Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, The Bees by Laline Paull, Goodnight June by Sarah Jio, the Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear andThe Queen of the Tearling by Ericka Johansen

  I have a lot of reviews to post, but first I thought I'd post a great quote by an author who is after my own heart on this matter...there are a number of books that I have loved but couldn't bear to read again, because I would have to experience the pain all over again, or the joy, or whatever emotions the author and characters have put me through.

Some of the books that I consider my favorite are ones that rock me to my core, that leave me feeling like someone squeezed my heart really tightly for those 300 to 400 pages. But the idea of going through that experience for a second time? No, thank you.
Not only do I not want to experience that kind of emotional roller coaster for a second time (let’s ignore the fact that I continue to go through it, just with different books), but what if it is worse a second time around? Now that I know what is coming, will the ride only be worse because I am just waiting for events to occur? Will I even have the strength to continue through the book a second time around? Part of me thinks it is like knowing that an oven is hot and choosing to touch it anyway.
from On Books I Love That I’ll Never Re-read by Rincey Abraham

I just finished The Bees by Laline Paull today, and I can honestly say that I never thought I'd be moved by a story about the inner life of a worker bee in a hive. Bugs, other than butterflies, aren't really my thing. They're not as creepy as rats, but they're not terribly cuddly, either. I can't even eat honey, because I am allergic to pollen and every time I try to eat it I have a terrible allergic reaction.
Still, Paull is an author who is a master storyteller, and I am a sucker for a good old fashioned ripping yarn. The story pulls you in right from the first page, and the emotional and robust prose creates a world that seems as normal as the human world, complete with political machinations and religious problems. The characters are heartfelt and beautiful, and the plot, forgive me, buzzes along swiftly and with great care. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all–daring to challenge the Queen's preeminence–enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive's strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society–and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.
Flora is a heroine for the ages, and I was riveted by her tale of love and devotion. This book deserves an A, and I hope that it becomes as popular as The Fault in Our Stars. I would recommend it to those who love a good story and a strong female protagonist, and those who are interested in the environment and the poisons that are killing off our bee populations.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes is the third book that I've read by this fantastic author. This story is completely different from the first two, so I had a little difficulty getting into it, but I was glad that I stuck with it, because it was worth the time, in the end. Here's the gist of the story from the publisher:
American audiences have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes. Ever since she debuted Stateside she has captivated readers and reviewers alike, and hit the New York Times bestseller list with the word-of-mouth sensation Me Before You. Now, with One Plus One, she’s written another contemporary opposites-attract love story.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
Moyes tends to write characters that are deeply flawed, so they will seem more realistic. While I get that, and I admire her for making characters that aren't stereotypes or cliches, it bothers me that Jess is such a mess in this story, that she keeps refusing help that she desperately needs, if not for herself, for her children, and that despite her ridiculous 'pride' she doesn't seem to have a problem getting Ed's nice car full of puke and stinky, filthy dog, nor does she mind being rather mean to the guy when he's trying to help in the only way that he knows. I wanted to smack her several times during the book for being such an idiot. Not that Ed didn't have his moments when he did something stupid, but his foibles only caused him problems, whereas everything she did had a bad or good effect on her children, especially her daughter, whose innocence and naive outlook became annoying fairly quickly. Despite this, it was a good story that I would give a B to, and recommend it to those who like quirky characters caught up in absurd situations.
Goodnight, June by Sarah Jio was a thoroughly magnificent book, told in partly epistolary style, about a woman in Seattle who owns a bookstore and corresponds with her best friend Margaret Wise Brown, author of the famed children's book, "Goodnight Moon." Having had the book read to me as a child, and then reading it to my own baby when I brought him home from the hospital, I was intrigued by this book, especially at its having fictionalized the life of MWB and the beginnings of Goodnight Moon (and having it all take place in Seattle near Greenlake, where my husband and I lived when we first moved here). Here's the publisher's blurb:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Songs) is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.
June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
 I loved the letters between Ruby and MWB, and I adored the way that June was able to find the letters by going through old first edition copies of MWB books and other works where her great aunt hid them among the shelves in the bookstore. There was something so "Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankwieler" about it, and anything that takes place in a bookstore appeals to me. The modern day romance of June and the chef wasn't quite as appealing, though it wasn't too annoying, either. The ending wraps up very neatly, and almost too sweetly, even for me, a huge HEA fan. Despite that, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who love Goodnight Moon and all of Margaret Wise Browns wonderful children's books.
The Care and Management of Lies is not another Maisie Dobbs mystery, unfortunately. I found it rather slow going because of that. It's a very "talky" book with lots of discussion of what was happening in the days going up to the Great War (World War 1) and then the horrors during the war, with very little about what happens in the aftermath of the war. Perhaps that's why I had such trouble finishing this book, because I am not a fan of military books, or discussions of man's inhumanity to man. Gross and horrific as war always is, I hope that we have learned from the world wars and that we will never have to fight that close to home ever again.
Still, Jacqueline Winspear is an experienced author, and her love of this era is evident in the time and care she lavishes on describing the farm that Kezia and Tom (husband and wife) live on together. The idealized agrarian culture makes the reader yearn for simpler times when everyone knew exactly where their food came from. Tom's sister Thea and her weird need to somehow make trouble are less lovely, as is the character, who can't seem to make up her mind whether or not she's a feminist or a lost soul. Here's the publisher's blurb:
By July 1914, the ties between Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since girlhood, have become strained—by Thea's passionate embrace of women's suffrage and by the imminent marriage of Kezia to Thea's brother, Tom, who runs the family farm. When Kezia and Tom wed just a month before war is declared between Britain and Germany, Thea's gift to Kezia is a book on household management—a veiled criticism of the bride's prosaic life to come. Yet when Tom enlists to fight for his country and Thea is drawn reluctantly onto the battlefield herself, the farm becomes Kezia's responsibility. Each must find a way to endure the ensuing cataclysm and turmoil.
As Tom marches to the front lines and Kezia battles to keep her ordered life from unraveling, they hide their despair in letters and cards filled with stories woven to bring comfort. Even Tom's fellow soldiers in the trenches enter and find solace in the dream world of Kezia's mouth-watering, albeit imaginary, meals. But will well-intended lies and self-deception be of use when they come face-to-face with the enemy?
I enjoyed the "food porn" letters that Kezia sent to Tom, and I could imagine how much the other men in his military unit loved them, too, but, SPOILER, I can't really imagine that Tom, who was otherwise so sensible, would let his wife's letters nearly get him court martialed, and eventually killed. Though Kezia will never know that, I find that an unfair karmic burden to lay at her character's feet. The heartbreak of losing an entire generation of men to war is woven throughout this novel, so if you're in a melancholy mood, this isn't the best book to read. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to war history buffs and those who enjoy reading about the British during wartime.
The Queen of the Tearling is an outstanding fantasy novel that I could not put down. Brilliantly written and filled with fascinating characters, Erika Johansen has set herself up as a series author to watch. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.
On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.
But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

