I watch CBS Sunday Morning every single week, it's one of my Sunday rituals. Sunday Morning is a gentle, lifestyle-story laden show that gives you the good news often ignored by regular television news shows that air in the morning and evenings. When I started watching Sunday Morning, Charles Kuralt was the affable host, but once he passed, Charles Osgood did a wonderful job as his replacement. Now that Osgood has retired, Jane Pauley has taken the reins, and with the newly refurbished set, she is doing a fabulous job as host of my favorite news magazine, as it used to be called. I was thrilled to see this piece appear this past Sunday, and though I am not a fan of Patchett's books, I love that she's taken over the bookstore and is making a success of it.
Patchett, Parnassus Featured on CBS Sunday Morning
"Ann Patchett doesn't just write books, like her latest bestseller,
Commonwealth; she sells them," CBS Sunday Morning
observed on yesterday's program, which featured Patchett giving 60
Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl a tour of Parnassus Books
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34298708 in Nashville, Tenn., the store that Patchett co-owns. "As you might expect from a novelist, there's a good
story behind Parnassus Books, and it's one that's bigger than just one
brick-and-mortar retailer," CBS Sunday Morning noted.
The story had its roots at Winter Institute 2017, when Patchett
conducted an interview of Stahlhttp://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34298709 on the
occasion of the publication of her book Becoming Grandma. At one point,
Patchett pitched Stahl on a 60 Minutes story about independent
bookstores and "about this industry and how surprisingly successful it
Hidden Figures is my library book group's book for October, so I was thrilled to read that it had garnered yet another award.
Hidden Figures Wins GABP
Margot Lee Shetterly has won the $13,000 2017 Grateful American Book
Prize http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34298732 for Hidden Figures:
The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women
Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (HarperCollins), which was
the basis for the Oscar-nominated film of the same name.
David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the prize, commented about the book's
subject: "They were called 'computers' where they worked and were
largely dismissed until the authorities at the space agency's Langley
Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia realized that their help
was indispensable if the U.S. was to prevail over the Soviet Union in
the conquest of space. Despite the rampant racism of the times, four
mathematicians, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and
Christine Darden, showed they had the right stuff. Using primitive tools
by today's standards--pencils and adding machines--they calculated the
trajectories that would successfully launch America's first astronauts
into outer space."
What NOT to read: I don't normally write about books that I can't finish, due to the book being truly awful. I'm making an exception for two books that I just tried to read in the past few days, because one was so bad it was unbelievable, and the other was a major disappointment.
First up is The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neil. This was quite possibly the worst book I've ever read in the past 53 years, and that is saying something, considering I've read thousands of books. LHH had the trifecta of things I do not want to read about, namely pedophilia and pedophiles, child abuse by evil people masquerading as religious figures (ie nuns, priests), and pornography/overt bizarre sexuality, with the added horror of drug addicts and mob bosses running crime syndicates and brothels. This book takes place in the 1920s-30s, and while I know that the USA was a mess during that period, I was unaware that things were just as bad in Canada, where this book takes place. The story revolves around two orphans, abandoned at birth at a Catholic orphanage in Montreal. Rose and Pierrot are both innocents who develop amazing talents, Pierrot for the piano and music, and Rose for dance and singing.Unfortunately, one of the nuns begins sexually abusing Pierrot when he's around 7 years old, and due to his relationship with Rose (they perform together) she jealously beats Rose up, or has her beaten and punished by locking her in a cupboard without food or water or light for weeks to keep her from Pierrot, whom she believes will love and marry her so she can continue to sodomize him. One time, Rose is nearly beaten to death before the Mother Superior, who considers all the orphans expendable, but likes the fact that Rose and Pierrot bring in extra cash to the orphanage, stops the pedophile nun by explaining that Rose is worth more alive than dead, but still doesn't reprimand the nun for almost killing her.
Eventually, Rose and P leave the orphanage, P is adopted as a teenager by a wealthy old man confined to a wheelchair who loves to hear him play the piano. The old guy tries to leave some of his money to P, only to have his horrible greedy adult children burn the codicil to the will, leaving him with nothing. He tries to find Rose, but the evil nun tells him that she's married with children and has forgotten about him. Rose hasn't forgotten about him, but after being the governess of a mob boss's children, she has sex with the mob boss who sets her up as his mistress and wants to possess her completely, which in his mind means that he must abuse and degrade and humiliate her until her spirit is crushed and she is his slave. P finds himself in an affair with a prostitute who has a heroin addiction, so she gets P into heroin, and that sets him on a life of crime, robbing rich people's homes of expensive paintings and items that he doesn't know the value of, but will sell for any amount of money so that he can continue being a junkie. Rose leaves the mob boss, but of course his ego can't have that, so he sets out to find and kill her. She ends up being a model for pornographic books and postcards, and eventually does pornographic movies. Rose and P come within spitting distance of each other several times, but they always manage to miss one another by a few moments. At this point, 204 pages into the book, I couldn't take this horrific and dreary and depressing tale anymore. Rose and Pierrot start as dreaming children, but eventually they seem just plain stupid, making every wrong choice in a disgusting underworld populated by vile people. I would give this book an F, and I can't imagine anyone enjoying such a disgusting, horrific story, written in painfully 'pretty' prose.
Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard is a compilation of two novellas that take place in the Red Queen universe. I've read all the Red Queen books, and while I enjoyed them, these two novellas were a big disappointment. The first, Queen Song, is only 54 pages long, and tells the story of how Queen Coriane was driven mad by Elara, a psychic vampire of sorts from another royal house who covets Coriane's crown and power. So this is why Queen Elara is such a horrible person, because she was possessed by a psychopath. After that depressing little appetizer, there follows Steel Scars, which is the story of some battles and troop movements and so forth with the Red Guard, run by the mean Colonel and the much beloved and trusted Captain Farley. Interspersed throughout are missives between the two, in which orders given by the Colonel are ignored by Captain Farley, as she runs her own war the way she sees fit. Unfortunately, the story gets bogged down in political/military details, and becomes terribly boring after the first 30 pages. The author didn't make me care about the characters as she had in the full length novels, and there really isn't anyone here to root for, as Farley is bitter and paranoid, and not really enough of a character to hold the readers interest for more than a few pages. So I'd give this small book a D, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard fans of the Red Queen books, or someone who needs a cure for insomnia.
Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a short volume that reads like a journalist's long form article from a newspaper, that has been padded out with photos and cartoons to make it into a saleable book. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: In this thoroughly researched biography, Bartoletti (They Called Themselves the KKK) seeks to illuminate the backstory of “Typhoid Mary,” who allegedly infected nearly 50 individuals with the disease. Mary Mallon cooked for wealthy families in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City until she became the first documented “healthy carrier” of typhoid in the U.S. and was imprisoned in hospitals for most of her remaining life. Little is known about Mallon outside of one six-page letter she wrote, official documents, newspaper reports, journal articles, and other firsthand accounts of her. Though Bartoletti forms an objective portrait of Mallon’s case, she often has to rely on conjecture (“Mary probably didn’t understand that she could be a healthy carrier”), filling in gaps using deductive reasoning based on facts from that era. In the end, this study of Mallon’s ill-fated life is as much an examination of the period in which she lived, including the public’s ignorance about the spread and treatment of disease, the extreme measures health officials took to advance science, and how yellow journalism’s sensationalized stories could ruin someone’s reputation.
I was surprised at how readable this book was, and how fascinating Mary Mallon's real story has become, when examined in the light of history and how women were treated differently in a highly sexist society. Mary, under the most horrible circumstances (she was imprisoned and forced into quarantine, though they couldn't prove that she was actually spreading typhoid all the time) still managed to maintain her dignity, to have friends and a life and some agency over her career. She wrote letters of protest and she always denied that she had given so many people typhoid. When health officials found men who were healthy carriers of typhoid, ie those who had the bacteria in their system but didn't display any symptoms themselves, they were not treated to the same stringent measures and quarantines as Mary, and were, in fact, let go so that they could get on with their lives. Meanwhile, Mary, once she was released, was hounded by health officials and the press, who sought to demonize her in order to sell papers, or, in the case of health officials, make a name for themselves. Due to the journalistic style of the prose, I enjoyed reading this book, and the plot, or story arc, was smooth and went off without a hitch. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in plagues of the 20th century.
A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn is the second Veronica Speedwell mystery that I've read. The first, A Curious Beginning, held my interest and introduced Veronica, who is the bastard child of royalty, and Stoker, her aristocratic friend and possible love interest. This time the duo, who work mounting butterflies and taxidermy specimens of animals for a small museum, find themselves being asked to save a man from hanging by one of Queen Victoria's married daughters, Princess Louise (who calls herself Lady Sundridge). The man about to hang has an alibi, he was sleeping with Louise at the time of the murder, but he can't use it as the scandal would wreak havoc on the monarchy. So Veronica and Stoker go haring off into danger to unmask the killer, whom I knew from the start (SPOILER) would be female. Here's the blurb:London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Ramsforth, accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia, will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if the real killer is not found.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural-historian colleague, Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....Publisher's Weekly: Raybourn’s effervescent sequel to 2015’s A Curious Beginning combines witty suspense with a playful look at the secrets proper Victorians hid. When Veronica, an adventurous lepidopterist, meets a woman calling herself Lady Sundridge, she easily deduces her exalted true identity. Lady Sundridge wants Veronica to reinvestigate the murder of an artist known as Artemisia. Though she wants her late friend’s death avenged, the woman insists that Artemisia’s lover, Miles Ramsforth, soon to be hanged for the crime, is not guilty. Veronica and her associate, aristocratic natural historian Revelstoke “Stoker” Templeton-Vane, wend their way through opium dens, artists’ studios, the headquarters of Scotland Yard, and the Elysian Grotto, an underground cave lavishly fitted out for sexual pleasure on the Ramsforth estate. The sleuths’ lives are threatened as their investigation uncovers peccadilloes at the highest levels of society. Revelations about Stoker’s painful past add nuance to the pair’s spirited and sexually charged banter in this playful historical mystery.
So it turns out (SPOILER) that Stoker is also a bastard, and if anyone can understand Veronica's desire to show up the snobbish relatives who shun her because of her birth, it's Stoker. Yet he uses his aristocracy to help unwind the layers of lies and half-truths surrounding the murder of Artemisia, instead of trying to prove something to them. The frisson of sexual tension between Veronica and Stoker is lovely, and the banter between the two delightful. I liked Raybourn's sparkling prose and her zingy plot in this novel, and I felt that the relationship between the protagonist blossomed in a natural fashion. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys Steampunk, historical mysteries and spirited British heroines.