Thursday, July 23, 2015

Literary Snobbery, A Reading Manifesto and The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George


Cool Idea of the Day: 'League of Literary Snobbery'

Observing that "reading out loud is only fun when you have an audience,"
Third Place Books, Ravenna, Wash., hosts a monthly event called the
League of Literary Snobbery: Storytime for Grownups


"Yes, it's a regrettable name born of an astounding lack of imagination,
and that calling something 'Adult Storytime' would generate an entirely
different audience," the bookstore wrote. "Every third Monday of the
month... we gather in the Pub
get our drinks and adjourn to the Reading Room. And we read out loud.
Mostly it's me reading, but others join in from time to time (we gladly
welcome new readers). Sometimes there's a theme, and sometimes not. It
might be an article, a short story, an essay, or a piece from a novel.
Sometimes the occasional poem gets thrown around. We play it pretty fast
and loose."

Speaking of snobbery, I've noticed that this year my reading has taken a different direction than in previous years. Certain excellent books have spoiled me for books that are just good, or okay, or even mediocre but acceptable, let alone poorly written monstrosities that are unbearable and beg to be thrown across the room. 
These great works all feature juicy prose and swift, sure plots enacted by brilliant, believable characters so delightfully drawn that they nearly leap from the page with life.
The books that I'm developing an intolerance for have prose that is usually clean but dry as the desert combined with relentlessly turgid plots that inch along, or worse are predictable enough that the reader suffocates with boredom by the second chapter. The characters are often stiff as cardboard or cartoonish cliches.

A recent example is a book I'm 55 pages into titled Starhawk by Jack McDevitt. It's a science fiction novel with prose so arid that I was parched by the end of the second paragraph. The characters are logical and the plot is scientifically precise, but there's no joy in the book, no emotive juice to make the reader want to delve into each chapter with abandon.
In contrast is the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, a luxurious, delicious gem of a novel full of lush, ripe prose and gorgeously drawn characters that beckon the reader to join them on their journey through the powerful emotional landscape of France. Here's the blurb:

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.


 Poor M. Perdu! His heart is broken and sealed against further harm for 20 years, until he discovers that if he had but read a letter left to him by his lover (who was married), he would have found that she left him not because she didn't love him, but because she didn't want him to watch her die of cancer that she chose not to treat in favor of carrying out an unexpected pregnancy. Filled with shame and remorse, Perdu and literary wunderkind Max Jordan travel in his book barge through the waterways of France to find his love's final resting place and make peace with her and her memory. My only problem with this book is that I think the title should have been "The Literary Apothecary" because there was no bricks and mortar Paris bookshop anywhere in the novel. There was only Monsieur Perdu's book barge/ship that was tied up on the Seine, from whence he dispensed his book remedies to all and sundry. 

Still, paragraphs like these make anything forgivable. "Perdu had discovered another thing above the rivers--stars that breathed. One day they shone brightly, the next they were pale, then bright again. It looked as though they were breathing to some never-ending slow, deep rhythm. They breathed and watched as the world came and went.  Some stars had seen the Neanderthals; they had seen the pyramids rise and Columbus discover America. For them, the earth was one more island world in the immeasurable ocean of outer space, it's inhabitants microscopically small." I marked more than a few places in The Little Paris Bookshop that had beautifully-written moments like that, and I plan on adding them to my journal. But I was so overwhelmed with joy, sorrow, fascination, frustration, laughter and love during this impeccable novel that I flitted from book to book after reading it, unable to find anything as warm and delightful to read. The Little Paris Bookshop deserves highest marks, an A+, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys beautiful stories that are bound to become classic literature, read for generations to come. Well done, Ms George, well done.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Powells Outlives Kindles, Finally Found Closes, Island Books Passes the Torch and Uprooted by Naomi Novik


All I can say to this article is AMEN.

Why Powell's Bookstore Will Outlive the Kindle'

In a piece headlined "Why Powell's Bookstore Will Outlive the Kindle,"
Conde Nast Traveler profiled Powell's City of Books
so vast that visitors find their way around via fold-up maps (free
souvenir alert) and giant directory boards that resemble the
arrivals-and-departures signage at the airport.... The best way to visit
Powell's is with lots of time and no agenda whatsoever.... Landing a job
here is competitive, even for the most devoted bookworms; if you're not
sure what to read next, the 'staff pick' tags with hand-written
recommendations are always solid bets."

"Take the bookstore in your brain and multiply it by 10--then you're
close," said CEO Miriam Sontz in describing the visceral experience that
is Powell's. She added that the bookstore sees 8,000 visitors a day.
"It's all about growing a reading culture."

I was a regular at Baker Street Books in Black Diamond, and I watched Mr Charles struggle to survive in that out of the way spot in a small town, until he sold the store to Todd Hulburt, who then changed the name to Finally Found and, realizing that he wasn't going to get any more foot traffic, moved the store to Auburn. While the location in Auburn wasn't ideal, it was larger, and I attended their grand opening. Unfortunately, I can't find my way there myself, and it seems that it is too out of the way for most bibliophiles, though Todd sought to create a Washington Literacy Foundation non-profit that would keep the store open. I am saddened and frustrated that now there won't be a bookstore for miles anywhere near Maple Valley. The closest bricks and mortar store is going to be Barnes and Nobel, a chain store, in Issaquah. 