Kelsea's journey to even get to the castle is fraught with danger and turmoil, but her insistence on ending the slavery and murder of her people makes her beloved, but even more of a target by forces from neighboring kingdoms. I loved the fact that Kelsea's mother was something of an idiot, and that her sapphires are magical weapons and protective devices. I was also seriously intrigued by the "Fetch" and Kelsea's attraction to him. I found myself wondering if he is her father, or her brother, or half brother. I was also fascinated by the hints that Johansen intersperses throughout the novel that the Tearling world is the second home of humanity, who apparently got there in ships and tried to create a utopia that failed on a massive scale, ending up with with a sort of medieval society of serfs and slaves and royalty and merchants. I loved that the author wasn't afraid to have truly evil villains and some only slightly bad guys mixed up in the works, and that Kelsea was strong enough to stick to what she knows in her heart is the right thing to do, even if it means that there will be more people hunting her, and more people planning on making war with her kingdom.  I greatly anticipate the next novel in this series, and I give this book a wholehearted A, and recommend it to those who love Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Philip Pullman's YA novels and Garth Nix's as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, Two Reviews


 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

― Washington Irving 

I deeply believe that tears can be a wonderful relief and a way of easing our pain or of expressing our joy as readers when we've finished a good book, or in this case, a series, and realize that we're no longer going to be able to spend time with the characters in the novels who have become our friends. That's how I felt after finishing the Book of Life, the final novel in Deborah Harkness' "Discovery of Witches" trilogy. Harkness has a way of allowing us to get inside the mind of her characters, all the while creating background and events from their lives that serve to fill them out and make them seem real and living, though they live fantastical lives filled with magic and creatures out of fairytales.
Here's an overview review from Shelf Awareness, and I will comment more following it.

