Sunday, March 12, 2017

ABA Condemns Restrictions on Freedom of the Press, Like Water for Chocolate on TV, Doppelganger by Marie Brennan, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer, Propero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter and The Fiercest Joy by Shana Abe

While I don't normally post political items on this blog, I worked as a journalist for 30 years, and I find the current administration's restrictions on freedom of the press to be appalling. So when I saw this ABA condemnation of the attacks on the first amendment, I felt that it would fit in with the general theme of my book blog.

ABA and Others Condemn Administration Attacks on Press Freedom

The American Booksellers Association has joined more than 80 other book,
free expression and press organizations in condemning the Trump
administration's attacks on press freedom.

The joint statement says in part, "we are alarmed by the efforts of the
President and his administration to demonize and marginalize the media
and to undermine their ability to inform the public about official
actions and policies," citing, among other things, the President's
assertion that CNN promotes "fake news"; that the media "manipulated"
images of the inauguration; that the media has covered up terrorist
attacks; that the media is "failing" and "dishonest"; and that the New
York Times, CBS, CNN, ABC and NBC News are "the enemy of the American

"The job of the press is not to please the President but to inform the
public, a function that is essential to democracy," the statement
continued, noting with concern that "the expressions of disdain for the
press and its role in democracy by federal officials send a signal to
state and local officials," who in some cases have acted in
unconstitutional ways against the press.

"Our Constitution enshrines the press as an independent watchdog and
bulwark against tyranny and official misconduct. Its function is to
monitor and report on the actions of public officials so that the public
can hold them accountable," the statement added. "The effort to
delegitimize the press undermines democracy, and officials who challenge
the value of an independent press or question its legitimacy betray the
country's most cherished values and undercut one of its most significant
strengths.... We condemn in the strongest possible terms all efforts by
elected and appointed officials to penalize, delegitimize, or intimidate
members of the press."

Other signatories include the American Library Association, the
Association of American University Presses, the Authors Guild, the
Freedom to Read Foundation and PEN America.

I was a big fan of this book when it first came out, and though the movie wasn't as good as the book, I'm still excited about it becoming a TV program. 