Finally Found Books to Close

Finally Found Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25776072, Auburn, Wash.,which has struggled financially since opening in 2013, was put up for
to become a nonprofit, has announced that it will close

On Facebook yesterday, owner Todd Hulbert posted: "It is with very sad
hearts that we must inform you of the closure of the store. Our revenues
over the past three months have fallen by over 30% and we can no longer
keep it going, even to wait on the non-profit.... We sincerely thank you
all for your patronage and support over the years. We will miss you!"

Meanwhile, Island Books, which was my favorite bookstore when I was a reporter at the Mercer Island Reporter from 1997 to 2005 (it was mere steps from the Reporter offices), quietly continues to flourish, thank heaven and Roger and Nancy Page. I adore the Pages, and have spent many a blissful hour wandering the stacks at Island Books, having bookish conversations with Roger, interviewing authors and celebrities at the store, trying to weasel ARCs from the treasure horde in the back room and discussing science fiction with Cindy. I got to know most everyone on the staff, and Roger knew which of my relatives was getting what book for Christmas for years. When I left, Roger and Nancy gifted me with a generous gift certificate that I used for over a year, just to ensure that I'd be coming back in for visits. Unfortunately, as the years have passed, I've not been able to make the trek out to Mercer Island as often as I'd like, so I was surprised and heartbroken by the news that the Pages have turned the bookstore over to a young woman who has always wanted to run a bookstore (not unlike myself). But I do understand the need to slow down, and the Pages have earned a rest and time away from the pressures of running a store. They will still be working part time at the store for awhile, but it won't be the same when they're not there. Still, welcome Laurie, and thank you for your many years of stewardship, Roger and Nancy!

Island Books Passes the Torch
A couple of years ago on a Sunday in August a young  mom and her toddler came into the kid’s section where Nancy and I were working. She looked vaguely familiar to us and we greeted her. It turned out that she had grown up on the island and had just moved back to the neighborhood; she was now introducing her own child to the playhouse. “You know, you can never close this store,” she said with warm sternness. “It has to be here forever.” Now, Nancy and I had heard this kind of talk before. We took it as love but not too seriously.

We had no intention of closing the store. We were in the second of the three best years of its over forty-year history. We were busy every day. I’d had over thirty stimulating years since I started as a gift wrapper, and the last fifteen years with Nancy working beside me in the shop were just plain fun. But the heartfelt words of that younger generation got us wondering what kind of plan we should make for the future.

Time on our lease was dwindling; we were getting grayer; our kids had left the nest. We could manage a few more years of traveling over hill and dale from Ballard, but not forever. So we began to ask two questions: What would it take to create new chapters for our story? And what kind of person should we find to help write those chapters? We spent a year talking to other bookstores and consultants. We realized, perhaps not surprisingly, Island Books was beloved common ground on a diverse island and that it would benefit from a local person who understood and loved its varied and unique character. We also knew that running a retail shop and a bookstore in particular would take someone with an adaptive, can-do spirit.

We set about creating a detailed description of how we operate, secured a longer lease, and got a great new neighbor in Homegrown. We were almost ready to solicit the community when … we got lucky. A familiar and well-liked customer sort of hinted one day about her dream of running a community-oriented business. We sort of hinted back. After a couple of months we were talking. Then we were planning. For the last three months, Laurie Raisys has been working in the store. On July 1, we officially passed the torch, and made her the fourth fortunate owner and steward of Island Books.

Laurie is a longtime Mercer Islander who has the warmth, creativity, integrity, and confidence that the store needs to carry it far into the future. She also has our trust and affection. We have signed on to stay and will be working for her, just trading hats. She will wear the hat decorated with the joys, dreams, and challenges of ownership. Nancy and I will be in bookseller caps, trying to entertain the masses and do right by you. The staff is staying too. You can pester all of us: Cindy, Lori, Kay, Marni, James, Marilyn, Miriam, Laurie, Nancy, and me. It's musical chairs, not a curtain call or a revolution.

And so, members of our beloved community, old friends and new faces alike, let's celebrate the continuation of our shared legacy. We can't thank you enough for the years of goodwill and generosity. Looking forward to swapping more stories.

