Thursday, February 16, 2017

Powell's City of Books CEO Miriam Sontz, Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison, The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan, Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn and The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser

Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, is my Mecca. I go there at least once a year to take in all the books I've been hoarding for credit, and to get most of the books on my yearly wish list. I also go to mingle with my bookish tribe of bibliophiles, authors and booksellers, all of whom understand and encourage my love of reading and my lust for new books to savor at home and everywhere else. I would love to meet Ms Sontz, and tell her how much I look forward to visiting Powells every summer, and thank her for creating such a wonderful place for bibliophiles to wander among the stacks, collect their latest bookish object of desire and dreamily read in all the nooks and crannies of the store. Powells is my happy place!

At some conference, the final keynote was delivered by Powell's Books CEO Miriam Sontz, who was introduced by Chuck Robinson, who called her "the E.F. Hutton of bookselling," because, even though she is selective in sharing her views on the trade, "when Miriam Sontz talks, people listen."

True to form, Sontz said she most wanted to get to the q&a to hear the
attendees' stories, but she shared a few of her own. In essence, she
said, the experience of those who come into Powell's--just two blocks
away from the PubWest conference hotel--comes down to the 30- to
45-second interaction they have most likely with a cashier, who are
usually the newest members of the bookstore team. Because of that, she
said, she makes sure to meet with every employee during their three-day
training so that she can share the store's mission as both book lovers
and a business. "We want to make books objects of desire," she said.
Powell's also is proud to have been the first indie bookseller to offer
its employees health benefits, and provides childcare subsidies and
other things that help establish bookselling as a viable career option
for its staff.

Sontz shared two recent stories from customers about why they love
Powell's. The first was from an Iraq War veteran who said that after
coming back from his second deployment, Powell's was the only place he
felt safe. The second was from a recently divorced woman who knew she
needed to "be in the world, but was not feeling of the world," who said
a copy of The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama fell at her feet while
in the store, so she sat down and read for two hours without anyone
bothering her. "I never asked if she bought the book," said Sontz, but
she said the woman told her she went to a Buddhist center the next day
and it transformed her life.

Sontz described Walter Powell as a curmudgeon and a schmoozer who
founded the store in his mid-60s, and would sit outside and cajole
passersby into coming in. "His second love was buying a book for a buck
and selling it for three," she said. Those two traits make up Powell's
Books' DNA, she said. "You can't fake passion," she added--passion being
another trait that indie booksellers and the indie publishers of PubWest
have had in common for its 40 years. --Bridget Kinsella 
Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison was recommended from a book website (I think it was Book Buzz) in a list of books with larger women protagonists. Though it's a straight romance novel, and I prefer my romance in hybrid form (ie Science fiction/Romance, or Fantasy/Romance), I though the plot sounded like fun, and the protagonist Ellis, who owns a Plus Sized Clothing boutique, sounded like someone I'd like to get to know. A bit over 350 pages, this was a chunky paperback that was surprisingly well written and plotted, though I became a bit frustrated with Ellis, because she seemed too insecure and immature at times to be a former lawyer running her own business. Here's the blurb:
Ellis Garrett is dumping her critical boyfriend, opening a plus-size clothing store, and starting a blog―all to spread the word that fashion shouldn't require a size-two body, and happiness should allow for the occasional cupcake. Or two. But is indulging fantasies about her sister's long-ago ex, the still-hunky Michael Edwards, biting off more than she can chew?
Mike must be losing his detective's touch. He doesn't recognize Ellis when he bumps into her at Size Me Up, and he certainly doesn't remember his ex-girlfriend's outspoken sister being so irresistible. Her curves are indeed dangerous―and so is her wit. Could it be that Ellis is his Perfect Fit? One thing's for sure: Mike will make it his sworn duty to find out… Publisher's Weekly: Big, bold, hilariously flawed personalities surround this contemporary debut's plus-sized heroine, who swings between her outer mean girl and inner insecurities in a playful, optimistic story that shows how loving yourself is the first step in letting someone love you back. Cookie-loving, weekday-dieting Ellis Garret has rewritten her life by dumping her critical boyfriend, starting a pro-fat blog, and opening a clothing store for women of size. A chance meeting with her difficult sister's ex, Det. Mike Edwards, sets Ellis's heart pounding, but it takes her socially awkward dad, radical feminist mom, shop employees, and Mike's best friend to convince her that this hunky player might be interested in a girl like her. Generic sex scenes show Jamison less skilled in writing hot passion than clever banter, but the emotions are real and will have readers rooting for Mike and Ellis to get the happiness they deserve.
 I actually preferred the "generic" sex scenes, because most romance novels these days go way too far in their sex scenes, making their romance novels into erotica at best and pornography at worst. I am not a real fan of pornography, though light erotica in a novel doesn't put me off as long as it's integrated into the story. Another annoying part of the book was Ellis "dieting" during the week and supposedly splurging on the weekends, when in reality she splurges more than once in the course of the week, and readers get the idea that this isn't the first time she's done so. Her self delusion made me cranky, because Ellis doesn't sound like a really large gal, only one who is slightly, and very prettily, plump. Someone who is truly larger would have a harder time accepting themselves, and yet Ellis seems to struggle constantly to believe she's beautiful and sexy as she is, when it is clear that Mike the cop is warm for her form. Meanwhile, Ellis has a father who is autistic and a mother who enables Ellis's horrible sister, who never gets any better in the book, and whom I was hoping would die a gruesome death by the end of the book, because she's such a nutjob, bent on hurting Ellis because Ellis's adoptive dad appears to love Ellis more. Still, the book had a great HEA, and things worked out, finally, so I'd give it an A, and recommend it to all those who feel like they've been overlooked by love because of being overweight.

