Sunday, April 18, 2021

Amazon Workers Vote Against Union, The 39 Steps on TV, Hugh Laurie Produces Agatha Christie Novel, The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin, The Plastic Magician by Charlie N Holmberg, The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso and The Maharani's Pearls by Charles Todd

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 Melissa Caruso. 

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 won't be disappointed.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Swamp Fox Bookstore in Marion, Iowa, Expands, Powell's Books Clashes With Union, A Single Girl's Guide to Wedding Survival by Melissa Borg, Namesake by Adrienne Young and Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott

Howdy fellow book dragons! I'm feeling anxious and somewhat upset about my latest reading choices. When I read a book that isn't as advertised, I feel swindled, and that makes me angry. Anyway, this post will likely be a bit shorter since I am only reviewing three books instead of four. 

This is such a great idea, especially for a small town like Marion. 

Swamp Fox Bookstore Expands, Launches Swamp Fox Kids

Swamp Fox Bookstore in Marion, Iowa, has launched a children's division called Swamp Fox Kids. Both are "micro shops" located within the West End Marion, with Swamp Fox Bookstore now occupying a new, larger space while Swamp Fox Kids occupies the space in which Swamp Fox Bookstore used to reside.

Thanks to the creation of Swamp Fox Kids, the main bookstore now carries an expanded selection of books and gifts for adults and young adults. The children's store, meanwhile, carries books for kids, educational games and gifts for children and families.

Owners Ursla Lanphear, Terri LeBlanc and Amanda Zhorne founded Swamp Fox Bookstore last July. Both shops are currently open for business, and a grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting are planned for Saturday, April 24, the same day as Independent Bookstore Day.


My father was a mediator/arbitrator for the National Education Association/Polk Suburban Unit for much of his professional career, so I grew up in a very democratic, pro-union household. That's why I am finding it hard to believe that the CEO at Powell's is telling the truth here, and not just trying to save money by hiring new workers who would work at a lower wage and not have as many benefits. But I guess we shall see. I suspect that a lot of store unions are clashing over rehiring their original staff.

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Powell's Books and Union Clash over Staff Rehiring

On Tuesday, Patrick Bassett, CEO of Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., issued an open letter outlining the latest steps in the gradual reopening of Powell's stores and expanding staff (which was cut severely last year). The move will involve advertising open positions, which the staff's union is objecting to vociferously.

In the letter, Bassett noted that last summer, "as safety permitted, we were able to gradually reopen stores with limited hours. This allowed us to honor our labor contract and recall more than 170 employees who were previously laid off due to the economic impact of COVID-19." (The union has represented 400 staff members at Powell's before than pandemic began.) "Now that vaccination rates are increasing, and signs of economic recovery are starting to appear, Powell's will begin hiring additional employees," Bassett continued.

He said the rehiring process is "not as straightforward as we'd hoped" because under the contract between Powell's and the union "seniority and employment rights have expired for laid-off former employees, including any rights under the recall process."

He said Powell's "reached out to the Union on two occasions to find solutions that go above and beyond the labor contract, without success. Our most recent proposal would have temporarily extended former employees' access to the recall process for a period of six months as well as reinstate their previous paid time-off accrual rate, which would be significant to our longer-term former employees. We appreciate the working relationship we have with Local 5 and our joint efforts to creatively find an agreement beyond the contract. Unfortunately, the Union did not accept this offer. This means the original contract language regarding loss of all seniority and employment rights applies, and we will begin to advertise job openings."

He stated that "former Powell's employees whose seniority and employment were lost under the labor contract remain eligible to apply for new positions. Our hope is that many will express interest in these opportunities and secure reemployment with the company. It is also our goal that when former employees are hired for the same or a similar position that they held before, we will return them at their previous wage."

Bassett added that "Powell's has adhered to the labor contract at all times and fulfilled our commitments as described in the collective bargaining agreement, including maintaining employee benefits and wage increases during the pandemic without requesting mid-contract relief from the Union. We are proud of this work and our commitment to our employees."

In a statement, union representative Myka Dubay responded in part: "We are appalled at Powell's decision to eliminate the recall list and force laid off employees to apply for their former jobs. This action comes nearly a year after the Union and Company had reached mutual agreement, in writing, that the recall list would be maintained without timeline restrictions. The Union is looking into every avenue to hold Powell's to their contractual obligations as well as the moral imperative to treat workers ethically and not use the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce wages and benefits for longtime employees."

In addition, Dubay told the Oregonian that the union had been in talks with Powell's for the last two weeks and didn't know that an open letter would be released.

A Single Girl's Guide to Wedding Survival by Melissa Borg is a self published book that looks like it was published traditionally. Add to that that it's supposed to be about a larger gal who learns to accept herself and has a great romance, and I was on the hook for a copy for an early Mother's Day gift. Imagine my disappointment on learning that this glacially plotted, redundant book didn't even get off the ground until well after page 110. The plot, though it speeds up a bit, starts to rattle and fall apart soon after page 170. The low-quality prose is consistently hampered by typos and grammatical mistakes that only an amateur author could make. If any editor worth their red pen were to read this painfully awful novel, I would hope that they would recommend the author to a basic novel writing class. Of course a lot of romance tropes are used here, which is just lazy, and the main character loathes herself so much, she's a doormat for her mother and nearly everyone else she encounters. Here's the blurb: Love thy sister. Unless a wedding’s involved. Even in always sunny Arizona, Victoria Shaw has lived under the shadow of her stunning but self-important younger sister, Dessie. When Dessie announces she’s getting married in three short weeks, Victoria’s single status and routine job suddenly seem like failures instead of choices. To make matters worse, Dessie expects, not asks, Victoria to help. Unable to deny her sister, Victoria soon becomes the bride-to-be’s wedding planner, chauffeur, roommate, and doormat, all while navigating family insanity and blind-date hell.Victoria tries to cope with the help of ice cream, humorous retorts, and her best friend’s sassy reality jabs, but it’s not enough. Faced with a tidal wave of family dysfunction, disastrous dates, and plummeting self-esteem, Victoria is forced to discover who she is, what she wants, and how to live her life not under a shadow, but out in the sun.