See you at the counter,
Roger

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was one of my Powells purchases, and I'd heard many good things about this fascinating fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
 
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I enjoyed that the protagonist was the village "pig pen" and outcast, because she was clumsy and unafraid of living near the wood. That said, she allows herself to be intimidated and treated like an idiot servant while under the Dragon's care for far too long. Her fear of sex and sensuality also seems a bit out of date and ridiculous, but I suppose it is meant to make her seem like the country bumpkin that she is, as well as an "innocent" girl. Yet suddenly she falls in love with the Dragon, and all of a sudden wants to have sex with him. The turn around in attitude comes out of nowhere, though it is a welcome sign that Agnez (I called her that in my head because her name is unpronounceable otherwise)is maturing. Her powers stem from a natural earthiness, but for most of the book she struggles to use her powers and make them useful and not weak or wild. Then, out of nowhere, at page 217, the book that I have had a completely different book chapter printed right into it, about 32 pages long. So it interrupts a paragraph, and then when Uprooted begins again, its in the middle of a completely different paragraph, though the reader doesn't seem to have missed much. Still the other book pages are a story that seems to have nothing to do with the magical world of Uprooted. I tried reading some of them, but since it was plucked out at random, I was unfamiliar with the characters or their background, and I soon gave up and just moved on to the Uprooted text. I do not know if this was a misprint, or done on purpose for some bizarre reason that I'm not aware of. It was confusing and made no sense to me as a reader, if it was intentional. If it wasn't Powell's owes me a clean copy! The prose was elegant and the characters well drawn. The plot moved along smartly and the story didn't lag, except for the ruined chapter. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who like fairy tales and legends. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Island Books Citizens of the Year, Fairest by Marissa Meyer, Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop and Linesman by SK Dunstall

Back when I was the lifestyle/business reporter for the Mercer Island Reporter, I used to walk out the front door of the MIR offices and into the back door, a few steps away, of the office of Island Books, a truly wonderful bookstore that has become legendary on Mercer Island. The proprietors of this establishment are the Pages, Roger and Nancy, and as I was soon to learn, they were the best kind of booksellers, the kind who nurtured and cared for their customers, even rabid bibliophiles like myself, making sure that I was thrilled with every purchase, and that I always had somewhere to go to talk about books, to interview authors and to let my then-small son run amok in the kids section. I would hazard a guess that I spent at least half of most of my paychecks at Island Books, and I spent many happy hours there with all their brilliant booksellers discussing books and authors and life in general. So when the MIR was bought by Black Newspapers of Canada and it became clear that they were going to fire all but two employees, I left, and my first stop to say goodbye was beloved Island Books. Roger and Nancy gave me a huge gift certificate as a going away present, and to assure that I'd return for visits, which I have over the past 10 years. Still, in recent years I've not had many opportunities to get to Mercer Island, so I've not seen Roger or Nancy for about 7-8 months. So it was with great joy that I read the following in Shelf Awareness:

Island Books Owners Named Citizens of the Year
Congratulations to Roger and Nancy Page, co-owners of Island Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25751449, Mercer Island, Wash., who were
honored by the City Council as 2014 Citizens of the Year http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25751450. The award recognizes
"individuals or entities whose achievements may have gone unrecognized
in some settings, but who have improved Island life through a broad base
of community service, fundraising, or other means."

The city noted that the Pages "believe their business and personal goal
is to serve the community in a welcoming and caring manner, which
includes hosting special events and countless fundraisers over the
years. Many Islanders, for example, will recall the 2,000 midnight
attendees at a Harry Potter release, with bookstore staff in costume. To
date, the Pages have raised more than $300,000 in donations to a variety
of community causes."

"The more we give, the more the community gives back to us. We are very
grateful for this honor," said Roger Page.
Congratulations, Roger and Nancy. You folks still ROCK in my book!

Fairest by Marissa Meyer is something of an adjunct book to her Lunar Chronicles, as it's the story of how the Evil Queen Levana grew up with a psychopathic sister who turned her evil by burning half of her face and body to make her ugly. I've read all but the latest (Winter) of the Lunar Chronicles, and I've really enjoyed the science fiction reboot of these classic fairy tales, from Cinderella to Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. This particular story is meant to garner sympathy for the cruel meglomaniac Queen of Luna by pointing out how horrible her life and childhood were, and how she used her powers to mentally manipulate a man into marrying her, though she was unable to actually force him to love her forever. Here's the blurb from Kirkus reviews:
"Meyer takes a short break between books in the Lunar Chronicles to explore the back story of evil Queen Levana.As the title suggests, here Meyer riffs on "Snow White," positioning Levana as the wicked queen. As the novel opens, Princess Levana and her older sister prepare for the funeral of their assassinated parents. Levana chafes at the knowledge that her sister will take the throne—Levana is intelligent and politically engaged, while her lovely sister seems interested only in sexual conquest. The 15-year-old princess also yearns for kind, handsome guard Evret Hayle, who is unaccountably in love with his beautiful, pregnant wife. Physical beauty is something the scarred princess can achieve only by casting a Lunar glamour; fortunately, she is very skilled in the art. She is so adept, in fact, that she uses it to lure Evret to her bed and to the altar when his wife dies in childbirth; the only blot on her happiness is baby Winter, her stepdaughter—and her sister, and the Moon's dwindling resources….With this book, Meyer sets herself a formidable challenge. Her overall story and the original fairy tale's structure both demand that Levana end the book thoroughly evil, creating a deterministic, negative character arc. Although she strives to make Levana initially sympathetic, she must also plant the seeds of her cruelty and megalomania; the result is that Levana goes from merely bratty to out-and-out repellent. The author also deprives herself of the opportunity to play to her strengths: quick, cinematic changes in scene and chemistry between her characters."
I found the book to be a quick read, though it wasn't terribly satisfying, as Levana seems shallow and stupid in addition to being evil, and Meyer never really gives us a compelling reason for Levana to become such a meglomaniac and serial killer. Though it is a short book, the plot moves rather slowly and readers are left with a bad taste in their mouths for a character that seems to have less than a spark of decency in her soul. I'd give this book a B-, and only recommend it to those who are fanatical about the Lunar Chronicles.