Review: The Book of Life
Picking up where book two of the All Souls Trilogy (Shadow of Night)
left off, The Book of Life reunites readers with witch Diana Bishop, her
vampire husband, Matthew Clairmont, and their many friends and enemies.
After traveling through time in the previous novel, Diana and Matthew
are back in the present at his ancestral home, Sept-Tours, where they
learn the horrifying news that Emily, Diana's aunt who was also a witch,
has died.

The witch-vampire couple must also contend with Matthew's family, who
distrust Diana (particularly Baldwin, who wonders "how that witch
tricked a blood vow from a dead vampire"). As their visit wears on,
Diana learns more about her husband's past, that he is more than a
"scientist, vampire, warrior, spy, and prince" and that his blood rage
flows through the veins of others. Her in-laws, meanwhile, ponder the
incredible and seemingly impossible fact that Diana is pregnant with
Matthew's twins. If it's true, Baldwin claims, "they'll be the most
hated--and the most hunted--children the world has ever known. Creatures
will be baying for their blood."

Characters from the first books--such as Gallowglass, Miriam and
Chris--aid Diana and Matthew in their continued quest to find the
missing pages of the Ashmole 782, also called The Book of Life.
Firedrakes, daemons, a tree that grows in the living room and a house
that produces strange objects swirl around the couple as they travel to
Connecticut, France and Italy in search of answers to the questions that
have chased them through the centuries. And by using modern genetic
analysis, the couple hopes to find out what makes it possible for some
witches to carry vampire babies and why blood rage is found in a few
select vampires.

Full of tender love, immeasurable anger and humor, Harkness's prose
adroitly blends modern science with fantastical creatures, ideas on the
origins of all species, and the way past deeds can affect the future.
Though readers of the series will surely enjoy The Book of Life,
unfamiliarity with the intricate plot begun in the earlier volume may
make this a confusing read for newcomers. Instead, start at book one, as
the entire trilogy is a delightful plunge into the world of magic,
witches and vampires, where love breaks all rules and happy endings are
possible. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer
and book reviewer
 
I was thrilled that Matthew and Diana were back in this century, but at the same time, they both felt out of sync with this time period, and it set up an unease that was one of the threads woven throughout the book. Then there was the tension of Matthews vampire son, a psychopathic killer named Benjamin, who hates his father for abandoning him (instead of killing him, which is what he was told to do once they discovered his penchant for murder) and is determined to impregnate a witch as Matthew has done with Diana, though he rapes and tortures the witches he's kidnapped. Add to that the search for Ashmole 782, or the Book of Life, and that makes for a suspenseful, page-turning read. And though I've never been a fan of 'possessive' men who can't be out of sight of their beloved woman, whom they act like they own, Harkness made it clear that this is part of Matthews pathology as a vampire, that it is a physical need for him to be with his life mate, and that his old-world upbringing also comes into play, though he made an effort to give her as much freedom as he could muster. Meanwhile, Diana comes into her own as a witch, weaver and a 'time walker' and once her twins are born, she becomes the true force to be reckoned with, as she returns the Book of Life pages to the book itself, and then becomes the book, and ends up saving the day for everyone.  I felt that every loose end was woven into a whole cloth with this book, though with the twins, I have a sneaking suspicion that Harkness could come out with a series about their lives as the offspring of a witch and a vampire. I must also mention how interesting I found the ancient horoscope signs and their meanings at the beginning of each chapter. Even if you view astrology as archetypes, as I do, you still find yourself marveling at the accuracy of the descriptions of what each sign is prone to bring into the world. I could not have enjoyed this book more, and of course it deserves an A, with the recommendation that anyone who has read the other two books by Harkness needs to finish the series with this fine volume. Plus, we can all still hope for the stories of the Bishop-de Clermont clan 15 years down the road.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Book Of Life by Deborah Harkness, Cover Art and Q&A Spoilers



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Coming soon! July 15th is the release of the final book in the Discovery of Witches series, (Shadow of Night was book 2). Above feast your eyes on the beauty of the book, and below, read a conversation with series author Deborah Harkness! Warning, contains SPOILERS about the third and final book in the series, the Book of Life. I will post a review of the Book of Life after July 15, the books publication date. Meanwhile, enjoy!

