Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Books and the POTUS, Bookstore Pubs in Seattle, Kitty in the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn, Boss Fight: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress Vol 2 by Annie Bellet, and The Yonhahlosse Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani and Lockwood and Co by Jonathan Stroud

It has always impressed me that our outgoing POTUS loves books almost as much as I do. But this gem of a conversation, which took place in my home state of Iowa, was yet another reminder of how much I will miss our 44th president, who worked diligently for the American people in a thankless job for 8 years. I will miss Michelle Obama and her kindness and grace as well. I am not looking forward to the next 4 years with a crude and evil president who doubtless hasn't read a book in decades.

The Importance of Books for President Obama

President Obama and author Marilynne Robinson in conversation
at the Iowa State Library, Des Moines, September 2015 (photo: Pete
Souza/White House)

"Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of
what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the
voices, the multitudes of this country.... And so I think that I found
myself better able to imagine what's going on in the lives of people
throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the
act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has
been helpful.

"And then there's been the occasion where I just want to get out of my
own head. [Laughter] Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to
be someplace else...."

"At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is
transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with
the ability to get in somebody else's shoes--those two things have been
invaluable to me. Whether they've made me a better president, I can't
say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain
my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place
that comes at you hard and fast and doesn't let up."

--President Barack Obama, in a front-page New York Times story yesterday
entitled "Obama's Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books

So far, 2017 has been chilly and wet here in Western Washingon, and these great bookstore/pubs have provided Seattle denizens with a respite and a good read, which is a brilliant business strategy, in my opinion.

Bookstores Are 'Seattle's New Favorite Place to Drink'
Noting that new bars "spring up in Seattle like weeds in sidewalk
cracks," the Stranger reported "there's a new trend where people can
find their favorite beverage in a place that speaks directly to the need
for coziness, companionship, and intellectual fodder through the dark
and damp Seattle winter: bars in bookstores

"The whole point is to build community," said Danielle Hulton, co-owner
of Ada's Technical Books and Cafe, which recently added a cocktail bar and event space called the Lab. "Having food and drink helps."

Third Place Books "has devoted the basement and part of the main floor of its new Seward Park location,
which opened in May 2016, to Raconteur, an all-day bar and restaurant by
the folks from Flying Squirrel Pizza Co.," the Stranger noted, adding
that the bookseller "was already a player in the bookstore bar game with
the Pub at Third Place, a cozy, wood-paneled craft-beer spot below their
Ravenna shop."

Although patrons can now sip rose; at Little Oddfellows in Elliott
Bay Book Company, grab a beer at Ada's and drink cocktails at Raconteur, Third Place managing partner Robert
Sindelar said the concept wasn't so accepted when the Ravenna pub first
opened more than a decade ago: "It was slow to start. Initially, people
wanted out of it what other bars in the neighborhood offered: Where's
the pool table? Where's the dartboard? How cheap is your beer?" By the
time Third Place prepared to launch its Seward Park space, a pub was
part of the plan and the owners "brought in a different restaurant
operator and different food offerings, and made the bar a more integral
part of the store," the Stranger wrote.

Hulton noted that her customers at Ada's liked the Lab's concept
immediately: "They wanted more space for community, to find different
ways to interact with Ada's that plug in for them."

Caleb Thompson, who has managed the Pub at Third Place for more than a
decade, agreed: "That's the whole ideal of the third place--you need
somewhere to go to talk to people and relate.... You come in and it's
like, there are so many of the things I love in one place! Why isn't
this everywhere?"

