Sunday, March 19, 2017

Secret Garden Books Celebrates 40th Birthday, The House on Tradd Street by Karen White, The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown and Prospero in Hell by L Jagi Lamplighter

Happy 40th Birthday, Secret Garden Books!
One of the first bookstores that I encountered (other than the Couth Buzzard Used Bookstore) was Secret Garden Books, which was not too far from the apartment complex I was living in at the time. They had bricks out front of the store which would "sing" when you walked over them. This was in 1991. I've visited the bookstore since then, several times, even after it moved to the downtown Ballard corridor. The last time I visited was in 2014, and I spent way too much on new books. It's still thriving, and is still a great community bookstore.

Congratulations to Secret Garden Books
celebrating its 40th anniversary on Saturday, April 1, from 10 a.m.-7
p.m., with cake, prizes, a homemade photo booth--and "mutual adoration."
Customers are encouraged to bring memories, "and they will be shared
creatively with all."

The store has always been owned by women, beginning as a children's
bookstore and becoming a general bookstore in 2000. It continues to have
an emphasis on children's books.

Christy McDanold, who bought Secret Garden Books 22 years ago, recalled
that the store then had "no lease, no books, no staff; just the name of
a bookshop that had been beloved for many years.  But I knew even then
that I had taken on more than just another retail business.

"For me and the two women who owned the shop before me, the Secret
Garden has been a labor of love; love of books, love of people and love
of the community that we have fostered throughout the years. The Secret
Garden is a place where friends meet, families come on days off from
school, and no day goes by without a new friend or an old one cheering
us, telling us that this is their favorite place to buy books.

"Over the years, we have presented inspiring authors and illustrators to
lucky audiences all over the region, delivered fabulous book fairs to
local schools and contributed to hundreds of other fundraisers in a
myriad of ways.

"We have also hired scores of young people, sometimes for their very
first job, sending them on with new skills.

"Yet I truly believe that our most enduring contribution to our
community is our brick and mortar store, filled with beautiful books
carefully chosen with customers old and new in mind, and booksellers
ready and highly capable of helping each customer find just the right
one.  Every day we open our doors the Secret Garden Bookshop is part of
the civic and economic vibrancy that IS community."

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White was a book that I was going to purchase, because, with its blend of history and mystery and ghosts, it sounded right up my alley. I ended up getting a copy from the MV Library, and I was thankful that I did so, because the book wasn't what I thought it would be at all. The protagonist, for all we're supposed to think she's a "modern" woman who doesn't kowtow to anyone and makes her own decisions, is actually pretty comfortable with allowing a man she barely knows to tell her what to do. She also allows this guy, who is pretty obnoxious, full access to her home, even as he pursues her sexually, when she makes it clear she's not interested. Not only is Jack (who gets away with a lot because he's handsome) a stalker jerk, but there's another guy who is obviously out for her money/stolen diamonds who makes it a point to woo Melaine, who is supposedly level headed and practical, but only to a point. Once handsome men are involved, apparently she becomes an idiot, and allows all kinds of evil creepers to be in her life, though she knows nothing about them and they obviously don't have her best interests in mind. Oh, and Melanie can forgive her alcoholic, deadbeat dad anything when he comes crawling back into her life, telling her that he kept her mother's letters from her, allowing her to feel abandoned by both of her parents. She forgives her scumbag father, but not her mother, whom she refuses to talk to or hear her side of the story at all. WTF? Why the double standard and sexism? Anyway, here's the blurb:  
The brilliant, chilling debut of Karen White's New York Times bestselling Tradd Street series, featuring a Charleston real estate agent who loves old houses—and the secret histories inside them.
Practical Melanie Middleton hates to admit she can see ghosts. But she's going to have to accept it. An old man she recently met has died, leaving her his historic Tradd Street home, complete with housekeeper, dog—and a family of ghosts anxious to tell her their secrets.
Enter Jack Trenholm, a gorgeous writer obsessed with unsolved mysteries. He has reason to believe that diamonds from the Confederate Treasury are hidden in the house. So he turns the charm on with Melanie, only to discover he's the smitten one...
It turns out Jack's search has caught the attention of a malevolent ghost. Now, Jack and Melanie must unravel a mystery of passion, heartbreak—and even murder.
The prose was simplistic but clean, and the plot swift enough to keep the pages turning, but I had serious reservations about nearly all the characters in this pot boiler of a novel. It deserves a lower grade, but I'm going to give it a B-, and recommend it as a beach read for those who don't like their mysteries, or their characters, too complex or rational. 
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown was another book I was slated to buy, but borrowed from the library instead. Again, I was glad that I did. The prose is rich and lush in this two POV novel, which switches back and forth from Madeleine in 1999 to Margie, her grandmother in 1919. Madeleine (I'll call her Maddy) is a visual artist, a painter, who has been forced by her cold and proper b*tch of a mother and her cruel and mentally abusive husband to starve herself and give up painting in order to be the perfect society wife. Margie has also been forced by her horrible parents to stop reading and writing stories and instead look for a husband, or they'll force her to marry an old man with money, just to increase their own fortune and to get her out of the way. Margie is also considered "too different" and "unfit" for the marriage market because she's stout, and not some delicate petite flower with no brains. Fortunately, her younger cousin needs a chaperone for a trip to Paris, and Margie is tapped to go with her, and while there, Margie totally wimps out and allows her cousin to steal all the money and go out on benders and do whatever she wants with a group of disreputable friends. Margie, though she's a coward who lies to her parents so she can stay in Paris, falls in love with the city of light, and ends up taking a job so that she can stay there and write. Inevitably, she meets an artist (who lies to her and is actually an aristocrat) who gets her pregnant and then basically dumps her. Meanwhile, our modern day heroine Maddy is trying in a feeble way to extricate herself from her evil husband and start painting again, and while she's helping her mother move out of the family mansion, she finds her grandmother's journals about her time in Paris, and they inspire her to defy convention (eventually) and start life anew as the artist she was meant to be. Here's the blurb:  
The Light of Paris is the miraculous new novel from New York Times–bestselling author Eleanor Brown, whose debut, The Weird Sisters, was a sensation beloved by critics and readers alike.
Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.