The protagonist's sister "Dessie" is a monster, a narcissist who uses everyone around her for her own gain, and of course, her sister just keeps letting her do so, like a spineless coward. Victoria's mother is no better, bullying her daughter and forcing her to go on blind dates with losers. "Tory" continues to let her evil mother and sister abuse her mentally and physically without consequence because she's weak and can't muster the gumption to say NO. Her father is also a LAME and wimpy coward who does nothing to help the daughter he supposedly loves. Then there's all the ridiculous tropes that romance authors foist on their female protagonists, the blushing, the giggling (which should be considered a crime for any female over the age of 5) and the virginal innocence and childish attitude of the grown-ass female protagonist (this makes all the grown male protagonists seem like pedophiles, which is disgusting). The ending was unsatisfying, rushed and predictable.  I'd give this sad tale a C-, and I'm being generous. I can't really recommend it to those who are looking for stories of larger women's self acceptance, because this protagonist is such an idiot, she's not at all inspirational. 

Namesake by Adrienne Young is a YA romantic adventure/pirate story that is the sequel to Fable, the original book in the series. I was expecting great things from this book, and was, again, disappointed with the choices made by Fable, the female protagonist who is not only anorexic (and considered sexy for being skeletal) but a complete idiot when it comes to the men in her life. Here's the blurb: Following the Hello Sunshine Book Club pick Fable, New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with Namesake, a captivating conclusion to the duology, filled with action, emotion, and lyrical writing.

Trader. Fighter. Survivor.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems. (Editors note: Holland is her controlling, evil grandmother).

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception, she learns that the secrets her mother took to her grave are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them then she must risk everything, including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found. 

Other than the never eating anything and constantly having a churning stomach that makes her want to vomit (so there's an element of Bulimia to add to her general insanity), Fable is, after being abandoned, nearly starving to death and being roughed up and nearly murdered several times, still something of a sweet and innocent gal, who for reasons that make NO SENSE AT ALL loves her creepy murdering father Saint enough to bargain with her life to find a rare mineral for her grandmother, so wealthy old granny won't have anyone assassinate dear old dad. WHY? You got me...Saint has, over the course of two books, thrown Fable to the wolves more than once, and has told her that he doesn't care about her or love her at all. He has been cold and ruthless toward her, and makes it clear that he wouldn't risk his life for her, after abandoning her on the Lord of the Flies Island for over four years, while sending one of his young minions/assassins to just "watch" her try to survive, but not interfere. So of course she falls in love with the minion, West, sent to watch her, though he hasn't helped her until she finally broke free of the Island.  She forgives him being a killer for her dad, and then, in the most ridiculous turn around of a character ever, Saint suddenly comes through for Fable, acknowledges that she's his daughter, and they have a chat where they cry all over each other and her dead mother. Wow...this all happens in the final few chapters of the book, and readers are given no warning and no reason for Saint's dramatic lean-in to fatherhood and "loving" his daughter. He claims he loved her all along, but the way he treated her belies that claim. Saint's a thug, murderer and an asshat, and the last person who should ever be a parent.  Fable's grandmother is even worse, if that's possible, and in the end, Fable finds the famed gem her mother hid, but doesn't bring it up for some murky reason. Anyway, the lame plot and the stupidity of the characters brings this book's grade down to a C, and I would only recommend it to those who have to finish a series.

Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott is yet another one of her inspirational memoirs that delves into how to deal with everyday crisis with "courage" and "revival." I've read three of Lamott's other non fiction titles, and while I liked two of them, her famous Bird by Bird struck me as more of a guide to being petty and vengeful than as a guide to writing. Lamotts prose is about as exciting and colorful as dishwater here, and the book meanders from anecdote to anecdote. Here's the blurb: In Dusk, Night, Dawn, Anne Lamott explores the tough questions that many of us grapple with. How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? As bad newspiles up—from climate crises to daily assaults on civility—how can we cope? Where, she asks, “do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back . . . with our sore feet, hearing loss, stiff fingers, poor digestion, stunned minds, broken hearts?”

We begin, Lamott says, by accepting our flaws and embracing our humanity.

Drawing from her own experiences, Lamott shows us the intimate and human ways we can adopt to move through life’s dark places and toward the light of hope that still burns ahead for all of us.

As she does in Help, Thanks, Wow and her other bestselling books, Lamott explores the thorny issues of life and faith by breaking them down into manageable, human-sized questions for readers to ponder, in the process showing us how we can amplify life's small moments of joy by staying open to love and connection. As Lamott notes in Dusk, Night, Dawn, “I got Medicare three days before I got hitched, which sounds like something an old person might do, which does not describe adorably ageless me.” Marrying for the first time with a grown son and a grandson, Lamott explains that finding happiness with a partner isn't a function of age or beauty but of outlook and perspective. Full of the honesty, humor, and humanity that have made Lamott beloved by millions of readers, Dusk, Night, Dawn is classic Anne Lamott—thoughtful and comic, warm and wise—and further proof that Lamott truly speaks to the better angels in all of us. 

I was surprised by how much protestant religious tenants are discussed in each chapter of this becomes "preachy" after the first 10 pages, which I had hoped would be only temporary, and that her insights would include more world religions and other faith practices. But no, Lamott is a Sunday school teacher who admits that she only keeps the preteen and teenage students coming to her class with the promise of junk food. She consistently goes on about how wonderful she is, how beautiful and youthful, and yet how controlling and judgemental and downright mean she is to those around her. If you can get through this book without wanting to slap Lamott upside the head, hard, you're a better person than I am. I grew bored with her revised (to be humorous in a juvenile way) bible stories and her constant breakdowns over not being able to summon the strength to just say NO to her husband or anyone else who was asking her to attend an event or do something she didn't want to do. Seriously, Anne, if you're having a nervous breakdown over the boredom of listening to other people's stories at an open mike night, GET UP AND LEAVE! It's obvious that any story that doesn't revolve around you and your escapades will bore you into a huge anxiety attack anyway, so why your husband didn't pick up on this and take you home is a mystery to me. You ramble on and on about what a perfect man he is, how he deals with your childish churlishness on a daily basis, so why didn't he pick up on this, when you were practically rocking and tapping like Rainman before intermission?! Though it was a short book, it was very thin on actual tips of revival and courage, and I grew bored and irritated with Anne's rampant egotism. I don't plan on ever reading any more of her memoirs, so I will give this drek a C, and recommend it to Christians who want to read about what a mess Lamott is and therefore feel good about themselves by comparison. Do not waste your money purchasing this book, get it from the library.