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan was another novel from the aforementioned list of plus sized protagonists, and as this is a historical romance, I was intrigued enough to grab a copy from the library. Due to the florid 19th century literary prose style, I had a hard time getting into this book, but once I got the hang of the prose, I was able to sail along on this swift little frigate of a plot. Jane Fairfield, the protagonist, has made it her mission to repel all suitors so that she can stay with her cousin Emily, who has a mild form of epilepsy, and is being "treated" and tortured by every quack "doctor" or "scientist" who comes along, due to the girls Uncle Titus being a complete scumbag who enjoys experimenting on young women. He wants to see Emily either "cured" so that she can marry a rich man, or institutionalized where he won't have to deal with her. Meanwhile, he keeps her locked away from everyone and everything, while Jane smuggles her novels and bribes as many of the quacks as possible to leave Emily alone, as she's only 18 and already covered in scars both mental and physical. Here's the blurb:
Miss Jane Fairfield has made a career of social disaster. She wears outrageous gowns and says even more outrageous things. The only reason she's invited anywhere is because of her immense dowry--which is all part of her plan to avoid marriage and keep the fortune-hunters at bay.
Mr. Oliver Marshall is the illegitimate son of a duke. His acceptance in society is tenuous as it is. If he wants any kind of career at all, he must do everything right. He doesn't need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn't need to fall in love with her. But there's something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can't resist...even though it could mean the ruin of them both.
I loved Jane's wit and pluck and her hideous gowns, as well as Oliver's often hilarious descriptions of said gowns color. I thought Oliver, as a charming redhead with ambition and intelligence was sexy as heck, and he and Jane working together to thwart the evil aristocrats who want to humiliate Jane was like watching Emma Peel and John Steed from the Avengers working a case like a well oiled machine together. Delicious fun, and even the sex scenes were tasteful and woven into the plot deftly. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which was a surprise, and I'd give it an A with a recommendation to anyone who likes saucy heroines with wit and compassion and the heroes who fall in love with them.

Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn is the final book in the Kitty Norville series, and as such, it's a real page-turner full of action and completion of loose ends and plot points that have been left dangling in the previous 13 books. Here's the blurb: It's all come down to this, following the discoveries made by Cormac in Low Midnight, Kitty and her allies are ready to strike. But, when their assassination attempt on the evil vampire Dux Bellorum fails, Kitty finds herself running out of time. The elusive vampire lord has begun his apocalyptic end game, and Kitty still doesn't know where he will strike.
Meanwhile, pressure mounts in Denver as Kitty and her pack begin to experience the true reach of Dux Bellorum's cult. Outnumbered and outgunned at every turn, the stakes have never been higher for Kitty. She will have to call on allies both old and new in order to save not just her family and friends, but the rest of the world as well. Publisher's Weekly:
In this climactic 14th and final entry (after Low Midnight) in the saga of Kitty Norville, a werewolf and radio talk show host, Vaughn brings her characters together for a showdown that’s solid but not spectacular. Kitty’s archenemy, the vampire Roman, is ready to trigger his apocalyptic plan, and only Kitty and her ragtag band of allies can hope to thwart him. But as the two sides move and countermove, it becomes clear that unexpected players are influencing the conflict, changing the rules in strange new ways. Vaughn pulls together a number of ongoing story threads to wrap things up in a fairly neat package; while it’s not the end of Kitty’s universe, there is a satisfying sense of finality. The stakes are high, the action is fierce, and the peculiar core concept of a werewolf with a talk show miraculously continues to work. Longtime readers will enjoy the sense of payoff—especially when certain characters meet much-deserved fates and others get their happy-for-nows—and they’ll be eager to see where Vaughn goes next. 
There was so much going on in this book that I literally sat down to read just one chapter and didn't look up until I was 3/4 of the way through the book. So much so that Kitty's final battle with Roman, in which he more or less offs himself when his plans have been foiled, was almost anti-climatic. I know that I was supposed to be surprised that angels showed up, but I wasn't, and I thought their gift of a year off of lycanthropy (werewolf changes) for Kitty to get pregnant bordered on cheesy, but, since it was necessary for the HEA, I shrugged it off. I was glad to see Rick the vampire come back for one last bout, and though I don't think I will ever "get" the character of Cormac, he at least did some good here in helping Kitty and the pack during the final battle. All in all, I'd give this book and the whole series an A, though some of the books were uneven, but I'd recommend it to anyone who likes movies like Underworld and Werewolves of London. 

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser was translated from German and is, like Cornelia Funke's YA fantasy novels, beautifully bizarre. Here's the blurb:
Amy Lennox doesn't know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother's childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.
Amy's grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House—but not in the usual way. It turns out that Amy is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside. As thrilling as Amy's new power is, it also brings danger: someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts—at whatever cost. Publishers Weekly: Fifteen-year-old Amy Lennox has grown up in Germany, but after a traumatic spring she talks her mother into taking them back to her birthplace, the island of Stormsay off the coast of Scotland. Amy’s family and another clan, the Macalisters, are keepers of a secret library of texts that date back centuries, and they can “jump” into stories, interacting with their characters, so long as they stay “in the margins, between the lines.” But a thief is also jumping into books and stealing the authors’ ideas, ruining the books. Amy and Will Macalister try to solve the mystery before more stories are destroyed. Amy also learns the identity of her father in a less-developed story line. The lore of the two families and German author Gläser’s descriptions of Stormsay and the library are meticulous and moody, creating a gothic atmosphere that serves this star-crossed love story well. Meetings with book characters, like Kipling’s Shere Khan and Dickens’s Oliver Twist, offer entertaining moments that balance the grimmer elements of the story as it builds to a bittersweet ending
An evil princess manipulates Will into stealing ideas and when Will realizes this, he takes steps to ensure it never happens again. I found the whole idea of book jumping fascinating, though I also found Amy's easy acceptance of her mother's love affair with a book character to be somewhat beyond belief. The fact that this book character is her father also beggars belief, because really, how would a fictional character inseminate a real live woman? This brings me to the realization that I didn't like Amy's mother, or her grandmother very much, they seemed like selfish, arrogant people who were only interested in using Amy. But none of the adults in this book come off looking good, they're all fairly nasty people, as is the other Macalister child, who is vituperative for no apparent reason.
Still, the prose was sterling and the plot didn't drag, though it had a number of twists and turns. I enjoyed the descriptions of meeting characters from so many different books, like the Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland. I was also amused that poor old Werther, from the Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, was right by Amy's side in the book world, ready to set aside his sorrows in order to help her vanquish evil. My best friend RM Larson would have loved that aspect of the book, as she was a huge Goethe fan. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who like fantasies about books, and also Harry Potter fans who enjoy fantastical settings with 'regular' characters. 

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