This past week has been a difficult one, but also surprising. I was able to trudge through the pain of a long-running Crohn's flare (usually my flares resolve themselves in days, while this one has lasted over two weeks) while also dealing with health insurance woes and allergies. I also got a tote bag from KCLS Maple Valley branch (library) in thanks for my volunteer work, when I've been a volunteer for over 15 years. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a nice note and a tote! Wow. Which made me wonder...why now? Still, it's lovely and I am thankful for the recognition. Meanwhile, here are some tidbits and news bits, in addition to the usual book reviews. I've been reading more ebooks because my Kindle Paperwhite is easier to bring to the bathroom with me...sorry if that's TMI.
I really think that there were some underhanded tactics used here to undermine the union and what they were trying to do for Amazon workers. I grew up in a union family (my father worked for the state branch of the National Education Association, which is a teacher's union) so I know what rich corporate CEOs and administrators can do when they want to keep workers downtrodden.
Amazon Workers in Alabama Vote Against Union
Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., voted by more than a two-to-one margin against unionization in a highly contested, widely watched election. Amazon had fought the union effort bitterly, and its nearly one million U.S. workers continue to have no union representation, even while many of its operations in Europe are unionized. The result was a painful loss for the union and its many supporters, who believed that a pro-labor administration, pandemic safety concerns and solidarity among workers would lead to a growth in union representation in the private sector, particularly at a huge retailer like Amazon.
The result was announced on Friday when the minimum threshold for rejection of the union had been reached, even though not all ballots had been counted at that point.
The union that led the drive, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said that it would fight the result. Its president, Stuart Appelbaum, said in a statement, "We won't let Amazon's lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote."
Those actions included forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings, sending many anti-union text messages to workers, and putting up anti-union posters in the warehouse bathrooms and elsewhere.
In a press release after the result, Amazon said in part, "Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn't win--our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union."
Senator Bernie Sanders, who enthusiastically endorsed the unionization effort, tweeted, as recounted by the Guardian, that he wasn't surprised , adding, "The willingness of Amazon workers in Bessemer to take on the wealthiest man in the world and a powerful company in an anti-union state is an inspiration. It takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up and fight back, and they should be applauded." Many observers saw the vote as a major victory for Amazon and doubted that unions would press again soon to unionize at its more than 100 warehouses in the U.S. But others pointed out that, as Sanders mentioned, the election was held in one of the most virulently anti-union areas in the U.S. In addition, because of the relatively poor local economy, Amazon's entry level wage of $15 a year and benefits had to appear more attractive than in other regions.
Many believe that renewed emphasis will be placed on national efforts to break up Amazon or force it to change some practices, or both.
I love Benedict Cumberbatch, and I am really looking forward to seeing what he does with this material.
TV: The 39 Steps; Five Days at Memorial
Netflix "has landed The 39 Steps , a limited series star vehicle for Benedict Cumberbatch," Deadline reported. Edward Berger (Patrick Melrose) will direct and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) will write the series, based on the classic novel by John Buchan that was previously turned into Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 film. Cumberbatch will executive produce with his producing partner Adam Ackland under their SunnyMarch banner.
Deadline noted that "there will be six or more hourlong episodes, most likely to shoot next year in Europe when schedules clear. Netflix moved most aggressively and committed to make the series when Anonymous Content took the package to the marketplace in late February."
Cornelius Smith Jr. (Scandal) will star with Vera Farmiga and Adepero Oduye in Five Days at Memorial , Apple TV+'s limited series based on the nonfiction book by Sheri Fink, Deadline reported. The project will be written and executive produced John Ridley and Carlton Cuse, who are also directing the limited series. ABC Signature is the studio. Author Fink will serve as producer.
I've been a big Hugh Laurie fan since his days as a comic on "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" and "Blackadder." So of course I was thrilled when he landed on an American show called "House, MD" which ended too soon. It should be fascinating to see what this multi-talented actor does with an AC novel...I'm sure his dry sense of humor will be prevalent.
Hugh Laurie Produces Agatha Christie Novel
Hugh Laurie will write, direct and executive produce an adaptation of
Agatha Christie's novel Why Didn't They Ask Evans? for BritBox in North America. Deadline reported that the three-part limited series "represents the BBC Studios and ITV-owned streamer's biggest U.S. commission to date.... No word yet on whether Laurie will take a starring role in the show."
"The hairs on the back of my neck haven't properly settled down from the first time I grasped the beauty of the essential mystery," Laurie said. "Since then, I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with the characters, and feel immensely honored to have been given the chance to retell their story in this form. I will wear a tie on set, and give it everything I have."
Emily Powers, head of BritBox North America, added: "Hugh Laurie's writing pays homage to the brilliance of the original Agatha Christie mystery while adding fresh wit, humor, and creativity that will appeal to all audiences."