A CONVERSATION WITH DEBORAH HARKNESS


Q: In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research.  What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!

A. There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it. Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here?


Q: Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to fact important moral issues?

A. Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.


Q: From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

A. Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family:  unqualified love and mutual responsibility. That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.


Q: While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

A. Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.


Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.


Q: Diana and Matthew, once again, move around to quite a number of locations in THE BOOK OF LIFE, including New Haven, New Orleans, and a few of our favorite old haunts like Oxford, Madison, and Sept-Tours. What inspired you to place your characters in these locations? Have you visited them yourself? 

A. As a writer, I really need to experience the places I write about in my books. I want to know what it smells like, how the air feels when it changes direction, the way the sunlight strikes the windowsill in the morning, the sound of birds and insects. Not every writer may require this, but I do. So I spent time not only in New Haven but undertaking research at the Beinecke Library so that I could understand the rhythms of Diana’s day there. I visited New Orleans several times to imagine my vampires into them. All of the locations I pick are steeped in history and stories about past inhabitants—perfect fuel for any writer’s creative fire.


Q: Did you know back when you wrote A Discovery of Witches how the story would conclude in THE BOOK OF LIFE? Did the direction change once you began the writing process?

A. I knew how the trilogy would end, but I didn’t know exactly how we would get there. The story was well thought out through the beginning of what became The Book of Life, but the chunk between that beginning and the ending (which is as I envisioned it) did change. In part that was because what I had sketched out was too ambitious and complicated—the perils of being not only a first-time trilogy writer but also a first time author. It was very important to me that I resolve and tie up all the threads already in the story so readers had a satisfying conclusion. Early in the writing of The Book of Life it became clear that this wasn’t going to give me much time to introduce new characters or plot twists. I now understand why so many trilogies have four, five, six—or more—books in them. Finishing the trilogy as a trilogy required a lot of determination and a very thick pair of blinders as I left behind characters and story lines that would take me too far from the central story of Diana, Matthew, and the Book of Life.


Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the secrets contained in the manuscript are at long last revealed in THE BOOK OF LIFE. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation.  What was the story behind your discovery?  And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.


Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?

A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.


Q: Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

  

 For additional information or to schedule an interview with
Deborah Harkness, contact:
Lindsay Prevette / 212.366.2224 / lindsay.prevette@us.penguingroup.com
Shannon Twomey / 212.366.2227 / shannon.twomey@us.penguingroup.com
Catherine Boyd / 212.366.2714 / catherine.boyd@us.penguingroup.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hillary Clinton in Seattle, Shattered by Kevin Hearne, One Day by David Nicholls, and the Glass Sentence by SE Grove


I've long been a fan of Hillary Clinton (and her husband), and the fact that her book signing drew so many people to the U Bookstore is evidence that I am not alone, and that I'm not the only one who thinks it is time that America had a female president. Though I've not read her book yet, I have seen her interviewed several times, and she's just so smart and delightful that I hope, though she says she is still deciding, that she will run for president in 2016. I would vote for her in a heartbeat.

Smooth Signing in Seattle for "Hard Choices"
  
The fans started gathering on Tuesday evening; by the time Hillary
Rodham Clinton showed up the next day to sign copies of her new book,
Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster), lines of people wound through two
levels of University Book Store
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21501172 in Seattle, Wash.
Some 1,200 customers purchased wristbands to get a book and a chance to
shake Clinton's hand and say a few words. No selfies, though--the Secret
Service didn't allow that, and Boomer the bomb-sniffing dog and the
body-wanding men were out in force.