In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.
Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.
Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.
My problem with this book as the same one that I had with "Tradd Street," in that the female protagonists didn't seem to have any spine or guts or self esteem enough to stand up to their crappy parents and/or husbands and judgemental society friends. Both Margie and Maddy needed someone outside themselves to tell them they were worthwhile, beautiful and talented. And it's only after Maddy discovers, through her grandma's journals, that her mother is the bastard child of a Parisian artist that she stops being a heinous b*tch and allows her daughter to divorce her "perfect" abusive husband.  I really felt like Brown had to stretch for the eventual HEA, which felt rushed, like an afterthought or something the author was contracted to do. Still, I liked the person that Maddy was by the end of the book, and for that reason, and for the lovely prose, I'd give this novel a B+ and recommend it to anyone who feels like they're living the life someone else has chosen for them.
Propsero in Hell by L Jagi Lamplighter is the second book in this trilogy that is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with a number of mythological beings, gods and monsters thrown in for good measure. The prose is slightly formal in tone and structure, and the plot follows suit, so it takes a bit more time to delve into these novels than usual, but I felt it was worth it for the great characters alone. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:  
In this epic sequel to 2009's Prospero Lost, Lamplighter continues the Amberesque adventures of an ancient family caught up in matters of mythic significance. The immortal sorcerer Prospero is missing, sucked into Hell after one of his plans went awry. His far-flung, quarrelsome children have come together for the first time in years to face down the ever-present threat of the Three Shadowed Ones, who hunt them for the legendary magical artifacts they possess. As Miranda, Prospero's ever-dutiful eldest child, struggles to keep her siblings in line, she's repeatedly thrown off guard by a series of unsettling revelations. The only false note is a pivotal scene where a monster rapes a woman to steal her power. The story is convoluted and occasionally overwrought, but the rich imagery, fast pace, and masterful use of mythology make this a real page-turner. 
The whole Prospero clan make appearances in this sequel, and while we learn a great deal more about each one, what their powers are, what they've been up to in the last few hundred years and what all their power struggles are (and their beefs with one another and Miranda) we don't actually get to the Hell part of the title until the final few chapters of the book, and even then, Papa Prospero doesn't make an appearance at all.  While I gather that's to be a big part of the final book, I wouldn't have named this book "Prospero in Hell" if there's no sign of Prospero in Hell. I could have done without all the convoluted machinations of the various siblings, who seem rather petty and ugly, which seems odd considering they're all immortal and have had a lot of time to mature. Still, I love Miranda's steadfast nature, especially in the face of her horrible siblings, none of whom was on hand to help her when she was raped by a demon, which seemed a bit too convenient, again. While I don't buy Miranda becoming so enamored of the elf/demon and of her old flame in disguise, I can imagine she'd get lonely after so many years of shouldering all the responsibility for the family business without any real help from her bizarre sister and brothers. However, I do plan on reading the final book in the series, and meanwhile, I'll give this one a B+ and recommend it to anyone who finds modern reboots of myths fascinating.

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