Monday, April 05, 2021

Glennon Doyle Indie Bookstore Ambassador, RIP Larry Mc Murtry and Beverly Cleary, GRRM Inks Huge Deal with HBO, Pieces of Her on TV, Spellmaker by Charlie N Holmberg, The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear, Dark Watcher by Lilith Saintcrow and Damage, A Ghost Squad Novel by Lilith Saintcrow

Welcome! April showers have begun, as well as warmer weather and sunshine, which somehow makes the days seem more bearable during this last phase of quarantine. I've been fully vaccinated, and so has my husband, but now we are just awaiting our son's vaccination before venturing forth out into the world again, even on a small scale, like shopping for purses in the department store. The new normal is going to be quite a culture shock for me, as I've not been in a store for well over a year now. But my Easter basket was full of books (16 of them!), a beautiful hand made book bag, chocolate and one large seal-shaped pillow named Egg, so I've been happily noshing and reading this past week. Here are the latest reviews, tidbits and obits.

I loved Glennon Doyle's Untamed, and I have watched her being interviewed on podcasts and TV shows recently. I think it's great that she's the face of Indie Bookstore Day!

Indie Bookstore Day Author Ambassador: Glennon Doyle

Glennon Doyle will be the 2021 Author Ambassador for Independent Bookstore Day, which will be take place Saturday, April 24. Doyle is the author of Untamed, a Reese's Book Club selection that has sold more than two million copies; Love Warrior, an Oprah's Book Club selection; and Carry On, Warrior; and is a champion of independent bookstores, Bookselling This Week noted.

"I have been to one million independent bookstores. I have met the booksellers who founded them and own them. I have fallen in love with them," she said. "Zero jerks own independent bookstores. They just don't. They are--always--people who believe in and deeply invest in communities and art and ideas. And during this pandemic, in which we have lost one local indie per week, we need to prioritize investing in these local businesses who invest so much in us."

 Two obituaries for great authors of vastly different genres, McMurtry for his romantic Westerns and Cleary for her wonderful Ramona children's books. Both will be sorely missed.

Obituary Note: Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry, the prolific novelist and screenwriter--and legendary bookseller--"who demythologized the American West with his unromantic depictions of life on the 19th-century frontier and in contemporary small-town Texas," died March 25, the New York Times reported. He was 84. McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels and several books of essays, memoir and history. His work also includes over 30 screenplays, including the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain (with Diana Ossana, his friend and writing partner).

His greatest commercial and critical success was Lonesome Dove, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and was made into a popular TV mini-series. The Times noted that from the beginning of his career, McMurtry's books "were attractive to filmmakers," including Horseman, Pass By (Hud, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Newman), The Last Picture Show (starring Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd, directed by Peter Bogdanovich) and Terms of Endearment (directed by James L. Brooks and starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson), which won the best picture Oscar in 1983.

For 50 years, McMurtry was also a serious antiquarian bookseller. While living in the Washington, D.C., area, he opened Booked Up in 1971 with a partner, and in 1988 launched a much larger bookstore in Archer City, Tex., which he owned and operated until his death. Booked Up "is one of America's largest," the Times wrote. "It once occupied six buildings and contained some 400,000 volumes. In 2012 Mr. McMurtry auctioned off two-thirds of those books and planned to consolidate. About leaving the business to his heirs, he said: 'One store is manageable. Four stores would be a burden.' " His private library held about 30,000 books, spread over three houses. He called compiling it a life's work, "an achievement equal to if not better than my writings themselves."

From 1989 to 1991, McMurtry served as president of PEN America. The AP noted that the group's current president, Ayad Akhtar, said McMurtry was "through and through a vigorous defender of the freedom to write." In 2014, President Obama presented him with a National Humanities Medal for work that "evokes the character and drama of the American West with stories that examine quintessentially American lives."

Obituary Note: Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary, creator of Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, bratty Ramona Quimby and her older sister Beezus, and Ralph S. Mouse--whose books sold more than 85 million copies--died on March 25 at age 104. The New York Times wrote that "Cleary, a librarian by trade, introduced a contemporary note into children's literature. In a humorous, lively style, she made compelling drama out of the everyday problems, small injustices and perplexing mysteries--adults chief among them--that define middle-class American childhood.... Always sympathetic, never condescending, she presented her readers with characters they knew and understood, the 20th-century equivalents of Huck Finn or Louisa May Alcott's little women, and every bit as popular."

In an article in the Horn Book, Cleary recalled as a child being disappointed by children's books, which seemed to feature "aristocratic English children who had nannies and pony carts, or poor children whose problems disappeared when a long-lost rich relative turned up in the last chapter." Thus, she said, "I wanted to read funny stories about the sort of children I knew, and I decided that someday when I grew up, I would write them.

After graduating from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington with bachelor's degrees in English and librarianship, respectively, Cleary became a librarian and worked at Sather Gate Book Shop in Berkeley and continued to be disappointed by books for children.

In her acceptance speech upon winning the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 1975, she remembered this problem again: "Why didn't authors write books about everyday problems that children could solve by themselves? Why weren't there more stories about children playing? Why couldn't I find more books that would make me laugh? These were the books I wanted to read, and the books I was eventually to write."

"She began telling her own stories, along with fairy tales and folk tales, at schools and libraries," the Times wrote, which led to her first book, Henry Huggins, published in 1950. The popularity of the book led to sequels--including Henry and Beezus, Henry and Ribsy, Henry and the Paper Route, Henry and the Clubhouse and Ribsy--as well as spinoffs focusing on some of Henry Huggins's friends, including Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford.

From this group, Ramona Quimby "emerged as a superstar," the Times wrote. After Beezus and Ramona, she starred in Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona Forever and Ramona's World.

Ralph S. Mouse starred in The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

 GRRM, who once taught English lit at my undergrad college (where I met him my freshman year) has become even more rich and famous with yet another deal for programs produced for HBO. Hopefully, these adaptations will be less bloody/gory than the previous ones, so I can watch them (I can't abide horror adaptations with politics thrown in, too depressing and disgusting).