One thing that was apparent, aside from the eagerness to see Hillary,
was the camaraderie of the crowd after the long wait. Bookstore
employees handed out bottled water, the sleep-deprived descended on the
coffee shop, and good humor abounded.

General books manager Pam Cady said that every waking moment in the week
had been about Clinton. The Secret Service started their reconnaissance
Friday morning, and while the store has hosted Jimmy Carter many times
and Bill Clinton once, this was a little more intense. All presidents
are rock stars, but the energy was off the charts. And happily, there
were no crazy episodes. Cady said, "The only quirky thing about the
entire event is that it wasn't quirky! Everyone had such a good
time--we're still hearing the love from our customers and her team. Even
the press was happy with how smoothly everything went."   

Hillary was gracious and "present" with everyone. Cady used a sports
analogy: "She never took a play off. But the thing that struck me the
most was how all the young women in line were so touched by her.
Hundreds of young women left with tears in their eyes after shaking
hands with her--and in the few moments she had with them she made them
feel that they could make a difference in the world and that they
mattered and what they brought to the table mattered." When Cady met
Clinton at BEA last month, her immediate impression was, "You will never
find a person more capable of running the world." The customers in line
seemed to agree. --Marilyn Dahl 

This is true, especially when you consider the value of a real, solid book that you can hold in your hands and love forever.
  
The Beauty of 'Real Books in Real Bookshops'
"Imagine getting to the end of your days with a lifetime of reading
behind you and there being nothing to show for all those experiences
save a slab of plastic, the contents of which are only licensed to you
and could be cut off on a whim at any moment.... Thankfully, while
there's still beauty in the world real books in real bookshops will
remain part of our lives."

--Chris Neill in a Sunday Express piece headlined "Why I'm so happy to

I did this, and the result is that my son has the highest reading comprehension score in the state of Washington, and is at 99 percent nationally.  So yes, it works. Just like it worked when my mother read to me from infancy until I learned to read to myself at age 4.

Doctors Prescribe Reading Aloud to Children from Birth

Under a new policy announced this week by the American Academy of
Pediatrics, doctors will advise parents to read aloud to their infants
from birth http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21533524.
The New York Times reported the decision evolves from "the increased
recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within
the first three years of a child's life, and that reading to children
enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills."

The group, representing 62,000 pediatricians across the country, "is
asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every
time a baby visits the doctor," the Times noted. "It should be there
each time we touch bases with children," said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote
the new policy.
 
 The three books I've finished in the last 10 days are very different from one another, yet all deal with life, death, finding oneself and finding someone to love. 
Shattered is the 7th book in the Iron Druid series by the funny and wonderful Kevin Hearne, whom I met a couple of years ago at the University Bookstore in Seattle. Atticus O Sullivan, the two thousand year old druid who is the protagonist of Hearne's books, along with his dog Oberon, is like the Celtic version of Harry Dresden, if Dresden were written by Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher in collaboration. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know how I adore Harry Dresden, so you'd realize that when I say that Atticus is on a par with Chicago's favorite wizard, that's quite a compliment. Here's the blurb:
"For nearly two thousand years, only one Druid has walked the Earth—Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he’s been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company.

Atticus’s apprentice Granuaile is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy.

And Owen has some catching up to do.

Atticus takes pleasure in the role reversal, as the student is now the teacher. Between busting Atticus’s chops and trying to fathom a cell phone, Owen must also learn English. For Atticus, the jury’s still out on whether the wily old coot will be an asset in the epic battle with Norse god Loki—or merely a pain in the arse.

But Atticus isn’t the only one with daddy issues. Granuaile faces a great challenge: to exorcise a sorcerer’s spirit that is possessing her father in India. Even with the help of the witch Laksha, Granuaile may be facing a crushing defeat.