Murder of Crows  by Anne Bishop is the second book in the "Others" series. The first, Written in Red was a science fiction/horror take on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
After winning the trust of the Others residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all. 


I hadn't really intended to read any more of this series, as I am not a fan of horror fiction, or of very dark urban fantasy, which these books claim to be, genre-wise. The Others are shape-shifters who view the human population of the planet as prey, and are ruthless about keeping the human population under their control and following their rules. The merest mention of rule-breaking or any harm coming to Others from humans, and entire towns full of men, women and children are slaughtered and eaten by the wolves, bears, vampires and death-stare-dealers. Bishop's prose, which is fine, fairly seethes with menace, tension and the scent of blood. The Others are terrifying, and though the author tries to make some of them sympathetic, it's always made clear that they are dangerous killers who have nearly zero regard for human life beyond that of a meal. Yet their taking in of Meg, and adopting her as their own, and their regard for her fellow cassandras is just heartening enough that the reader feels a sense of hope for human/Other relations. I find that I want to read more about the burgeoning relationship between Simon Wolfgard, an Other, and Meg, and Simon's son who is still a puppy. Though I have to wade through so much gore and gut-wrenching scenarios of death and mayhem to do so, I feel compelled to see these two through to the end. I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to dark fantasy/horror fans with strong stomachs.

I was given a copy of Linesman by SK Dunstall by Ace/Roc publishers as part of their Roc Star Readers program. It's a science fiction paperback, and though there is no author blurb, I searched SK Dunstall's name and discovered that this author is actually two female authors working together to create this new series. Here's the blurb:

The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…
Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.
Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.
The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.

I was intrigued by the "every other chapter" narrated by different linesman layout of this novel, but after awhile it became tedious to try and keep up with what was happening with the main protagonist, Ean, because there was all the background noise of Jordan Rossi, the egomaniacal jerk whom I assume represents what most linesmen are really like. Ean is an outlier, a young man from the slums who sings to the lines and hears them singing back, like sentient beings. Though it seems obvious that he's the best level 10 linesman in existence by the time you're halfway through the book, he's still treated like an outcast and an underling by nearly all the other characters, who often talk about him like he's invisible when he's right there. For some bizarre reason, Ean allows this horrific treatment to continue, never speaking up for himself or standing up to anyone until its too late. WHY he remains so cowed, timid and silent in the face of all the bullies and jerks is never explained, nor is it warranted. Especially once Ean has the new Alien ships under control all by himself, I would expect to see his confidence soaring and his self esteem rise at least enough to tell all the other linesmen to shove off.  Please, authors, have Ean grow a spine! He's an interesting enough character to follow through a series, but only if he isn't such a coward and never speaks up for himself. The background of the book is nicely drawn, and the space military also seems very realistic. Oddly enough, though the authors are women, there aren't very many female characters in this novel. Really only two, and the linesmen seems to be nearly all male and the military equally testosterone-heavy. The one prominent woman, Michelle, seems very manipulative and not really all that interesting as a character. Odd, too, that there is virtually no sexual relations in the book at all. I'd give it a B+, and hope that any sequels give us more female characters and a male protagonist who isn't such a wimp.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Powell's Pilgrimage, the Mark Spencer Hotel and The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

On July 3rd I made my annual pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, with my husband, son and 8 boxes of books culled from my collection to provide store credit for the books on my wish list.

I'd called Powell's the week before, so that the wonderful booksellers there might gather the 21 books on my list together for me, so when I came in and was given credit for my culled books, I could just go to the 4th floor and pay for those books with the credit and a $50 gift card from the Mark Spencer Hotel that was part of a promotion they were running if you stayed at their property overnight (you were also given free parking and a Powell's mug).

This weekend has been one of the hottest on record for the Pacific Northwest, so it was no surprise that traffic was a nightmare driving to Portland (4 hours) and back (4.5 hours). But once we arrived, my big 15 year old got a hand truck and piled the book boxes on it twice and wheeled them into the Orange room. There he stacked the boxes on the ledge, and I proceeded to unpack them for one of the nicest lady booksellers I've ever met. I do not know her name, (why didn't I ask? Arg!) but she was a true bibliophile, like myself, and she made the task of unpacking 8 large boxes of books go swiftly and easily while conversing about the books, which ones I'd enjoyed, which ones I'd not enjoyed and why, as well as Powell's lore and where my son could find the books and games he was seeking that day. Our conversation was so animated that a young lady behind me in line asked about some of the books in the discard pile that Powell's couldn't use and were planning on recycling. After hearing about several of them, the young lady expressed interest in reading them or giving them to her mother to read, so I took them from the pile and gave them to her. What a rewarding feeling, to share my love of books with others! Upon receipt of the generous $279 worth of credit, my son and I took the elevator to the 4th floor, where the bill came to $303, so with the $50 gift certificate, we had $18 left over for Nick to use in his pursuit of Cards Against Humanity (a sarcastic card game perfectly suited to teenage boys) and an illustrated book about one of his favorite video games.