George R.R. Martin Inks 'Massive Overall Deal' with HBO

George R.R. Martin "is founding a new content kingdom at HBO" after a signing a "massive overall deal to develop more programming for the network and its streaming service, HBO Max," according to the Hollywood Reporter, which cited sources who said the contract "spans five years and is worth mid-eight figures."

HBO currently has five projects based on Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy world in the development stage and one (House of the Dragon) that's been greenlit to series. He is also developing for HBO the series Who Fears Death (an adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor's 2011 postapocalyptic novel) and Roadmarks (adapted from Roger Zelazny's 1979 fantasy novel), both of which he will executive produce.

Noting that Martin "first struck a deal to license his A Song of Ice and Fire novels to HBO in 2007," THR wrote that that deal led to Game of Thrones, the network's "biggest and most award-winning series of all time." He also has several projects in the works beyond HBO.

 I'm really looking forward to this series, created and produced by an all-female team.

TV: Pieces of Her

Nicholas Burton (Damaged) and Aaron Jeffery (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) will play recurring characters in Netflix's dramatic thriller series Pieces of Her, starring Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote. Deadline reported that the eight-episode series, based on the 2018 book by Karin Slaughter, "comes from an all-female creative team led by Charlotte Stoudt, Bruna Papandrea, Lesli Linka Glatter and Minkie Spiro, who will direct the season."

Written by Stoudt, who serves as showrunner, Pieces of Her's cast also includes Jessica Barden, David Wenham, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Scipio, Omari Hardwick, and guest stars Terry O'Quinn, Gil Birmingham and Calum Worthy.

Spellmaker by Charlie N. Holmberg is the second and final novel in a duology that began with Spellbreaker, which I reviewed last month. Set in the latter days of alternative Victorian England, This book follows a talented young spellbreaking mage who is being hunted by an insane master magician out to steal a spell that would turn the world's population into her puppets. Here's the blurb:

England, 1895. An unsolved series of magician murders and opus thefts isn’t a puzzle to Elsie Camden. But to reveal a master spellcaster as the culprit means incriminating herself as an unregistered spellbreaker. When Elsie refuses to join forces with the charming assassin, her secret is exposed, she’s thrown in jail, and the murderer disappears. But Elsie’s hope hasn’t vanished.

Through a twist of luck, the elite magic user Bacchus Kelsey helps Elsie join the lawful, but with a caveat: they must marry to prove their cover story. Forced beneath a magical tutor while her bond with Bacchus grows, Elsie seeks to thwart the plans of England’s most devious criminal—if she can find them.

With hundreds of stolen spells at their disposal, the villain has a plan—and it involves seducing Elsie to the dark side. But even now that her secret is out, Elsie must be careful how she uses the new abilities she’s discovering, or she may play right into the criminal’s hands.

While I appreciated Elsie's determination to find and stop the evil master magician from killing more people or enslaving them, Elsie's constant self-abegnation and self-loathing, along with her feelings of unworthiness made her seem weak and silly and blind to the love that her friends and family had for her. She seemed determined to always see the worst in herself and her situation, and was pretty spineless and whiny about it all through the book. Still, Bacchus stood by her and loved her throughout all that nonsense, though she tried even his loving patience. The author left us hanging as to whether or not Elsie and her brother Reggie were reunited with their little sister, but that was a minor problem in the end. Holmberg's prose is snappy and clear, while her plot glided along like skates on an icy pond. I'd give the novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book in the duology.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear is the 16th Maisie Dobbs mystery in this wonderful series that I began reading years ago. Maisie is a smart and capable sleuth who now has an adopted child to raise and a handsome American beau to deal with, on top of working for the SOE during WWII in 1941 (just before America joined the war after Pearl Harbor, which is the day after her wedding day). Here's the blurb:

As Europe buckles under Nazi occupation, Maisie Dobbs investigates a possible murder that threatens devastating repercussions for Britain's war efforts in this latest installment in the New York Times bestselling mystery series.

October 1941. While on a delivery, young Freddie Hackett, a message runner for a government office, witnesses an argument that ends in murder. Crouching in the doorway of a bombed-out house, Freddie waits until the coast is clear. But when he arrives at the delivery address, he’s shocked to come face to face with the killer.

Dismissed by the police when he attempts to report the crime, Freddie goes in search of a woman he once met when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. While Maisie believes the boy and wants to help, she must maintain extreme caution: she’s working secretly for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French resistance. Her two worlds collide when she spots the killer in a place she least expects. She soon realizes she’s been pulled into the orbit of a man who has his own reasons to kill—reasons that go back to the last war.

As Maisie becomes entangled in a power struggle between Britain’s intelligence efforts in France and the work of Free French agents operating across Europe, she must also contend with the lingering question of Freddie Hackett’s state of mind. What she uncovers could hold disastrous consequences for all involved in this compelling chapter of the “series that seems to get better with every entry” (Wall Street Journal).

What I loved most about this novel was that Maisie was in top form, and that though she was stretched pretty thin with so much going on in her life, she refused to give up on Freddie's case, because she chose to believe a poor abused boy over the admonitions of her fellow calloused adults who wanted her to sweep the murder under the rug and get on with their war work. Maisie finds the culprit and though he gets his just desserts, the best part is that she ensures that Freddie's mother and sister,who has Downs Syndrome, have a decent place to live and enough food on the table so they won't starve. She also makes sure that Freddie has a therapist to help him make sense of the violence in his life. Winspear's prose is elegant and accessible, while her plot flies along on swift wings. I was glad to read that Maisie's innate intuition was back in action, and it served her well in sussing out the truth. I'd give this stalwart novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read any of the other mysteries in this series.

Dark Watcher by Lilith Saintcrow is the first book in "The Watchers" series, which reminds me of several other series I've read that basically have a tall hot guy with special powers, big muscles and ninja combat skills who is sent to watch over some sort of magical petite woman, either a witch/fairy or a mage, who is in danger from the evil forces of darkness. Said watcher, who is not supposed to get involved with the beautiful petite (but bosomy, of course) witch/fairy/mage totally ignores that prohibition and falls madly in lust/love with the female protagonist because she's just so darn good/angelic and irresistible, his dark heart senses that she can save him from himself and of course provide mind-blowing sex as a bonus. The fact that these female protagonists in paranormal romances are always child-sized and act childishly naive and innocent, thereby making the big guy protagonist into a pedophile, seems to be completely fine with the authors who repeat these tropes and stereotypes in every single book in their various series. Blech...utterly nauseating. Here's the blurb: 

The Lightbringer:

Theodora Morgan knows she’s a little strange. Her talent for healing has marked her as different all through a life spent moving from town to town when someone notices her strangeness. Now she has a home, and she doesn’t want to leave—but she’s been found. The Crusade wants her dead because she’s psychic, the Dark wants to feed on her talent, and then there’s Dante. Tall and grim and armed with black-bladed knives, guns, and a sword, he says he’s here to protect her. But what if he’s what Theo needs protection from most?