As the trio of Druids deals with pestilence-spreading demons, bacon-loving yeti, fierce flying foxes, and frenzied Fae, they’re hoping that this time, three’s a charm. "
I will have to talk some SPOILERS to note how I felt about the novel, so if you haven't read Shattered yet, skip the next few paragraphs. 
I was actually thrilled that Granuaile finally got some say in the plot of the book, even if it was only every third chapter. We had to hear from the fusty, crude and rude old archdruid every other chapter that wasn't Atticus, which became somewhat annoying as he's a sour and mean old codger who doesn't soften towards Atticus, whom he raised, until nearly the end of the book. By that time I was heartily sick of his nastiness and his focus on his belly and sex (and constantly berating poor Atticus). If it had been me writing the book, I would have killed him off in the final fae battle, and been done with it, but apparently there are things Hearne has in store for him in the 8th book. 
Granny, as I am going to call her, kicks some arse in the book, which is great, but she also makes a serious rookie mistake and nearly gets herself and her hound killed. And speaking of her hound, why is it that Orlaith sounds so stupid when compared to Oberon? Is it because she's a young dog at this point? Still, I enjoyed getting Granny's POV, separate from Atticus' and his usual dramas.  Though I was sad that some great characters died, I think that Hearne has brought his characters in line with what could and should happen when they are both out in the world fighting evil. I think a reckoning is coming for Loki, and I hope it won't be too horrendous for Granny and Atticus now that she has Loki's brand on her, and he's able to track her. At any rate, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to Dresden File fans, Neil Gaiman fans and those who have read and enjoyed the previous 6 books.
One Day by David Nicholls wasn't at all what I expected it to be. I thought it would be a moving love story between two interesting people during a time period roughly equivalent with my own youth and college years. Not only was it not at all like that, it was not really what the blurb made it out to be: "It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself."
The author has them go year by year only in the beginning, and then he adds a year or two here and there to get us close to present day as possible. Unfortunately, that's not the only flaw in this dreary, drab and dull novel. The two protagonists, Emma and Dexter, or Em and Dex as they call one another, meet after graduation and have a brief affair but decide to stay friends instead of becoming a couple. What follows is a dreadful load of whining and self loathing on the part of both Em and Dex, in that neither can seem to find their place in the world, nor can they manage to keep a decent relationship going. For Dex, this is because he's a total asshat and an alcoholic, sexist moneyed idiot who spends a majority of the novel drunk and puking on himself, when he's not having affairs with any and all women within reach. He of course then debriefs to Em, and whines to her constantly about his life, even when he's swimming in money and she's working as a waitress and is poor. the only woman he seems to value at all as a person is Em, but he doesn't seem to have the ability to understand that he actually cares for her enough to be in a real relationship, and, despite his feelings, he treats her badly and they end up estranged for several years. 
Meanwhile, Em flutters around, being a teacher and a playwright and a waitress, all while sleeping with and living with losers whom she's only attracted to because they're in love with her and spend a lot of time stroking her failing ego. That's another thing that makes this book such a stinker, no one likes themselves, and if they do, its for all the wrong reasons. Everyone's faults are played up until you find yourself wishing that they'd all commit suicide already or seek counseling or just fade away and quit whining about how pathetic their lives are. Though she's supposed to be brilliant, Em comes off as weak and wimpy and stupid, unable to actually do what she loves, writing children's books, until the final chapters of the book. But when Dex and Em FINALLY get together and things are going well, of course we can't have that, because happiness isn't allowed in "real life" or slice of life novels, so the author goes and SPOILER, kills off Em in a stupid bicycle accident. This leaves our male protagonist with the perfect excuse to slide back into being a drunken arse until the final pages of the book, when we learn that he has suddenly pulled himself out of his tailspin and is dating an employee and spending time with his daughter from his brief marriage to this horrid woman named Slyvie. 
I wanted to throw this novel against the wall and abandon it halfway through, but I kept thinking that eventually either Em or Dex would wake up and things would start to fall into place for them. I was sure things had to get better, but that was only a very brief moment in the book, and then it went back to being dull, dreary and drunk. And why is it that every British novel I've ever read has cold, disapproving parents who are total shite at the job of caring for their offspring? Why have children at all if you're going to only be cruel and distant to them? Makes not an ounce of sense to me. But then, most of this novel didn't seem to make much sense, or have a reason for existence. I am giving it a generous D, and not an F only because the plot was such that it went by at a decent pace, even if you stopped to wince in embarrassment for the characters every chapter. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who enjoys literature, romance or a good read.
The Glass Sentence by SE Grove is a steampunk style novel that reads somewhat like Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" YA novels, but with fewer gruesome animal killings and more political infrastructure. There's also maps, loads of magical and fantastic maps in this post "Great Disruption" world. As with many great YA adventures, our heroine is an orphan by circumstance, in that her parents are explorers and cartographers who set out to make some discoveries after the GD, and subsequently disappear from our heroine Sophia's life for the next 10 years. Sophia is left with her uncle Shadrack, who is a master cartographer,albeit somewhat of an absent-minded father figure. Of course they have the standard mysterious housekeeper, who turns out to be a kind of refugee herself, and once Sophia encounters a boy named Theo who has escaped from the circus, things get really interesting on the character's quest journey.Unfortunately, Uncle Shadrack gets kidnapped by a crazy cult leader and is forced to tell the crazy cult leader lady where Sophia is going, because if he doesn't, he will have all his memories squeezed out of him and into the sand of an hourglass, then transferred to a map. The crazy lady is looking for the glass "tracer" map that can only be read by moonlight, which tells of where to find the carta major, or map of the world, which crazy lady longs to get her claws on it so that she can force Shadrack to change the map and send her back into her own time, before the GD. The world building in this book is extraordinary, very detailed and fascinating, as are the characters, who are full-bodied and brilliant. Though the main characters live in the late 19th century, the GD has created pockets of different times/eras throughout the world, and There re scientists of all stripe studying these eras to find out how they came to be and how to best allow the people within them to move around to other times. The pirates and botanists, princesses and thugs that Sophia encounters are all written as realistically as possible, not as throw-away side characters at all. The prose is beautiful and crisp, the plot sails along swiftly and the story itself is gripping and engrossing. I'd give this book, which is the first of a series, an A, and recommend it to those who love unique YA novels, steampunk and original world building.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seattle's Bold Minimum Wage Experiment, Jamie Ford Quote and Downton Abbey Tidbits