By then it was supper time, and Nick schlepped a big bag of books to Deschutes Brewpub, just a block or so down the street from Powells, where my husband was happily sipping a beer sampler platter and eating a huge pretzel with cheese dipping sauce. I had a bacon burger on sourdough and Nick had a crab/lobster roll and fries, and then we walked a couple of blocks back to our hotel, the Mark Spencer, which is roughly a three to five minute walk from Powell's (how convenient!)

Though we've made the pilgrimage to Powell's once or twice a year for the past 10 years. we'd never stayed at the Mark Spencer, usually because we combined our trip to the bookstore with the trip to see the Drum and Bugle Corps show, mounted either in Portland or in some small town near Portland, like Hillsborough, McMinnville or Tualatin. After a rather rough stay last year in a dirty and uncomfortable little motel in McMinnville, where we roasted in the bleachers like ears of corn during the DCI show, we decided this year to see the Drum and Bugle Corps show in Renton on the 4th of July, as long as temperatures didn't reach above 90 degrees. Unfortunately, it was 97 degrees yesterday, so we refrained from going to the show this year.

However, being unencumbered with having to drive to a town nearby Portland at a specific show time turned out to be a boon to Nick and I, when my husband told us that we could return to Powells in the evening and do some bargain hunting and gift seeking before bed time. Joy! After finding some great gifts for a friend and several bargain books (and more Cards Against Humanity for Nick) we returned to the Mark Spencer, exhausted but satisfied.

Our room at the hotel was on the third floor, and contained one king sized bed that was the consistency of a giant marshmallow, and a "living room" area with a pull-out bed/couch and a kitchenette. Two large flat screen TVs, a large closet and a very small but clean bathroom rounded out the area, though the bathroom had no fan. We had to park the car in the hotel's uncovered but supposedly secure lot across the street. Nick and I had some snacks, watched some SyFy TV, (I should mention here that it is never a good idea to try Siracha flavored popcorn and dried apple snacks if you have Crohn's Disease) and then I attempted to sleep on the bed that ate New York. We awoke to the weekend manager bringing us extra towels and the bad news that our car had been broken into and vandalized in the night.  Because my husband forgot to lock the car, there was no structural damage to the car, as there was to some other unfortunate soul's car whose windows had been smashed in, and because we'd brought most everything into the room with us, the only thing that was taken was my husband's iPhone recharger cord.

Though they had security camera's on the lot, the  night manager was apparently only able to scare the junkie woman who was breaking into the vehicles away when she had paused while trying to figure out how to get into our car trunk. As horrified as I was by this violation of our auto, I was more disappointed in the Mark Spencer for not providing safe parking for guests. I let the front desk manager know the next morning that I felt we should be compensated, either with a discount on our bill or another gift certificate to Powells, but I was informed in a rather nonchalant and sneering fashion that neither would be forthcoming. SHAME on you, Mark Spencer manager! It would have cost you very little to repair our soured perspective on your hotel, but you cheaped out instead. I doubt we will be spending another $300 night in your hotel ever again. BTW, your continental breakfast was completely insufficient (there were swarms of people fighting over a few bagels and white bread and hard boiled eggs), so we ended up going to the restaurant around the corner for breakfast. Big fail, Mark Spencer.

I received a copy of the Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher from Ace/Roc books via their wonderful "Roc Star" Super reader program.
Having read and madly loved Jim Butchers "Dresden Files" series of books about Chicago's favorite wizard Harry Dresden, I was so excited to read The Aeronaut's Windlass that I hardly noticed it's heft, coming in at over 600 pages.

Here's the blurb:
Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

My one major qualm about this book is it's length, because there is just too much narration of background, what everyone is feeling/thinking, the particulars of life for each species in this steampunk dystopian world, etc. Battles are described in painstaking, boring detail, and there are redundant paragraphs that could easily be excised without causing any harm to the characters or story. In fact, the extensive narration and over-detailing of battles and soforth slowed the plot to a crawl more than once. I would hazard a guess that roughly 200 pages could be edited from this manuscript and a tight ship of 400 pages would be the happy result. As usual, Butcher's strength are his characters, and this new series is no exception. From Bridget the fledgling guardswoman to Benedict Sorellin the half-human, half-cat warrior, to the brave Captain Grimm and Rowl, the king of warrior cats who more or less rule the tunnels and byways of the Spires, each character is so lovingly outlined and fleshed out that you feel you know them by the time the book is finished. I don't know how many books Butcher has planned for the Cinder Spires series, but I can guarantee that I will be first in line to read each one. A well-earned A and a recommendation to anyone who loves the steampunk genre, cats and swashbuckling adventure!