The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin was an interesting historical romance novel about a young woman finding herself during the London Blitz (bombing) of WWII. Though it had a methodical and fast moving plot, the prose used to get the novel moving along was often amateurish and stilted/stiff. Here's the blurb: “An irresistible tale which showcases the transformative
power of literacy, reminding us of the hope and sanctuary our
neighborhood bookstores offer during the perilous trials of war and
unrest.” Kim Michele Richardson, author of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and drawn curtains that she finds on her arrival are not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.
Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.
Even though I had trouble with the stuffy prose, I really enjoyed the characters here and the descriptions of the aftermath of the bombing of London, how the people came together to help one another and the genuine need of everyone, from children to elders, for good reading material, or for someone to read them a story to keep their minds off of the horrors of war. For that reason, I feel this book deserves a B+ and I'd recommend it to fans of Lilac Girls and other WWII historical novels.
The Plastic Magician by Charlie N Holmberg is probably the 7th book of hers that I've read. Holmberg has a way with fantasy that is somehow grounded in basic science that makes her books loads of fun to read, because you can actually imagine the gadgets and inventions coming to life, as if by magic. I've read the rest of her "material mages" series, and I'd say this one was as riveting as the first book of the series, the Paper Magician. Here's the blurb:
Wall Street Journal bestselling author Charlie N. Holmberg returns to the enchanting world of The Paper Magician.
Alvie Brechenmacher has arrived in London to begin her training in Polymaking—the magical discipline of bespelling plastic. Polymaking is the newest form of magic, and in a field where there is so much left to learn, every Polymaker dreams of making the next big discovery.
Even though she is only an apprentice, Alvie is an inventor at heart, and she is determined to make as many discoveries—in as short a time frame—as she can. Luckily for her, she’s studying under the world-renowned magician Marion Praff, who is just as dedicated as Alvie is.
Alvie’s enthusiasm reinvigorates her mentor’s work, and together they create a device that could forever change Polymaking—and the world. But when a rival learns of their plans, he conspires to steal their invention and take the credit for it himself.
To thwart him, Alvie will need to think one step ahead. For in the high-stakes world of magical discovery, not everyone plays fair.
Holmberg's prose is sleek and supple, while her plots are so full of adventure and mystery that they whiz along on electric roller skates. Alvie was kind of a doofus, but I still enjoyed all of her triumphs and tribulations. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read any of the other books in her "paper magicians" series. I guarantee it will fascinate even the most jaded Steampunk fan.
The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso is a YA fantasy that surprised me in it's serious storyline that asks questions about freedom of powered individuals over the need for safety of the masses, and the raising of "magical" children in a somewhat isolated environment to become soldiers, which on the face of it is reprehensible. Here's the blurb: A mage with coveted magic and the scion of a powerful family are
magically bound together in service to the Empire in the first book of a
spellbinding fantasy trilogy from David Gemmell Award-nominated author
Magic is scarce in the Raverran Empire, and those born with such powers are strictly controlled -- taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon army, to be used as weapons in times of war.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire Empire. Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.
But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.
Zaira has every right to be suspicious and angry at the nobility for "tethering" her, like a falcon, to a noble who can control her use of her powers. Yet when left to her own devices, Zaira has burned down entire towns and killed her parents with fire power that she cannot control once she's in it's throes. But while this dilemma seems to run afoul of class lines, the whole "mad/bad Russian lord" thing got to be a bit too moustache-twirly for my tastes. Still, the prose was clean and crisp while the plot marched along in a metered fashion. I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in classism and power issues played out in a fantasy, swords and sorcery setting.
The Maharani's Pearls by Charles Todd is a Bess Crawford prequel novelette that I happened across in ebook format for a song. I've read all the Bess C mysteries written by the mother and son team of Charles Todd, and while some moved a bit quicker than others, I have enjoyed Bess's adventures as a nurse and part time sleuth during The Great War (WW1). Here's the blurb:
Living with her family in India, young Bess Crawford's curiosity about this exotic country sometimes leads her into trouble.
One day she slips away from the cantonment to visit the famous seer in a nearby village. Before this woman can finish telling her fortune, Bess is summoned back for an afternoon tea with the Maharani, a close friend of her parents'. The seer's last words are a warning about forthcoming danger that Bess takes as the usual patter. But this visit by the Maharani has ominous overtones that mark it as more than a social call. Her husband has political enemies, and she has come to ask Bess's father, Major Crawford, for help.
As the Maharani is leaving, Bess notices that there is something amiss with the royal entourage. Major Crawford must set out after them—but will he be in time?
And what will happen to Bess, and the household left behind, when a vicious assassin circles back to take hostages?
Here is an extraordinary glimpse into the childhood of the Bess Crawford we know from her service in the Great War.
Todd's prose is, as usual, stalwart and sublime, while their plot, especially in this short novella, moves along at a clip. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read any of the other Bess mysteries...you won't be disappointed.