Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Craziness at Seattle Indie Bookstores, Tom Robbins, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and Thirsty by MT Anderson

I think I would have paid money to see John Irving and Hulk Hogan in the same bookstore together...their egos are so massive that they must have had to be on opposite sides of the store so as to not butt heads! I say this having interviewed Hulk Hogan back in 1986, and having read many an interview with John Irving. 

'Craziest Thing that's Happened' in Seattle Indies

In anticipation of Independent Bookstore Day, the Stranger checked in
with a few of Seattle's indies "and put their staff members on the spot:
What's the craziest thing that's happened in their store?
John Irving and Hulk Hogan with Third Place Books event manager Wendy
Among the booksellers highlighted were Elliott Bay Book Company
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452567 (" 'three of the most self-obsessed, self-referential writers on the planet' converged in one place");
University Book Store
camped outside overnight wearing a panda suit while waiting to meet
Hillary Clinton"); Third Place Books <http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452569
("booking John Irving and Hulk Hogan on the same night"); Seattle
("booksellers do seem to have a psychic connection to their customers");
Phinney Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452572 ("Not many people know this, but I dated Shel Silverstein from 1972 to 1975, when he lived at the Playboy Mansion."); and Secret Garden Books
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452573 ("Stephenie [Meyer], the bricks aren't making any sound.").

Tom Robbins is one of Seattle's favorite sons, and one of my favorite writers, mainly due to his mesmerizing prose style. His iconic books and movies are only part of the reason fans flock to see him wherever he lands, however. His loyalty to area bookstores and even to Seattle's drizzly skies are unmatched.

Image of the Day: Tom Robbins's Favorite Bookstore

On Independent Bookstore Day, author Tom Robbins appeared at Village
Books: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32499286,
Bellingham, Wash., to read his essay about why Village Books is his
favorite indie bookstore. His essay is one of the 93 tributes in My
Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read &
Shop edited by Ronald Rice. Pictured: co-owner Paul Hanson; local
musicians Jon Sampson and Lucas Hicks; Tom Robbins; and events
coordinator Claire McElroy-Chesson.

