall of the Santa Claus Association is a caper both heartwarming and hardboiled, involving stolen art, phony Boy Scouts, a kidnapping, pursuit by the FBI, a Coney Island bullfight, and above all, the thrills and dangers of a wild imagination. It’s also the larger story of how Christmas became the extravagant holiday we celebrate today, from Santa’s early beginnings in New York to the country’s first citywide Christmas tree and Macy’s first grand holiday parade. The Santa Claus Man is a holiday tale with a dark underbelly, and an essential read for lovers of Christmas stories, true crime, and New York City history.
I really didn't like JD Gluck, who was a shyster from the get go, always looking for a way to line his pockets from his charities and public relations schemes.  We had quite a rousing discussion during book group as to whether Gluck started out with ill intentions, or whether money and power corrupted him into the con man he became. What flabbergasted me was that he got away with it time and again, and never seemed to get any jail time or even a thorough investigation into his finances over the course of years, when he was soliciting money for his Santa Claus Association, but really most of the money was going to his lavish lifestyle. The author of the book is his great grand-nephew, who remembers Gluck as everyone's favorite uncle who told wonderful stories and was retired to Florida with his second wife. This book was certainly a cautionary tale about doing your due diligence in giving to charities to make sure that the money is actually going to those who need it, vs lining the pockets of the fundraisers and promoters. I'd give the book a C, and recommend it to those interested in New York Christmas history.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

How To Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry, Turtles All The Way Down by John Green, Steelflower at Sea by Lilith Saintcrow and The Order of the Eternal Sun by Jessica Leake

I can't believe it is already December, my favorite month of the year! By the end of the year, I will have read about 210 books, created 52+ posts in 2017 and had a cumulative 612 posts reviewing books on Butterfly Books. While that might not seem like a lot for those with big, popular blogs, for me it's a record that I can be proud of. 
Also, this year my birthday, December 12, is also the date of the monthly book group meeting, where we celebrate the holidays and talk books. I'm hoping that everyone attends and that we have a fine time discussing the book, The Santa Claus Man, and eating some cake and other goodies. 
  There are 4 books I'm reviewing today, so without further ado, lets get down to it.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry was a book that appealed to me on many levels. The subject matter, an independent bookstore, is something near and dear to my heart as a bibliophile, and the place, England, is one of those countries I've longed to visit my whole life. The fact that there is romance involved was just icing on the cake. I hoped it would be well written, and that it would take place in a small town full of interesting characters, and I was not disappointed. Here's the blurb:
The enchanting story of a bookshop, its grieving owner, a supportive literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart 
Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers—a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia's loyal customers have become like family, and she can't imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive. 
There's Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage—she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings. 
Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future—and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.
This book was everything the blurb promised and more. Full of eccentric and fascinating characters, I was actually finding it difficult to focus on the main protagonist, Emilia, because everyone else had such strong storylines/subplots going. The prose was lovely and dreamy, and the plot flew by on roller skates. There was an HEA ending that was inevitable, but didn't feel forced, and I honestly couldn't put this novel down. I read it in one day, and was sorry to see it end. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to those who like uplifting books with romance and casts of interesting characters. If you liked Gilmore Girls, you will probably like this book.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is the latest YA novel by the author of the blockbuster bestseller "The Fault in Our Stars." I read and loved TFIOS, (and Papertown), and sobbed my way through both the book and the movie. So I was expecting another tender tear-jerker with "Turtles..." and was sorely disappointed when this turned out to be a stressful and awful tale of an extremely mentally ill teenage girl and her relationship with a wealthy teenage boy whose father has gone on the lamb after some of his business dealings turn out to be scams. Aza, the protagonist, also has a BFF who should have ditched her long ago, in my opinion, because Aza is the worst friend ever, so self involved and crazy that she doesn't notice or care that her best friend is suffering her own difficulties with her impoverished family. Here's the blurb: 
It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward.

Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.

Yes, the prose is unflinching, but it's hardly clear, as we see the world through the eyes of an insane person who can barely keep herself from imploding with anxiety and fear of the germs all around her. Aza continually refers to herself as a "sack of filth" because of the bacteria in her body (it's in all of our bodies, and much of it is good bacteria that is necessary for survival) and she believes that the crazy thoughts she has are not her own, but are, instead, "invasive" thoughts from somewhere outside of herself that are controlling her, so she doesn't think she actually exists as a person, she's just a collection of bacteria and someone else's random and destructive thoughts. Of course, this also leads her to anorexia, as she is disgusted by the process of eating and digesting food, which seems  very dirty and germ-ridden in her mind.  One wonders how she has survived until age 16, with having to masticate and drink enough to grow up. Of course, her therapist has prescribed anti-anxiety meds, which she only takes a couple of times a week, because she feels that they don't work (though how she would know that to be true unless she actually took the meds religiously, I don't know), and it is only later in the book that her mother (her father died, and her mother seems to be fairly mean, when she does finally interact with her daughter) and her therapist finally force Aza to try some new meds and they talk her down from her mental rooftop. Add to this mix a lonely and sad rich boy (with a younger brother spiraling out of control for want of a parent) who falls in love with Aza, and who gives her and her friend money to stop trying to find his father (he was a crappy father anyway, and has his pet lizard in his will as the sole beneficiary), and you've got a bizarre and unsatisfying tale that seems rather pointless. The ending is ridiculous (how did Aza become a normal person who marries and has children when throughout the book she has a major meltdown over a kiss?) and felt rushed at best. I'd give this book a C, and I can't really recommend it to anyone who liked his other books because this one isn't like any of them. I suppose there are some self-loathing teenage girls who might enjoy going down this particular rabbit hole, but I don't think it would be good for them to do so.