Friday, June 26, 2015

New Harry Potter Stage Play, Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Written in Red by Anne Bishop, Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley and Cress by Marissa Meyer

There is always room for more of the wonders of Harry Potter's world in this world, and fortunately author JK Rowling agrees!
This morning on Twitter, J. K. Rowling http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25584177
announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25584178, a new stage play centered on
the series, will open next summer at the Palace Theatre in London's West
End. The script was written by Jack Thorne, who collaborated with
Rowling, and is being directed by John Tiffany, with singer-songwriter
Imogen Heap writing the music.

"I don't want to say too much more, because I don't want to spoil what I
know will be a real treat for fans," Rowling tweeted, adding: "However,
I can say that it is not a prequel!"
With Neil Gaiman's blurb of approval on the cover, it was nearly impossible for me to resist the lure of the beautifully-jacketed book, Magonia, by Maria Headley when I saw it in Book Page, a monthly book review publication that is free at my local library. Fortunately, the inventive and fascinating story on the inside lives up to the beauty of the cover. Here's the blurb:
Maria Dahvana Headley's soaring YA debut is a fiercely intelligent, multilayered fantasy where Neil Gaiman's Stardust meets John Green's The Fault in Our Stars in a story about a girl caught between two worlds . . . two races . . . and two destinies.
Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.
Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who's always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.
Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza's hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?  
Like most YA novels, there's a dystopia at the center of the plot, but in this case the dystopia is only bad because Aza is really one of the bird people of Magonia who isn't meant to breathe the heavier air on the ground, but is, instead, able to breathe the lighter air in the upper atmosphere, in the ships that Magonians live on while they plunder supplies from earth during storms that they have some, but not much, control over. Though this utopia in the skies provides everything Aza needs, she still can't get over her beloved childhood friend Jason, and though Aza eventually finds her way back to her earth family and the persistent Jason, it seems obvious to readers that she will have to choose between the two worlds soon, and that the only world she can actually breathe in is the better choice. Though the romance in this novel is a bit obsessive and possessive, which made me uncomfortable, I still felt that the lush prose and the impeccable plot built around divine storytelling earn this book an A, and a recommendation to those who enjoy epic fantasy and adventure.
Written in Red by Anne Bishop was something of an impulse buy for me, as the blurbs made it sound a bit too close to a horror novel for my taste. What it actually is is more of an urban fantasy retelling of old fairy tales with a horrific dystopian twist. Here's the blurb:
No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.
As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.
Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.  
There are two problems with this novel from my perspective. One, it's too long, 496 pages, when it could easily have been half that and still have told a good story. Even knocking 100 pages off would have helped, because there were places where the story dragged a bit, and places where readers were privy to too much information about the Others eating habits and what happens to the remains, etc. Gore for it's own sake never helps a plot speed along. Hence my second problem with the novel. Too much anger, hatred, distrust, fear, cruelty, death, gore, mayhem and general prejudice and distrust flow through this novel, and it casts a pall that is hard to shake. In other words, if you are prone to depression, this is not the book for you. There are two kinds of people in Bishop's alternative universe, the innocents and the killers, the predators and the prey, or "meat" as she often reminds us through her Other characters, who view all humans as something to eat. The only reason the werewolves, the vampires, the werebears and the elementals keep humans around is because we can make things that make their lives easier, like cars, beds, clothing, etc. Anyone who steps out of line, goes where they aren't supposed to go, pisses off an Other or tries to take anything from them illegally, is automatically ripped to shreds and eaten. Fortunately, though, Meg, who is a seer, escapes what is basically slavery and ingratiates herself with the Others, via her innocence, and becomes their "liaison" which is another name for postmistress, as well as being something of a pet for Simon Wolfgard and his son, who is a puppy. The Others don't seem to desire humans sexually at all, so any hint of romance between the liaison and Wolfgard becomes uncomfortable for readers and characters alike. Still, the prose is hypnotic and the bad guys get ripped up in a very satisfying manner, plus, there's a distinct HEA at the end, so I'd still give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach who finds gritty horrific urban fantasy fascinating.
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is the second book in this series, following the smash hit fantasy Queen of the Tearling that I read last year (and thoroughly enjoyed). Here's the blurb:
In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Queen Kelsea and her realm.
With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, Kelsea has crossed the brutal Red Queen, who derives her power from dark magic and who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what she claims is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.
But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing. She finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. Soon Kelsea herself begins to change; she does not recognize either her reflection in the mirror or the extraordinary power she now commands. The fate of the Tearling—and that of Kelsea's own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Queen Kelsea is running out of time.
In this second volume of the compelling trilogy begun with her bestselling The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen brings back favorite characters and introduces unforgettable new players, adding exciting layers to her multidimensional tale of magic, mystery, and a fierce young heroine.
I just finished reading this book, and I was awed by Johansen's ability to take the story in a direction that I did NOT see coming at all. The book moved back and forth in time, and added science fiction elements to what had been a dystopian fantasy. The prose is robust and yet elegant, and manages to keep ahold of the roller coaster of a plot until the very end, which also holds a few surprise twists and turns. Kelsea's story, which had been at the forefront of Queen of the Tearling took a backseat to the courageous story of Lily, a woman living 30 years into our future, in a world where, like Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, women have become male possessions, controlled by their husbands and expected to produce children while allowing their men to abuse them or even kill them if they prove to be barren. Female voices are silenced and women hide from their captivity with drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, the gap between the haves and the have nots has become huge, with the rich few living behind secure walls while a majority of the population starves and dies on the streets. Lily manages to break free from her abusive husband and is swept off with the resistance to a "Better World" and how that better world intersects with Kelsea's becomes the crux of the story. This brilliant page-turner left me hungering for more. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book. 
Cress by Marissa Meyer is the third book in the YA Lunar Chronicles, a wonderful science fiction retelling of classic fairy tales. Cress is the retelling of Rapunzel, except this long-locked girl is on a satellite in space, instead of a tower on earth. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:This third of four books in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles has no shortage of humor, action, or romance, and the author still delivers the clever fairy-tale twists her readers expect. Cress, a self-proclaimed “damsel in distress,” has been imprisoned in an orbiting satellite for more than seven years, and has never been allowed to cut her hair, which has grown to Rapunzel-like lengths. Though Cress—an expert hacker—is supposed to be tracking down the fugitive Linh Cinder for Lunar Queen Levana, Cress has been secretly aiding her. When Cinder and her crew try to rescue Cress, the plan goes awry, leaving Cinder’s group scattered and fighting for survival. Meyer continues to show off her storytelling prowess, keeping readers engaged in a wide cast of characters while unfolding a layered plot that involves warring governments and a fast-spreading plague. The momentum Meyer built in the first two books continues to accelerate as the stakes grow higher for Cinder and her friends. The next installment cannot come fast enough. 
Though I really enjoyed the Cinderella reboot in Cinder and the Red Riding Hood reboot in Scarlet, I was not as enamored of Rapunzel's reboot, Cress, because she was such a wimpy, whiny and fearful little girl, that she didn't fit with the other, more independent and adventurous heroines from the first two books. She was also completely obsessed with the con man Captain Thorne and her childish daydreams and fantasies of his falling in love with her and saving her like a real damsel in distress. She's constantly collapsing, crying, cringing and hiding behind everyone because she has no backbone or grit. She has to "pretend" she's enacting a drama in order to function when things go awry, and it is only by sheer luck and the help of the other characters that she survives at all. I found her character so annoying and stupid that I was hoping she'd be killed off in the desert. Unfortunately, she's the daughter of the main scientist/doctor in the novels, so she lives, but at great cost to everyone else. Still, we get to see more of Cinder and prince Kai, which is good, and that alone made the book worth the price. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first two books.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