So my adopted home city of Seattle has been at the forefront of the new $15 minimum wage movement, which they have three years to fully enact. A lot of business owners are saying that this will end their business, but I think paying a fair wage to workers is a wonderful idea. It’s not cheap to live in the Puget Sound, so anything to alleviate poverty and give working people a fighting chance is good with me.  I realize that this isn’t my normal fare for this blog, but since it effects bookstores and libraries, I think it has relevance here.

Seattle Indies: Maximum Concern About Minimum Wage

On June 2, the City Council of Seattle, Wash., voted to raise the city's
minimum wage to an unprecedented $15 per hour over the next seven years.
Seattle businesses, depending on number of employees and current
benefits, have varying deadlines to phase in the wage
increases--businesses with more than 500 employees have until 2018,
while businesses with 500 employees or fewer have until 2021. And by
April of next year, businesses with 500 or fewer employees must pay at
least $11 per hour to employees who receive only wages as compensation
and at least $10 per hour to employees who receive tips or benefits in
addition to their wages. With no U.S. model to look toward, Seattle
business owners, including independent booksellers, face a great deal of
uncertainty.

"What we know is that our expenses are going to go up starting next
year," said Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21452171. He described his reaction to the minimum wage increase as one of cautious optimism--from a social justice
perspective, it's a great thing for workers in an increasingly
unaffordable city, and it could result down the road in more people with
more money to buy more books. But there are many questions.

"If there is an increase in sales from an overall improvement to the
economy and the strengthening of our customer base, then it will have a
neutral to a beneficial effect," Aaron explained. "The worry is if it
goes too far, too fast, the negative effect of job loss--by virtue of
companies that can't afford the higher wages having to reduce staff or
relocate--dominates the positive effect of wage increases."

Aaron reported that he's spoken to many other small business owners in
Seattle about the wage increases and responses have been varied.
"Reactions have covered the spectrum from 'this is the end of the world'
to 'this is the greatest thing that's happened since the American
Revolution,' " he said.

"We're all supportive of the fact that Seattle is a very expensive place
to live and that people should be paid fair wages," said Lara Konick,
human resources director for University Book Store
UBS, the vote to raise the city's minimum wage coincided with an
internal, store-wide compensation analysis. "Long term, it will improve
living standards for people living in Seattle and for the people who
work for us," she said. "Those are great things."