The Watcher:

Dante is a Watcher, sworn by Circle Lightfall to protect the Lightbringers. His next assignment? Watch over Theo. She doesn’t know she’s a Lightbringer, she doesn’t know she’s surrounded by enemies, and she doesn’t know she’s been marked for death by a bunch of fanatics. He can’t protect her if she doesn’t trust him, but how can she possibly trust a man scarred by murder and warfare—a man who smells like the same Darkness Theo has been running from all her life?

Boo freaking hoo...poor Theo, who heals drug addicts and street people in the University District of Seattle, is just a green witch who doesn't know who to trust, even though the big guy who is her watcher repeatedly saves her life and, though it's obvious he has the hots for her, he doesn't lay a finger on her unless he's carrying her from a dangerous situation. Seriously, this paint by numbers plot is beneath an author of Saintcrow's considerable writing talents. The prose is clean and concise, but it's wasted on the trope-filled story, full of ridiculous situations/characters. I'd give this book a C+, and only recommend it to those who like their romances bland and unsurprising. 

Damage, A Ghost Squad Novel by Lilith Saintcrow was an ebook that I got for cheap with a code from a discount website. This book was a 'military romance' novel, which is what kept it from being as trope filled as the Watcher's series book, reviewed above. Since Saintcrow is a military brat, she would doubtless know something about PTSD and it's effect on soldiers coming home from war and finding it difficult to fit back into society. Still, there was the whole "big guy watches over frail woman/nanny" plot that once again felt overused and predictable. Here's the blurb:

Keeping her safe will be his hardest assignment yet. . .

Reeling from trauma and divorce, Cara Halperin takes what should be a simple job with an expensive agency. As a nanny to rich children, she shouldn't have much to worry about, and her job is just complex enough to keep her from brooding. Unfortunately, the agency's sent her into a trap.

Vincent Desmarais wants to go back into the field, but instead, he's put on leave. The diagnosis? PTSD. No problem--he can pick up security work on the side to keep himself sharp--that is, if the side work isn't just as dangerous as the bloody places he's longing to get back to.

When the lights go out, Cara and her young charge have only one option: to trust the new security guy. Vincent finds himself unwilling to abandon them to fate or let them out of his sight. If the trio wants to stay alive, they've got to trust each other. . .

. . .but that may just be what their enemies are counting on.

Cara, the female protagonist, has more spine than most romantic heroines, probably because she adores the little "sensitive" boy who is her charge as she navigates the high stakes world of wealthy misogynist drug lords and their greedy minions. Vincent manages to save her and the little boy from a deadly fate, while also falling in love with both Cara and the little boy, which softened his character somewhat. While I liked Saintcrow's muscular no-nonsense prose and juggernaut plot, I felt the characters were still a bit too stereotypical. So I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to those who find military stories of redemption interesting. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

John Willson Retires From Eagle Harbor Book Company, The Watergate Girl Movie, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg, Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan, I'll Be Seeing You by Elizabeth Berg, and The Billionaire's Beagle by Kristy Tate

Spring has sprung, as the saying goes, and here's an Easter basket full of book reviews and tidbits for you all on this rainy, chilly March day. Happy reading, Bibliophiles!

Retiring from Eagle Harbor Book Co. After 30 Years

John Willson, a bookseller at Eagle Harbor Book Company, Bainbridge Island, Wash., for 30 years, is retiring. In a touching e-mail to customers, the store wrote, in part, "John's literary reach has been wide and deep, as a lifelong and award-winning poet, a teacher and mentor in his longstanding poetry workshop on Bainbridge Island, and recipient of the Island Treasure award in 2014. Given his track record, we feel distinctly honored to have had his expertise and intentionality shaping the bookstore. He has for many years been the quiet force behind the wall of Staff Picks, championing the recommendations of his coworkers.

"John's first book-length collection of poems, Call This Room a Station, has been our bestselling book of poetry over the past two years. Fellow bookseller David Perry says of the collection, 'John notices and makes us aware of value in the world around that we're otherwise likely to miss,' and these words ring true for how John has poured into the culture and spirit of Eagle Harbor Books as well. We are so grateful and wish him all the best."

The store also noted that "none of us remembers the store quite like John does when he joined the team in 1991. In truth, none of the rest of us were there, and a few of us may not have even reached the diaper stage yet. When our fearless owner Jane Danielson brought her job application into the store over a dozen years ago, she handed it to none other than John."

Eagle Harbor has a memory book in which people can write Willson "a note of appreciation" that will be set out through Friday, April 2.

This sounds like a great book to movie adaptation of a story that is long overdue.

Movies:  The Watergate Girl

Katie Holmes has optioned The Watergate Girl My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President by former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks through her Noelle Productions banner, Deadline reported. Holmes will star and produce the project, which is planned as a feature adaptation.

"I'm excited to be working with Katie Holmes and am both honored and humbled to have my experience as the only woman on the Watergate trial team shared on the big screen," said Wine-Banks, who has also served as general counsel of the U.S. Army and executive v-p and COO of the American Bar Association. "Though it was almost 50 years ago, the story of our investigation and trial remain compelling and relevant to current events, and the sexism reflected in my story reverberates today. I hope this film opens up more dialogue around the challenges still facing professional women."

Holmes added: "I was drawn to this story because it is as relevant today as it was then. Women are constantly trying to break through the glass ceiling in the male workplace and this woman singlehandedly helped reshape the Watergate trial. I am constantly inspired by these strong female protagonists, and it is a world I will always want to explore."


Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg is an odd paranormal fantasy/mystery hybrid based in England that sounded like it was right up my alley. Unfortunately, as I've discovered with many books I've been lured into reading during the pandemic quarantine this past year, looks, or blurbs, can be deceiving. The prose was clean, but pedestrian and the plot glacially slow. I actually fell asleep reading this book several times, which is not common for me, especially when reading fiction. But the author seems to have forgotten the maxim of "Show, don't tell" as she has her protagonist and others ramble on and on about things we already know in nearly every chapter. Snore. Here's the blurb: The letter was short. A name, a time, a place.

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant at Miss Brickett’s receives a letter of warning, detailing a name, a time, and a place. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see―her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.

Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and colleague is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie-style locked-room murder mystery, with an exciting new heroine detective.

Willberg is one of the few authors who can take something as interesting as a secret underground organization that uses brilliant and innovative gadgets to fight crime and turn in into a mundane view of the lives of self-loathing, half starved British people who seek revenge for the most minor slights by trying to kill everyone with explosive and corrosive chemicals. Seriously. Because of course these people never talk about their disappointments or fears or anger, they just seethe quietly until they become mad scientists and murderers. Insert eye roll here. Obviously, I didn't find this book engaging or delightful, and I felt that I wasted full price on the hardback copy that I now own. Hence I'd give this lackluster mystery novel a C+, and only recommend it to those who don't mind long-winded explanations of every clue the protagonists have gathered in every chapter. 

Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan is the sequel to Girls of Paper and Fire, which was a fantasy novel set in and alternate feudal China. The protagonists in these two books are young lesbians in love, and their journey of discovery about themselves and each other is fascinating to watch. Ngan's prose is clear and cool, like a river in early spring, and her plot flows as swiftly as the rapids of that river. Here's the blurb: In this mesmerizing sequel to the New York Times bestseller Girls of Paper and Fire, Lei and Wren have escaped the oppression of the Hidden Palace, but their freedom comes at a terrible cost.

Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel monarch wasn't the culmination of her destiny -- it was just the beginning. Now Lei, with a massive bounty on her head, must travel the kingdom with her warrior love Wren to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans.

Meanwhile, a plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy, or will she succumb to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her bond with Wren, and their very lives?

As usual, the rebels are outmanned and outgunned, with the King (whom Lei supposedly killed, but it turns out was able to survive via the use of magic healers) using all of the soldiers, spies and mages at his disposal to track down Lei and Wren and bring them to heel (where we can only assume he will torture them in his dungeon). The fact that the duo manage to evade his capture for most of the book is astonishing, but what really surprised me SPOILER ALERT, was discovering that Wren and her guards instigated the death of key people as well as razing entire villages and then planting the King's flag in the ruins as a way to sway public opinion toward the rebels in the upcoming war. Lei is also gutted by the discovery of her love's political treachery, and toward the end the two aren't in a good place, though Lei always seems to forgive Wren, even when she's clearly in the wrong. This book was much harder to read than the first book, because there just wasn't as much optimism or hope for all the abused young women in it, but I have a suspicion that the third and final book of the series will be much better and leave readers with a more satisfying ending. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first book in the series.

I'll Be Seeing You by Elizabeth Berg is a memoir of Bergs time transitioning her grumpy elderly parents from their home into an assisted living facility due to her father's Alzheimers and her mother's mental instability. I've read a lot of Berg's fiction, most of which I've enjoyed, but this particular non fiction book was depressing and made Berg seem rather mean and immature. Her compassion for her father was constantly offset by her anger and distrust toward her mother, who, to be fair, was a real piece of work. Here's the blurb: Elizabeth Berg’s father was an Army veteran who was a tough man in every way but one: He showed a great deal of love and tenderness to his wife. Berg describes her parents’ marriage as a romance that lasted for nearly seventy years; she grew up watching her father kiss her mother upon leaving home, and kiss her again the instant he came back. His idea of when he should spend time away from her was never.

But then Berg’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease, and her parents were forced to leave the home they loved and move into a facility that could offer them help. It was time for the couple’s children to offer, to the best of their abilities, practical advice, emotional support, and direction—to, in effect, parent the people who had for so long parented them. It was a hard transition, mitigated at least by flashes of humor and joy. The mix of emotions on everyone’s part could make every day feel like walking through a minefield. Then came redemption.

I’ll Be Seeing You charts the passage from the anguish of loss to the understanding that even in the most fractious times, love can heal, transform, and lead to graceful—and grateful—acceptance.

There is very little grateful or graceful acceptance here, from what I read, and only one spot of humor that I can think of in the entire book. I kept having to put the book down because it was so dull, repetitive and sad. Berg's mother, who was German like my grandmother, was a nasty person and very hard to live with, just like my grandma Lang. So of course my grandfather, Bill, was my mothers hero and favorite parent, because he was a kinder and gentler person, just as Bergs father seems, at the outset, to be a kinder person than her mother. But I think anyone would become rattled and frustrated and angry with a spouse who, through the ravages of dementia, will not let them have a moment alone or to themselves. I know that this would be unbearable for me, so I found myself becoming frustrated with Berg for not trying hard enough to see her mother's side of things, and always seeing her father as a victim. At any rate, the long hard road to her parents death is what this book is really about, so if you're already depressed or frustrated by being part of the "sandwich generation" of people who have to care for their family at home and also care for their aging and infirm parents, this isn't the book for you, as it will only drag you down further into the oubliette of despair. I'd give the book a D, and only recommend it to die-hard fans of Berg's work.

The Billionaire's Beagle by Kristy Tate was an ebook that I got for free, which sounded like a rom-com that would take the taste of the previous depressive books out of my brain. The prose was light and the plot easy, so it was the perfect palate cleanser before I delve into my next stack of Easter books. Here's the blurb: Above all else, Letty detests liars. A good girl through and through, she’s always tried to walk a straight line, which hasn’t been easy given her father walked a crooked path that led him to prison.
Wes is attracted to Letty the moment he meets her. One of the things he loves about her is she thinks he’s just a beach bum working at the local hotel and she’s okay with him just as (she thinks) he is.
But when Betty the beagle gets kidnapped, the budding romance goes off the rails and Wes and Letty are forced to fess up to their lies and exaggerations before their problems (and beagles) get completely out of hand and off leash.
Romantic comedy fans and dog-lovers will enjoy this sweet beach-side romp by USA Today bestselling author, Kristy Tate.