News Tidbits From The World of Books


I've been a fan of Kenneth Branagh for years, ever since I read his autobiography and learned that he was born two days and two and a half hours before I was. He's taken a number of Shakespeare's plays and turned them into successful films, and though they're now divorced, he was once married to Emma Thompson, my favorite British actress.

 Kenneth Branagh "is in discussions" to direct an adaptation of Agatha
Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
for 20th Century Fox, the Wrap reported, noting that Ridley Scott of
Scott Free and Simon Kinberg of Genre Films are producing with Mark
Gordon. The novel was previously adapted as a 1974 movie starring Albert
Finney as Poirot, and there was also a 2001 TV version that aired on
CBS.

This is a well written eulogy for a bookstore that close in Paris recently, written by the brilliant Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness. It makes some cogent points about what a loss this is to any society.

A bookshop closed this week.

This is how France 24 reported the end: "La Hune, the iconic Parisian
which was the focal point for intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre,
Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus for more than 60 years, closed for
the last time on Sunday after a long struggle to make ends meet."
Calling La Hune "one of the French capital's most loved bookshops, famed
for its vast collections of French and international literature,
history, art and design," France 24 also noted that it was "founded by a
group of resistance fighters in 1949" and had been "originally located
between the famed Cafe de Flore and the equally frequented Les
Deux Magots in Paris's sixth arrondissement, [where it] became a
landmark meeting place for France's intelligentsia."

The challenges La Hune faced in recent years were variations on a
familiar theme: Olivier Place, director of La Hune's previous owner
Librairies Flammarion, which sold the bookseller to Gallimard three
years ago, said sales had fallen precipitously. The bookstore also fell
prey to ever-increasing rents in the fashionable
Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. In 2012, La Hune "was forced
to move from its emblematic address on 170 Boulevard Saint-Germain to
the nearby 18 Rue de l'Abbaye to make way for a Louis Vuitton store,"
France 24 wrote.

A bookshop closed this week.

"I walked through La Hune one last time, sniffing the books and looking
at the posters, and found myself far more distraught than I expected to
Adam Gopnik recently wrote in the New Yorker. "I felt a deep sense of
loss, more than mere regret, and ever since I have been trying to decide
why I felt this way and whether the feeling was mine alone or might have
resonance elsewhere."