Kitty in the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn was a series I've been hearing about for awhile now, but I'd ignored it because I've been going through so many other urban fantasy series that I put this one on the back burner for later examination of worthiness. I'd read Discord's Apple years ago, and I was unsure that I wanted to read more of Vaughn's work. But the idea of a werewolf doing an overnight talk show on the radio intrigued me, if for no other reason than my husband was involved in radio journalism for 20 years. So when a deal came my way to get the MM paperback of the first of this series, I jumped at it. I wasn't expecting a lot, but I was pleasantly surprised by how fast a read this was, and the shimmering quality of the prose that moved a slick plot along with rapid pace. Here's the blurb: Publisher's Weekly: Vaughn's entertaining fantasy debut introduces Kitty Norville, a closeted werewolf who hosts a popular Denver radio program called The Midnight Hour. During her show, Kitty takes phone calls from listeners (not all of whom are human) while trying to maintain her secret identity. Unfortunately, the local vampire crime family wants her show canceled and has hired someone to kill her. In fact, it's during the course of Kitty's dramatic on-air conversation with her would-be assassin that she reveals to listeners that she is, indeed, a werewolf. Eventually, local police enlist her to help track down a serial killer who exhibits werewolflike tendencies. While Kitty's occasional neediness, snide tone and attempts at werewolf wit can grate, this remains a surprisingly human tale. Blurbs from Charlaine Harris and L.A. Banks will cue their readers.
I agree with PW that Kitty's neediness and snide tone, not to mention her shallow judgemental attitude and her cowardice in the face of her pack's alpha, Carl, who is an abusive asshat, grates the nerves and made me want to slap her, more than a few times. She just couldn't stop herself from "melting" every time Carl came after her as a human or a wolf, and forced himself on her. She seems to find this rape sexy or romantic, which is revolting at best. Still, she does take self defense classes and tries, toward the end of the book, to defend herself. She even manages to leave her horrible pack leaders, though I have a feeling that they're not done with her, and they will be trying to kill her in further iterations of the series. I have 5 more of these books on hold at the library, so we'll see if Kitty manages to "wolf up" as the story progresses. I'd give this first book a B, and recommend it to those who are into paranormal fantasy and radio broadcasting.
Boss Fight: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress Volume 2 by Annie Bellet is books 5-7 in an omnibus of this paranormal urban fantasy series. I read volume 1 of this series last month, and I LOVED it, so I was thrilled when I read that the second omnibus had come out this month. I am a big fan of Jade Crow and her friends, and the last book of the first omnibus left us with something of a cliffhanger. Here's the blurb:
This is the second volume of the USA TODAY bestselling fantasy series combining the next three books—Heartache, Thicker Than Blood, and Magic to the Bone. Separated from her friends, their fates unknown, and without her magic, Jade must stop fighting on Samir’s terms or else her next battle will be her last.Level up. Or die.
Jade Crow and her friends faced their worst enemy, her ex-boyfriend Samir, the most powerful sorcerer in the world, and they now lie defeated, and flung across the wilderness.
Samir had trained Jade to be a sorceress, to mold her in his image, until she rejected him and escaped here to Wylde. Jade must stop fighting on Samir’s terms or else her next battle will be her last.
Leveled up and wiser, Jade stands a chance this time, if she follows the true calling of her power, and changes the playing field. Everything has been leading up to this…Roll for initiative!
This is the omnibus of the next three volumes in the USA TODAY bestselling fantasy series, Heartache; Thicker Than Blood; Magic to the Bone, collected together for the first time in print.
Other than the fact that I have to ask my teenage son the meaning of some of the gaming terms in these books, I really enjoy reading them and watching the protagonist fight evil, in the person of Samir the evil sorcerer, Jades ex boyfriend. SPOILER, Jade discovers in these three books that she isn't just a sorceress, she's a dragon, who apparently have all kinds of magic and sorcery at their fingertips. She's able to use all of the might and magic at her disposal to kill the evil sorcerer, but when it comes to obliterating him, she's told that she can't do this, because it will tear a hole in the fabric that is keeping magic from flowing back into the world and allowing the supernaturals to take over. So she contains Samir's heart in her talisman, and I would bet that decision is going to come back to haunt her in upcoming books. I'd give the second omnibus an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first book, because, like potato chips, these books are addictive and you can't devour just one. 