One of the tropes that has always bothered me about romances and rom-coms is how sexist they are toward women and young women, especially when it comes to body size. In this book, Betty the beagle is overweight, so the protagonists constantly make jokes about Betty's size, her "laziness" and how easy it is to find a "copy" beagle identical to her who is unwanted because the copy-beagle is so fat! How horrible! Why would anyone want a fat dog?! Even when it turns out that the copy-beagle is actually pregnant and not fat/overweight, they still make fun of her, which seems especially heartless. I kept wanting to remind Letty and Wes that they, too, will get older and doubtless put on weight as the years go by, so being nasty and fatphobic about two poor beagles will eventually come and bite them in their spandex-covered runners butts. But other than the author's blatant size prejudice and ignorance, the characters were goofy and the book was easily read in an afternoon. I doubt that I would read any sequels or any other books by this author, but this one was fun and not too much work to get through. I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to anyone who likes madcap romantic romps.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

President Biden Gives Bookseller a Boost, Bookstore Marriage Proposal, Oprah Picks Gilead Quartet for Book Club, Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, Cat Me If You Can by Miranda James, Star Trek Discovery: The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack, Cold Iron Heart by Melissa Marr

Good evening fellow book craving folks! I have been wrestling with health issues, again, and haven't had the energy to get to blogging my book reviews. But I shall rectify that right now, on the eve of springtime, when the world begins to awaken from her winter slumber. 

I love having Joe Biden as president, he was such a great and inspiring VP to Obama, and now he is working hard to undo all the damage to our nation that the last president caused. So I'm not surprised he gave a boost to a bookstore owner in PA. Good for him, and for her!

Bookseller Mentioned in President Biden's Speech

During President Biden's prime-time address last Thursday, he recalled that last summer, "I was in Philadelphia and I met a small-business owner, a woman. I asked her, I said, 'What do you need most?' Never forget what she said to me. She said, looking me right in the eye and she said, 'I just want the truth. The truth. Just tell me the truth.' "

That small business owner was Kirsten Hess of Let's Play Books, Emmaus, Pa. She told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Biden was describing their interaction at a campaign event in June. "He was directly across the table and he said specifically, 'What are you looking for from your government?' And I believe I said, 'The truth. I want clear consistent language so that business owners and others can make smart decisions.' "

Hess was excited to learn that her words had been cited in the president's speech, even if he didn't use her name. "I'm a little giddy to be honest with you," she said. "The fact that maybe my five minutes or 10 minutes... with him actually resonated makes me feel really proud."

She also recalled that then-President Trump had tweeted an image of her husband and daughter attending a speech Biden gave later in the day, held at a venue with limited capacity due to Covid-19. Trump's mockery of the crowd ("Joe Biden's rally. ZERO enthusiasm!") "used to bother Hess but it feels different now, with Biden in office and Trump suspended from Twitter," the Inquirer noted.

"All I can say is what a difference a year can make," she said.

 I love it when people get engaged and/or married in a bookstore. I wish that my husband and I had thought of this back in 1997!

Bookstore Marriage Proposal: Powell's Books

"Congratulations to Michael and Melody on their engagement! We are so honored to be a part of your story. Thank you for sharing your joy and love with us," Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., posted on Facebook.

Though I wasn't able to make it through Gilead (I found it boring), I still appreciate Oprah taking the quartet of books to new heights through her book club.

The first novel, Gilead, takes place in Iowa, my home state.

Oprah's Book Club Picks: Marilynne Robinson's Gilead Quartet

Oprah Winfrey has chosen Marilynne Robinson's four Gilead novels (Gilead, Home, Lila, Jack) as her 87th, 88th, 89th and 90th Oprah's Book Club selections. Winfrey said Robinson "is one of our greatest living authors, and in the Gilead novels she's written a quartet of masterpieces. The more closely I read them, the more I find to appreciate, and the more they show the way in seeing the beauty in the ordinary. I'm thrilled to share them all with you."

Describing Winfrey as "a singular voice in this country and in the world," Robinson said, "It is wonderful and amazing that my books will have the kind of attention only she could bring to them."

Over the next two months, Winfrey will lead an exploration of the universe of Gilead, beginning with Gilead. A reading schedule will be posted on the Oprah's Book Club social platforms. She will also conduct an interview with the author, whom Winfrey calls "a philosopher/teacher, as well as one of our most important fiction writers," which will air on dates to be determined on Apple TV+.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey is the April pick for my library book group. I should have loved this book, too, because it's within one of my favorite genres, fantasy, with a magical realism/mystery overlay that sounded juicy and fascinating. But this novel, which was labyrinthine, even though it wasn't long enough to warrant such an elaborate plot, ended in such a "WHAT?" way that I was thoroughly disappointed in it, and regretted all the time I'd spent reading it. Here's the blurb: Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in Magic for Liars, a fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.

Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life – or at least, she’s perfectly fine.

She doesn't in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.

Ivy Gamble is a liar.

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself.   

So, SPOILER ALERT, Ivy, who is rather stupid and not at all as nice as she's supposed to be, does find out who the murderer is, but then *lets her go* because it's her insane, evil sister, whom she doesn't like anyway, and whom she's not spoken to in years. If you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief and saying WTF? over and over, then you've got my reaction to this ridiculous novel. She discovers that her sister is gay, and that she does regret being unable to save their mother from the ravages of stage 4 cancer, yet when Tabitha discovers that her lover also has advanced cancer, her reaction to try and "cure" her by literally tearing her apart seems a bit hysterical, if not power-crazed. But while the prose is smooth, it has a job getting the weird plot from point A to B without stumbling over tangents, such as Ivy's relationship with one of the teachers. (Surprise, it also doesn't end well). I didn't really find anyone I could relate to in this novel, either, so I'd give it a C, and recommend it to anyone who found Lev Grossman's The Magicians to be enjoyable, even with all its tragedy and gore. 

Cat Me If You Can by Miranda James (pen name of Dean James) is the 13th "Cat in the Stacks" mystery, which involves the sleuthing of Charlie and his Main Coon cat Diesel (and now his fiancee Helen).  Here's the blurb: Charlie and Diesel along with Charlie's fiancĂ©e, Helen Louise Brady, are heading to Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week at a boutique hotel and participate in a gathering of a mystery reader's club composed of patrons of the Athena Public Library. In addition to seeing the local sights, the members will take turns giving talks on their favorite authors. 