Acknowledging that bookstores worldwide "open and they close, following
the path of bright young people as migratory birds follow the sun,"
Gopnick observed that in Paris, "good bookstores have opened in, or
migrated to, the popular quartiers of the 15th and 19th arrondissements,
just as a few independent bookstores in this city have migrated to the
sunnier climes of Brooklyn."

In conversations with his Parisian friends about La Hune, he "found they
shared my sense of something that it would be indecent to call grief but
inadequate to call sadness. At a minor level, once a bookstore is gone
we lose the particular opportunities for adjacency it offers, determined
by something other than an algorithm. It is rarely the book you came to
seek, but the book next to that book, which changes your mind and
heart."

A bookshop closed this week.

"If we try to protect small merchants, or mourn their disappearance, the
last thing we are being is nostalgic," Gopnick concludes. "Books are not
just other luxury items to be shopped for. They are the levers of our
consciousness. Every time a bookstore closes, an argument ends. That's
not good." Robert Gray on Shelf Awareness
Kudos to Todd Hulbert for finding a way to save Finally Found Bookstore, which was the former Baker Street Books in Black Diamond. His struggles have been heartbreaking, all the more so because I so rarely am able to get to Auburn to visit the new store. Now that it is a non profit Literacy Center, I sincerely hope that things will be looking up for WLO.
 
Finally Found Books Becoming Nonprofit

Finally Found Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25541424, Auburn, Wash.,which has struggled financially since opening in 2013, has formed a
nonprofit called the Washington Literary Organization
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25541425 that aims to buy the store as well as
promote literacy, support schools, educators and libraries, and help the
less fortunate receive books. Owner Todd Hulbert considers it "a viable
model that other struggling bookstores can follow."

In January, Hulbert put the store up for sale
it "a very difficult and personally emotional decision." But he found no
buyers and told the Auburn Reporter: "We started to see revenues go down
the previous year, and things didn't get any better in February, March
or April. I finally said, 'It's either time to shut it up, or we can
look at forming a nonprofit.' "

Hulbert emphasized the advantages of a nonprofit: it can engage in
tax-deductible fundraising, apply for grants, offer tax deductions for
book donations, use volunteer staff, work with schools and libraries
directly and network with other nonprofits.

Already, Hulbert told the paper, volunteers have taken on
responsibilities "in the business and [to] support existing and upcoming
literary programs" and a 13-member board has been formed.

The Washington Literary Organization's initial goal is to raise $10,000
for interim funding to form the nonprofit and offset the store's
operating expenses while doing the secondary fundraising of $250,000.
One-third of the secondary funding raised will be used as operating
capital for the store while the other two-thirds will be used to
purchase Finally Found Books's furniture, fixtures, equipment, inventory
and goodwill.

Hulbert plans to stay on as interim store manager until a replacement is
funded and trained, serve on the WLO board if elected, volunteer in the
store several hours a week and be on call to consult.

The Reporter said, too, that various Finally Found Books programs will
also be "beefed up," including training and internships that have
included developmentally disabled interns; more gift certificates for
teachers; more book and gift certificate donations to such causes and
organizations as shut-in seniors, PTA auctions, fundraisers, Friends of
the Library, the Veteran's Administration and churches.

New programs will include the collection and distribution of some
100,000 books in the first year for schools, libraries and other
organizations and 200,000 in the second year; Traveling Story Time,
which will offer readings at preschools and other children's gathering
places; in-house events such as tutoring, reading hours and sign
language classes; and providing meeting space for literary events.

In 2014, Finally Found Books had net revenues of $140,307.21, and in the
first quarter of this year, net revenues were $32,364.93. The store's
annual fixed expenses are about $70,000, and the proposed beginning
annual payroll expenses are about $40,000. Other discretionary expenses
include advertising, purchase of new books and inventory, professional
trade groups and conferences, etc.

In early 2012, Hulbert bought Baker Street Books
Diamond, Wash., closed it to install new shelving, reconfigure the store
and absorb some 100,000 volumes he had in storage. In July, he reopened
the store as Finally Found Books. In September 2013, Finally Found Books
sales were too low in Black Diamond. The store sells new and used
titles.
My husband, son and I are all taking our annual pilgrimage to Powells next week, where we'll be staying at the Mark Spencer Hotel by night and shopping by day at the BEST indie bookstore in the world! AMEN to that!
 
Congratulations to Powell's Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz25541465, Portland,
Ore., named "the best independent bookshop
in the world" by the Guardian, with help from its readers. The entry
reads:

"This legendary Portland shop is the world's largest used book
store--the jewel in the crown of what is claimed to be the largest
independent chain of bookstores on the planet. Powell's even provides a
map for customers. 'It is amazing! It is a whole city block with several
floors of books. Unlike ordinary bookstores, Powell's has a huge
selection of every book imaginable. I took my retired English teacher
father there and he went crazy. It also has a cafe and a selection of
antique computers. It is an absolute paradise for bibliophiles!' said
John R. Ewing Jr."