Steelflower at Sea by Lilith Saintcrow is the sequel to her previous fantasy novel Steelflower. I've read a number of Saintcrow's series, and I am always amazed at how different each of them manages to be from the others. Though all her heroines are kick-ass women, each is distinctive and the prose used to create them is also different in each series, which is no mean feat. For example, Saintcrow's Steampunk series, Bannon and Clare, has meticulous Victorian-era prose, while her Dante Valentine and Jill Kismet series have tough, gritty prose that fit their urban fantasy genre down to the ground. The Steelflower Chronicles has epic fantasy, flowery, Tolkien-esque prose that somehow manages to keep up with the wildly adventurous plot, which moves swiftly in these short novels. Here's the blurb:
After pitched battle, betrayal, and escape, Kaia Steelflower has enough gold to feed her troupe of outcasts through the winter. She can settle them in a small villa in Antai, that queen of maritime cities, and look forward to welcome boredom.
Unfortunately, there's a pirate-infested sea to cross, her difficult new talents to corral, her traveling companions' problems to solve, a princeling's attentions to manage, and once in Antai, people keep trying to kill her. Or, more precisely, assassinate the barbarian Redfist, and Kaia keeps getting in the way.
Even the Steelflower can't kill every assassin in the city. It's going to take all her sharp wits-and sharper blades-to even try...
While I really enjoyed the first book, Steelflower, I found the sequel to be full of action, but a bit trying in terms of keeping up with what was going on with all the characters. Everything moves so fast, you have to concentrate to make sure you don't miss a single sentence, or you might miss some nuance that will be key to a plot point later on. That said, the motley crew that Kaia has accumulated are able to use whatever talents they have to help her in this book, plus, they all come under fire as it becomes clear that assassins were sent not just to kill Kaia, but also to kill her huge red-headed Viking friend, the barbarian Redfist, who is, of course, heir to the throne back in his native land (but inevitably he's not told her a word of it until they're all nearly killed...what a dope.) Now that Kaia and her soul mate and fellow warrior are on their way to Redfist's hometown for some answers, I can hardly wait for the next installment of the Steelflower Chronicles. I'd give this slender volume an A, and recommend it to anyone who read, and was intrigued by, the first book.

The Order of the Eternal Sun by Jessica Leake was recommended to me by someone who knows I am a fan of Steampunk genre and mysteries with strong female protagonists. Though this is the second book in the Sylvani Series, (and I'd not read the first), I found it to be engrossing and easily understood. Here's the blurb:
Lucy Sinclair’s debut will be a parade of everything opulent Edwardian London society has to offer. Most importantly, it will be nothing like her older sister’s dangerous experience—especially if her overprotective brother-in-law, Lord Thornewood, has his way. As if screening her dance partners isn’t enough, Thornewood insists that his brother, James, train Lucy in self-defense as the event nears. She wouldn’t mind so much if her treacherous mind didn’t continue to replay the kiss they once shared.
But awkward defense lessons are the least of her problems. Her arcana, a magical talent that allows her to mentally enter any scene that she draws, grows stronger by the day. Again and again Lucy is compelled to draw a portal to her mother’s realm of Sylvania—and with each stroke of her pen, she risks attracting the attention of the Order of the Eternal Sun, the sinister brotherhood that steals the power of Sylvani blood for their own dark ends.
When a bold new suitor arrives from India, Lucy can’t help but be intrigued—though her family questions his mysterious past. As Lucy’s own suspicions grow, and the threat of the Order looms larger, Lucy will have to learn to harness her unpredictable power or risk falling under the Order’s shadow forever.
Because I was a huge fan of Downton Abbey, I was delighted that this book took place in the Edwardian era. The delicious wit and the beauty of the gowns and dances that were a part of that era are still very attractive to those of us who, thankfully, have never had to don a corset or spend hours each day changing into an appropriate outfit for every activity. Also, as a fan of fantasy and magical realism, I loved the addition of the Sylvani, who are, in essence, a kind of fae/fairy people who have powers (called arcana) given to them via their DNA, so even if they are half human and half Sylvani, as is our protagonist Lucy, they have the ability to do a variety of things, from healing wounds and having visions of the future to throwing lightening bolts. Still, Lucy is in deep this time, because she has to deal with a handsome young half Indian/half Sylvani man who is part of the Order of the Eternal Sun, a league of men bent on the destruction of all half Sylvani people. The Order's leader, it turns out, is an exiled Sylvani who manages to remain immortal by draining the arcana from all those with the 'talent' that he can kidnap. He found a young, orphaned Alexander on the streets of India and groomed him to be an assassin for the Order. Yet when Alexander meets Lucy, and realizes that he's been lied to his whole life, he becomes a warrior for the lives of all the Sylvani, and vows to help Lucy bring the leader down once and for all. Though there was strong romantic elements to this book, I felt that it was a well written historical fantasy that had a lovely plot and engaging characters. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to those who enjoy historical romances and fantasy romances.