The always spry Ducote sisters, friends of the hotel’s owners, are helping underwrite the expenses, and they’ve insisted that Charlie, Helen, and Diesel join them. Anxious to get Helen Louise away from her bistro for a vacation, Charlie readily agrees. While Charlie is looking forward to relaxing with Helen Louise and Diesel, other members of the group have ulterior motives including a long-standing score to settle.

When an intrusive, uninvited guest turns up dead, only one mystery club member with a connection to the deceased appears to have a motive to kill. But could the answer really be that simple? Charlie and Diesel, along with the detecting Ducote sisters, know that every murder plot has an unexpected twist.

Of course it's a (SPOILER) religious homophobic idiot who ends up being the killer, which is not surprising, as I believe the author himself is gay. That said, the prose is clean and clear, while the plot is a straight shot that never leaves readers hanging. This is exactly the kind of cozy cat mystery that my mother loves, because it has familiar characters and few, if any, surprises. Therefore I'd give it a B, as it is exactly what the packaging says, a nice diversion of a read at a time when such things are desperately needed during the pandemic and quarantine. 

Star Trek Discovery: The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack is a ST Discovery novel that outlines the origin story of engineer Sylvia Tilly. Though I didn't like Tilly at first, because she acted like a giggling immature ninny, a sharp contrast to her room mate, the seriously wonderful Michael Burnham, the writers of Discovery have pushed the story of her growth so well that if you're not in love with her character by the time she's done being the vicious Captain Killy in the Mirror Universe, then you have no soul. I read this ebook all in one sitting, because I was riveted by her backstory. Here's the blurb: Despite being an inexperienced Starfleet cadet, Sylvia Tilly became essential to the USS Discovery finding its way back home from the Mirror Universe. But how did she find that courage? From where did she get that steel? Who nurtured that spark of brilliance? The Way to the Stars recounts for fans everywhere the untold story of Tilly’s past.

It’s not easy being sixteen, especially when everyone expects great things from Tilly. It’s even harder when her mother and father are Federation luminaries, not to mention pressing her to attend one of the best schools that the Federation has to offer. Tilly wants to achieve great things—even though she hasn’t quite worked out how to do that or what it is she wants to do. But this year, everything will change for Tilly, as she about to embark upon the adventure of a lifetime—an adventure that will take her ever closer to the stars.

The prose was evocative and the plot swift as a starship at warp speeds; I loved every moment of Tilly's break from her rigid and cruel mother's clutches, to becoming a budding engineer (or in her words, "someone who knows how to fix things") and eventual Starfleet cadet. 

Her father, whom she adores but who seemed like a weak and cowardly guy who put his own career above the life and health of his daughter, finally gets around to apologizing and helping Tilly in the end, though his surprise that his ex-wife is a terrible bully seems disingenuous. I mean, he was married to the woman and has known her ways for a long time, so why he couldn't predict that she'd be a horribly controlling and abusive mother is beyond me. Still, this was a captivating coming of age story worthy of an A, that I would recommend to young women who are Star Trek fans. 

Cold Iron Heart (A Wicked Lovely Adult Faery novel) by Melissa Marr is yet another ebook that I snagged for a really reasonable two bucks off of Amazon. While I enjoyed the first 2/3rds of the novel, the last part, which delved into the future of the characters 100 years later, was somewhat confusing and stilted. Here's the blurb:  In this prequel to the international bestselling WICKED LOVELY series (over a million copies sold), the Faery Courts collide a century before the mortals in Wicked Lovely are born.

Thelma Foy, a jeweler with the Second Sight in iron-bedecked 1890s New Orleans, wasn’t expecting to be caught in a faery conflict. Tam can see through the glamours faeries wear to hide themselves from mortals, but if her secret were revealed, the fey would steal her eyes, her life, or her freedom. So, Tam doesn’t respond when they trail thorn-crusted fingertips through her hair at the French Market or when the Dark King sings along with her in the bayou.

But when the Dark King, Irial, rescues her, Tam must confront everything she thought she knew about faeries, men, and love.

Too soon, New Orleans is filling with faeries who are looking for her, and Irial is the only one who can keep her safe.

Unbeknownst to Tam, she is the prize in a centuries-old fight between Summer Court and Winter Court. To protect her, Irial must risk a war he can’t win--or surrender the first mortal woman he's loved.

"Set 100 years before the events in Wicked Lovely, Cold Iron Heart finds Irial, the king of the Dark Court, in New Orleans and entranced by a mortal. Is his interest in Thelma Foy just a passing fascination, or could it change the course of her life and the world forever? Melissa Marr masterfully rises to challenge of writing a prequel by both expanding on the mythology of the original series while telling a story that exists wholly on its own. Fans of the series will inhale this delicious glimpse into Irial’s past.”-
-​John McDougall of Murder by the Book

So I believe that if I haven't read Wicked Lovely, that I do have a copy around here somewhere that I have been meaning to read. As with most novels with a heavy romantic storyline, I am always on the look out for the cliches and tropes that make the romance genre so irritating for me to read. This book has some of them, with the female protagonist being so "thin" (due to starvation) and waif-ish, while also having big lips and pretty eyes that are seen as extremely sexy by the muscular and flawlessly handsome fae male protagonist...blech. She's like an old-time Bratz doll.  This is followed by Irial's delighted discovery that his soon to be obsession Thelma, or Tam, as she prefers to be called, is virginal and fearful of sex, while also being skinny enough to resemble a young boy, which lights his fires because he's bisexual and apparently, as an immortal, nearly a pedophile. I really hate it when female protagonists, even those in earlier eras (this takes place in 1890s New Orleans) are so ignorant about their bodies that they're shocked (!) when they get pregnant after having sex for the first time. Seriously? Tam is supposed to be a smart and independent woman who is well read and savvy. Yet the two things she expressly says that she does NOT want, a man (and a love affair) and children, happen nearly halfway through the book and she's suddenly all in with being a domestic drudge with children to feed and raise by herself. WTF Melissa Marr?  Why all the sexist BS? Still, I did enjoy the storyline of the war and the curse and the evil fae vs good fae, and the prose and plot were nicely laid out. I'd give this prequel novel a B- and recommend it to anyone who has read a Melissa Marr novel and isn't too picky about sexist tropes in romance novels.