This weeks books can best be described as the great, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman was a huge surprise to me. I understood it to be a YA dystopian fantasy novel, but I didn't expect it to be so brilliantly written that I would literally not be able to put it down until the final page. This is one of those rare volumes that makes me laugh and cry and fall in love with reading stories all over again, and though it is about a very grim subject,(Death), it's actually quite lighthearted and amusing in places. Also, just as an added bonus, the cover art is gorgeous. Here's the blurb:
Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price. NYT Book Reviews: Shusterman…writes prose with the sort of spring in its step that says: "Stand back. I know what I'm doing"…Scythe is full of sly plot twists and absorbing set pieces. The novel is the first in a planned series, but one emerging theme has a nice sting to it: Maybe we should give computers the keys to what's left of the kingdom, because human beings can't be trusted.
I wholeheatedly agree with the NYT Review of Books, Shusterman definitely knows what he's doing with great prose and an exciting plot full of twists, as well as memorable, fascinating characters. My teenage son, who is at the age where books are passe, and he sees everything through the eyes of a jaded millennial, (ie anything that isn't a fast action videogame on a screen is boring and old fashioned), happened to pick up the book while I was reading it, and after just glancing through the first chapter, he was hooked, and kept telling me to read faster so I could pass the book along to him. He's been taking it with him to school and reading it every spare moment he gets, and exclaiming over the plot twists and the characters when he gets home from school. That in itself is a minor miracle that hasn't happened since Nick read, "The Martian" right after I did (and loved it). I found the whole concept of a utopia (this world wasn't actually a dystopia, in the literal sense, since everyone was healthy, well fed and immortal, unless chosen for gleaning by a Scythe), with a high price to be riveting, and the conscience or sociopathic lack of conscience in the Scythes to be equally fascinating. Citra and Rowan's paths diverge as apprentice Scythes, and their journeys are indicative of the way humans deal with death and the taking of life. I can't give high enough marks to this book, so just an A+ will have to suffice, along with a recommendation for later-stage, mature teens and everyone who has to face mortality.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas was another surprise, in that it was a step above the usual YA dystopian "orphan girl becomes assassin" novel. It tells you something about YA fiction with female protagonists that there are actually enough orphan girl assassin novels for this to be a a sub-genre of YA fantasy fiction. I read Maas' Court of Thorn and Roses, which I liked, and then I read Court of Mists and Fury, which I didn't, so I didn't read the third book in the series out of protest for the way the story had run off the rails. So I was a bit concerned, when tucking into this series, that it was going to follow the same pattern. Though I've not gotten the second book, Crown of Midnight, from the library yet, I have high hopes that it will be as entertaining and enthralling as Throne of Glass. Here is the blurb:
In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass—and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world. Publisher's Weekly: Readers seeking the political intrigue of Kristen Cashore’s Graceling and its sequels or the deadly competition at the heart of The Hunger Games will find both in Maas’s strong debut novel. Celaena Sardothien is considered the best assassin in Adarlan, and she has been condemned to the salt mines for her work. As the story opens, she is plucked from slow execution by the calculating crown prince, Dorian, to be his candidate for champion, competing against “thieves and assassins and warriors” to become an enforcer for the king. The stakes are freedom or death: win or return to the mines. Youthful captain Chaol is charged with preventing Celaena’s escape, and though she fantasizes about killing him on occasion, he becomes a far different target of her attention. This is not cuddly romance, but neither is it grim. Celaena is trained to murder, yet she hasn’t lost her taste for pretty dresses or good books, and a gleam of optimism tinges her outlook. Maas tends toward overdescription, but the verve and freshness of the narration make for a thrilling read.
I disagree that Maas's prose is overdescriptive, as I've read some seriously flowery prose in YA and adult novels over the years, and Maas keeps it in check, for the most part. That said, I was not too thrilled that she fell prey to the cliche of the teenage love triangle surrounding the female protagonist that is in every YA novel I've ever read. Because of course Celaena is beautiful (though she's been nearly starved and beaten to death in the salt mines) enough that the crown prince falls in love with her, as does the captain of the guard, Chaol, who seems to be a real jerk to her about 90 percent of the time. The fact that she's most interested in winning her freedom and not having romantic liaisons with either of them is telling. I also thought it was interesting that the original Fae queen of the realm has come back in spirit form to help Celaena, albeit on her own time table. I'd give this enthralling tale an A, with a recommendation to those who are interested in female protagonists who kick rump and are not so selfish that they forget that others were enslaved with them. I look forward to the sequel.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers is the sequel to the magnificent The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which I read and adored last year. Because I loved her first book, I was expecting this story to be a tale that took the characters from the Wayfarer and moved them forward in their lives. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and the story starts very slowly with Lovey's getting used to her new biomechanical body (which is illegal) on a world where lots of misfits live their lives. The mechanic charged with keeping her safe until she adjusts is Pepper, whose story we read in flashback chapters, and Blue, Pepper's boyfriend, whose story emerges alongside Peppers. Here's the blurb:
Embark on an exciting, adventurous, and dangerous journey through the galaxy with the motley crew of the spaceship Wayfarer in this fun and heart-warming space opera—the sequel to the acclaimed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.
Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for—and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.
A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to that beloved debut novel, and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.
Rosemary Harper is nowhere evident in this book at all, nor are any of the other crew of the Wayfarer, which is why, I suppose, it's considered a stand alone book. Still, I was disappointed and felt cheated by not reading about the crew and what is happening with them. Lovelace/Sidra isn't an exciting enough character to carry a novel, nor is Pepper's past as a clone slave on a backwater world where such life is considered expendable. The first few chapters are deadly dull, as nothing exciting really happens, and even then, Pepper's survival story as Jane is often tedious and lame. The prose is workmanlike, but the plot plods and gets stuck in details that don't enhance the story at all. So I'd give this non-sequel a B-, and only recommend it to those who are interested in AI and clones.

Thirsty by MT Anderson is one of those books that I feel like I've read before. It could be that I did read it and just forgot the plot, or it could be that it's so similar to other novels of this genre that it feels familiar. At any rate, it's thankfully short enough that I am not too torn up about wasting a couple of hours reading this unoriginal take on a YA vampire story. Here's the blurb via Publisher's Weekly:
"In the spring, there are vampires in the wind." So begins this blackly atmospheric first novel, set in a New England that is under quiet siege by elfin changelings, mongrel swamp creatures and other inhuman beings. Chris, struggling through the awkward changes of adolescence, finds his teenage lusts becoming the thirst of the vampire. He narrates the pull of his own evil nature with rhythmic, morbid accuracy: "I tear at my arm and slash downward with the teeth, rutting up little tracks of meat while the thick, sour tang of my own gore sweetly fills my mouth and cheeks, puffing them out." Chet, a so-called celestial being claiming to be from the Forces of Light, contacts Chris-not yet a full vampire-and asks him to interfere with a ceremony that will release Tch'muchgar, the vampire lord, from his bondage in another world. But can Chet be trusted? The overtly supernatural climax and a disappointing plot twist squelch the sparkle of Anderson's prose somewhat, but horror fans will find this vampire novel a bloody cut above the usual fare." 
I am not a horror fan, and I honestly didn't find this a cut above anything. It was a stupid vampire fantasy filled with cliches about adolescent boys and their cruelty and crushes. The ending is extremely disappointing and the prose is dull. The plot is bloated and the characters grotesque.I gather I was supposed to find this gruesome work funny, but I didn't, I found it cliche-ridden and cynical. I'd give this book a D, and only recommend it to those who are into horror and vampires so much that they can't miss even a schlocky novel like this one.

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