The Yonhahlosse Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani (who is a woman) was a dollar store purchase, made all the better by the fact that it was large print, and contained it's own ribbon book mark. Not being a fan of formal horseback riding/dressage, I put off reading this book for months, but finally decided to take the plunge last weekend. Though the prose was sporadic and the plot thin in spots, the story itself could have been saved by having characters who were relatable. Unless you are, or were, a wealthy snobbish young woman who is a twin, horse crazy and who is from a cruel and distant Florida family during the Great Depression, this novel will remain somewhat impenitrable and frustrating. Here's the blurb, via Publisher's Weekly: The setup for this debut novel is delectable: it’s 1930, the country is tumbling into depression, and 15-year-old Thea has done something bad enough to get her sent from Florida to an elite year-round “camp” in North Carolina where, at least at first, the effects of the economy are kept at bay while affluent Southern girls become “ladies.” DiScalfani, who grew up around horses, is at her best when recreating the intuition and strength of girls in the saddle. Otherwise Thea’s narration feels flattened by history and the characters she encounters never achieve dimensionality. The build toward the revelation of Thea’s crime is drawn out, sapping the reveal of drama, but the account of Thea’s emerging sexuality provides meaningful reflections on the potency of teenage desire. Here too, however, DiScalfani seems distanced from her characters, relying on declarations such as “I was not weak,” “I was angry,” and “I was glum” when exploring the tension of conflicting feelings. Though there are many twists and turns, the prose numbs the pleasure of reading about even the most forbidden of Thea’s trysts
I didn't find the set up of spoiled and nasty depression-era teenage girls (and boys) all that delectable, I found it sad and horrifying, by turns. SPOILERS AHEAD. What really chapped my hide was that readers were supposed to be thrilled or at least titillated by Thea's sexual escapades with her first cousin, a thug named Georgie who gets bludgeoned by Thea's bizarre twin brother Sam, who finds her nearly inflagrante with their cousin and tries to kill him out of jealousy (ewww...disgusting and vile). Once she's exiled to the riding camp, she proves that she still has no consideration for the consequences of her actions when she starts an affair with the married headmaster of the school. It is intimated that she gets pregnant and loses the baby later on, but she lies about whom she's been having sex with in order to be booted out of the camp and sent home, so she can see her brother. She discovers that he no longer cares about her, and her horrible mother, who told her (in front of her brother and father) that boys matter and girls do not, continues to be the worst parent in existence by letting her know that they had to sell their huge mansion on acres of land with orange groves because Georgie, when he awoke from the head trauma, was never "right in the head" again, and dies not long after, and Thea's father sends them money every month as a penance for Thea's actions (they don't know that Sam was the one who hit him with the butt of a rifle, but even if they did know, they'd blame it on Thea because she's expendable Oh, and it also doesn't matter that Georgie was the one who deflowered her, because boys are never at fault for having sex, but girls must refrain from all desire.) There really was no one to like in this too-long book, other than Sassy, a rich girl who actually stands by Thea and isn't as much of a jerk as all the other girls. Everyone at the camp is judged according to their looks and their wealth/status. When the depression hits and more than a few girls have to leave because their families have lost everything, there's little sympathy for them, and they are seen as somehow "less" than those girls whose families still have money. The ugliness continues when one of the girls kisses Thea, and Thea tells her, later in the book that she must hide her lesbianism, because being "odd" is not good, and she and her family will be punished if she's found out. I can't give this novel anything higher than a C, and I would only recommend it to those who are in dire need of historical YA fiction about horseback riding camps. 
Lockwood and Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud was, in contrast to the above, a pleasure to read. A YA supernatural "Scooby gang" mystery, I was enthralled by Stroud's fine prose and fun, fast plot.  Here's the blurb:
A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren't exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.
In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall's legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?
Readers who enjoyed the action, suspense, and humor in Jonathan Stroud's internationally best-selling Bartimaeus books will be delighted to find the same ingredients, combined with deliciously creepy scares, in his thrilling and chilling Lockwood & Co. series.
I loved plucky Lucy and how she did her best to use her talents to help solve the case, and she used her wits to keep up with the nasty bully George, (who, because he's mean is of course fat) and the distracted genius of Lockwood.  There are lots of paranormal goodies in the book to keep even the most jaded teenager reading and engaged, and I found the premise that only children can see and eradicate ghosts and ghouls to be fascinating. I liked it, too, that children and teens are the only ones who have strong psychic powers, for the most part, and that inevitably the adults who are supposed to be supporting and training them often let them down or see them as expendable. This nifty little novel deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who likes historical YA supernatural fantasy/mystery.

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