At the same time, however, like Aaron, Konick is concerned. Although the
minimum wage hike could result in more people with more money to buy
books, she's worried that the extra money will be swallowed up by living
expenses. "People are already squeezed on rent and food," she said. "I
think [the extra money] is going to go to living costs, to just allow
them to keep up. But hopefully more of that money will stay in people's
wallets for things like books."

Ultimately, Konick continued, UBS will follow the letter of the law and
do what it needs to do. "We're going to be looking very hard at hours
and schedules and staff needs," she said. "Our goal is to not lay people
off or make any sweeping changes."

Robert Sindelar, the managing partner of Third Place Books
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21452173 in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna, Wash.,is in an unusual situation: the Ravenna store is in Seattle, but the
Lake Forest Park store lies outside of city limits. He is trying to
figure out the implications of the wage increase on the separate stores.

"We have a company-wide policy on health insurance," Sindelar said.
"Legally I have to look into it, whether I can have one policy for one
store and another for the other store. I'd rather not change these
things, but it looks like at some point I'm going to have to adjust.

"In general, when I'm looking at our business, it's not necessarily a
good thing for our business or our employees," he continued. Third Place
Books, Sindelar explained, offers a competitive health-care package and
a 401(k) plan, and, among other discretionary expenses, also pays for
its employees' bus passes. As costs rise due to the wage increase,
Sindelar worries, these benefits may be at risk. He also wondered
whether it was a better value to employees to pay them an extra $2
directly and have taxes taken out of it, or to put that same $2, before
taxes, into health insurance coverage. "As you start increasing what you
have to pay employees based on the law, we have to look at decreasing
the other money we spend on employees," he said. "At the end of the day,
total compensation will probably be a little less. That doesn't feel
very good."

Sindelar acknowledged the potential long-term benefits that a higher
minimum wage could have for Seattle, but is worried about short-term
effects and the lack of any model. "There's no case study," he said.
"Seattle is going to be the case study. I think in the short term, this
is probably going to scare small business entrepreneurs from opening....
It's scary enough for us."

Tom Nissley, who bought Santoro's Books earlier this spring and will
re-open it shortly as Phinney Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21452174, didnot expect the wage increase to have much of an effect on his store. In a decision that he said was totally unrelated to the minimum wage
increase, he plans to keep staff to a minimum after re-opening. He did
say, however, that he doesn't anticipate the wage increase to hinder
future hiring. Despite the myriad uncertainties, he said he  supports
the increase.

"We're all of the opinion that our booksellers are more than worth it,"
said Janis Segress, co-owner and manager of Queen Anne Book Company
act.

"As a co-owner and manager, it's all about overhead," Segress continued.
"In order to compensate, there'd have to be cuts in other areas. Not
sure if that means smaller inventory on the floor, or cutting back on
office supplies, or not offering bags or bottled water, or start
charging for gift wrapping. But for a small store, it's those little
things that count."

Segress is optimistic that the higher minimum wage will result in more
money in people's pockets, but with the slim margins of a small
business, she's worried about surviving the transition. "Because of our
size, we have seven years to put this into effect," she said. "Hopefully
within seven years we'll be making enough money to absorb it." --Alex
Mutter

Jamie Ford has the right of it!
 
"[W]e need more bookstores and libraries. They're tactile. They're
immersive. They're humane. They've always been trendy. But more than
that, they are staffed by dedicated booklovers who curate collections of
actual books, and books are the written record of the human condition.
So buy online, but also buy local when you can--that way you're
supporting a healthy literary ecosystem.

"After all, I met my wife at the public library and proposed in a
bookstore. And you can't do that on a Kindle. (Though I'm sure someone
is working on it)."

--Author Jamie Ford
in a post on the Hive blog 

Delicious Downton Abbey is coming back, though next year, and I live for these little tidbits about one of my favorite shows, which just also happens to be a favorite show around the world.

The Hollywood Reporter offered a first look at the upcoming season of
Downton Abbey
"as it goes on location to England's Highclere Castle
with stars Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith, creator
Julian Fellowes and more.... As they wait to film another of Downton's
carefully appointed dining scenes, the cast and crew reflect on the
streak of success none of them could have imagined."