Like Water for Chocolate
Laura Esquivel's novel that was previously adapted as a 1992 hit movie,
will become a TV project. Indiewire reported that Endemol Shine Studios
has acquired the rights to the novel as "a global television franchise.
The book will be turned into an English language series, but Endemol
Shine plans to adapt it in other languages, as well."
"It fills me with joy to know that Like Water for Chocolate will be
brought to television screens throughout the world," Esquivel said.
Endemol Shine Studios president Sharon Hall noted that the "opportunity
to adapt this beloved novel is a privilege. Laura's epic love story has
all the ingredients of a breakthrough drama."
Doppelganger by Marie Brennan was an impulse buy at the local library book sale, because it looked like it had a kick-butt heroine, and I love fantasy with female protagonists who don't rely on men to save them. The story takes place in a sort of feudal Japanese society, with witches and warriors and politics that are reminiscent of The Giver (and all the other novels that I've read about societies that kill babies/children who are "different" or of the wrong gender). Though the book had a slow start, it picked up after the first 50 pages and went swiftly along the zippy plot thereafter. Here's the blurb:  
When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. But what happens when the doppelganger survives? Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic. Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her. 
Brennan's prose was workmanlike, but became verbose in spots, so it slowed down the whole novel. Still, interesting tale that held my attention and had a satisfying ending, though there is a sequel. I'd give it a B, and recommend it to anyone who likes ninja and witch women working together in a fantasy setting.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer is March's book for my Tuesday Night Book Group at the local library. I wanted to like this book so badly, though it's non fiction and I am generally a bigger fan of fiction. Still, it was written by a journalist, and, as I've been a journalist for many years, I want to support my fellow ink-stained wretches in any way possible. Unfortunately, this book is less about librarians in war-torn Africa and the Middle East than it is about the rise of various factions and thuggish war lords of Al Qaeda, the predecessor to ISIS, the terrorist groups responsible for hundreds of bombings and deaths of so many Americans and Europeans. Hammer goes into detail on how these fundamentalist Islamic extremists became such murderous mad men, and he doesn't spare readers any of the horrors of rapings/beatings/murders of women, children and men who are seen as the enemy of these evil religious fanatics. That wasn't what I signed up for when I picked up this book, however, I signed up for a book about librarians saving ancient Middle Eastern books from these religious fanatics, so as to save their culture from ignorance. I was not prepared to read about horrific battle after horrific beheading. If I want to be shocked and horrified by what goes on in the Mideast, all I have to do is turn on the TV or read a newspaper. I read for enjoyment and entertainment, and I don't find this kind of book even remotely enjoyable. I find it disgusting and depressing. I was angry, too, that the author had obviously used his research for articles on the Mideast/African Islamic fanatic groups as filler for this book, instead of sticking to the subject of saving books. It was a bait and switch, and along with page after page of blatherings about these thugs and their leaders, left me bored and disgusted. Here's the blurb: To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.
In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.
Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.  
I disagree with the above blurb, in that Hammer didn't provide an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism at all. He just wrote a long-form story in order to make money off of publishing a book that used all his research from previously published articles. So he's lazy and disingenuous. I found the prose to be dull and there wasn't really much of a plot at all, and most of all, I didn't really care about Haidara and his minions scurrying around trying to save their old, bug-infested manuscripts. Part of good journalism is making the reader give a crap about your subject. One of the questions you have to answer with each story is WHY should anyone read this article, and WHY NOW, what makes it timely for them to spend precious time reading it? Most of the information in this book is dated, and the historical background only makes these warlords/religious extremists seem all the more pathetic, vile, cowardly and psychopathic. Therefore I'd give this book a D, and I can't really recommend it to anyone, as I hated reading it.
Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter is a reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with a fully modern cast of gods and monsters. Like Neil Gaiman's American Gods, readers discover that there are more family members to the Prospero clan than just Miranda and the monster Caliban and the fairy Ariel. In this reboot of the tale, once off the Island, Prospero had several other wives who produced demigod children, all of whom have their area of magical power and expertise. Prospero also founded two corporations, one that deals in magic that keeps elementals from destroying the earth and its inhabitants, and the other a regular business that brings in money. Unfortunately, when Prospero is kidnapped and thrust into Hell, Miranda takes her embodied detective-fairy Mab and seeks a way to get her father out of his prison, while also warning her brothers and sisters that their family is being hunted, and their staffs stolen. Equal parts mystery and fantasy, this fun book engaged me right away, and though Miranda seems a bit cold and aloof, she is a fascinating protagonist in her own right. Here's the blurb: Miranda, daughter of the magician Prospero from Shakespeare's Tempest, lives in the modern age. Upon discovering that her father has gone missing, she must discover the location of her other siblings and convince them to save their father, before the Three Shadowed Ones destroy the Family Prospero. She is accompanied by her company gumshoe, an airy spirit stuck in a body that looks a bit like Humphrey Bogart. Humor, mystery, wonder. Publisher's Weekly:Lamplighter's powerful debut draws inspiration from Shakespeare and world mythology, infused with humor and pure imagination. Four centuries after the events of The Tempest, Prospero's daughter Miranda runs Prospero Inc., a company with immense influence in the supernatural world. When she discovers a mysterious warning from her father, who has gone missing, Miranda sets forth accompanied by Mab, an Aerie Spirit manifested as a hard-boiled PI, to warn her far-flung, enigmatic siblings that the mysterious Shadowed Ones plan to steal their staffs of power. Every encounter brings new questions, new problems and a greater sense of what's at stake. Featuring glimpses into a rich and wondrous world of the unseen, this is no ordinary urban fantasy, but a treasure trove of nifty ideas and intriguing revelations. A cliffhanger ending will leave readers panting for sequels. 
The prose was clean and crisp, which helped the labyrinthine plot move along at a clipped pace. Though I found the brother Mephisto extremely irritating and ridiculous, I know that he was playing the part of the "trickster" god in the pantheon, and was therefore necessary to the plot. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes rebooted tales of old gods thrust into the new age. 

I've saved the best for last! The Fiercest Joy by Shana Abe was one of the best books I've read in the past 9 months. Beautifully written with Abe's lush and elegant prose, Fiercest Joy brings the tale of Lora the drakon to a close. Here's the blurb:
In the autumn of 1915, Eleanore Jones is on the verge of becoming who she was always meant to be: a drákon of stunning beauty and strength. She has discovered she is not the last dragon in the world, as she'd long thought: not one but two drákon brothers vie for her heart. And just as Lora begins to embrace her destiny, yet another drákon enters her life-another female who, like her, has disguised herself as a student at the prestigious Iverson School for Girls.
It's no coincidence.
Secrets come unraveled; time comes undone. Soon all four of the drákon caught in Iverson's mysterious, enchanted world are going to have to confront a new enemy: an army of dragons, come to steal Lora away-and destroy anyone who attempts to stop them.
I was fascinated that her former lover Jesse the star came back into play, and I was also intrigued by Armand's (her fiancee) ability to turn precious stones, such as diamonds, into screaming alarms that can send dragons mad. Aubrey, Armand's brother, was also a wonderful character who manages to help the lovers, though he's been crippled by being a POW during WW1. The whole part with Eleanor's mother being a time traveler was strange, but somehow it worked, in the end, though I had my reservations about any mother who would treat her daughter so poorly. It also bothered me that all the drakon seek to use Eleanor, to entrap her as breeding stock and force her to marry a cruel and terrible alpha drakon of their choosing. Fortunately, the HEA managed to get Eleanor and Armand out from under these terrible people, all while closing down the asylum that served as a torture chamber for experimentation on children thought to be expendable orphans. All in all, a magnificent read, well worth an A, and recommended to anyone who loves well-written fantasy with romantic themes woven into the stories. 

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