Saturday, October 18, 2014

The All Soul's Trilogy Boxed Set, Communal Reading, Lemony Snickett, JK Rowling and NPH, plus Aprilynne Pike's YA Paranormal Romance series

There's a lot of bad press going out of Texas these days, but here's a quote from a Texas bookstore that is spot on!

Brazos Bookstore 'Communal' Reading

"For a serious reader, discovering a new independent publisher is like
finding a new friend. You hold the book, study the cover design, inspect
the spine and read the author's bio. Next, you try the first few pages,
nod at a turn of phrase, sigh at a great insight (none of this takes
more than a minute or two), until something clicks, and you're
overwhelmed by the certainty of people you have never met, living in
other parts of the world, who somehow understand you. The word
'independent' almost isn't right, is it? After all, such discoveries
teach us that reading is--as readers know--a communal activity."

--Brazos Bookstore
Houston, Tex., which is profiling several of its favorite indie presses
this month

 Next, the kind folks at Viking have a boxed set of the Discovery of Witches trilogy by Deborah Harkness that comes out just before Halloween, appropriately enough!  They wanted me to post about it since I'd posted so much about the last book in the trilogy. 

The All Souls Trilogy box set is going on sale on October 30! The box set includes hardcover of all three volumes (The Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life) as well as a limited edition of Diana’s Commonplace Book. This is the only opportunity to purchase the overwhelmingly popular Commonplace Book, that until now has only been offered as a giveaway prize. The All Souls Trilogy box set is a wonderful gift for the holidays, to treat avid readers with the rare Commonplace Book and to introduce newcomers to Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont.

To celebrate its release, Deborah Harkness is hosting a giveaway of the box set on her Facebook page. US Residents may enter the contest until Halloween. Click here to view the post on the Deborah Harkness Facebook page and view additional details.
 Viking is incredibly excited to be able to offer such a wonderful gift package before the holidays hit!

If you are a fan of poetry, as I am, you've heard of Dylan Thomas, whose poetry reminds me of Yeats in its evocative beauty. Thankfully, they are making a movie about his life, whihc I can hardly wait to see. Sounds like they actually got a Welshman to play the lead role, too, which is marvelous.

A trailer has been released for Set Fire to the Stars
a biopic about Dylan Thomas directed by Andy Goddard. The Guardian
reported that the film "follows John Brinnin (Elijah Wood) as he takes a
week-long trek with the iconic Welsh poet (played by Celyn Jones)
through America in 1950." The movie, which also stars Shirley Henderson,
Steven Mackintosh and Kelly Reilly, releases in the U.K. next month,
though no U.S. date has been set.

 I've been a fan of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare for the past few years, and I was somewhat disappointed with the film, as many were, but now I discover that they're making a TV series of the books, which I imagine will be much better because they will have more time to tell the tale and fill in the character's back story.
Constantin Film, the production company that controls the rights to Cassandra Clare's the Mortal Instruments book series
and produced the less-than-successful movie adaptation The Mortal
Instruments: City of Bones, is relaunching the series "as a high-end
drama series" for TV, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Ed Decter (Helix, Unforgettable, In Plain Sight, The Client List) will
be showrunner for the Mortal Instruments series, which "is currently in
development, with Constantin planning to begin production next year. No
broadcast partners are yet attached to the series," THR wrote.

"It actually makes sense to do (the novels) as a TV series," Constantin
film and TV head Martin Moszkowicz said. "There was so much from the
book that we had to leave out of the Mortal Instruments film. In the
series we'll be able to go deeper and explore this world in greater
detail and depth."

I loved Harry Potter, the books and the movies, so now I am thrilled that there will be more movies in that wonderful world that Rowling created.

Rowling to Script Fantastic Beasts Trilogy
 J.K. Rowling, "the little-known author of the Harry Potter series," will
write the screenplay for a film version of her spinoff title Fantastic
Beasts and Where to Find Them
which is being adapted by Warner Bros. as a trilogy, with scheduled
releases in 2016, 2018 and 2020, Electric Lit reported.

Announcing her continued creative partnership with the film company in a
press release, Rowling noted: "Although it will be set in the worldwide
community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen
years, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor
a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding
world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be
familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the
films, but Newt's story will start in New York, seventy years before
Harry's gets underway."

The project is being directed by Harry Potter franchise helmer David
Yates, while Rowling makes her screenwriting debut and will co-produce.

Neil Patrick Harris is one cool dude. Not only has he conqured state and screen, he's wrtten an autobiography that sounds awesome. Plus, he admits to being a bibliophile as a child, which is adorable and makes me want to hug him.

Neil Patrick Harris, Bookseller
 This Sunday, the New York Times Book Review's "By the Book
segment will feature actor Neil Patrick Harris, author of Choose Your
Own Autobiography (Crown Archetype). Our favorite exchange:

What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was a voracious reader as a kid. The first job I ever had was in a
wonderful small bookshop in Ruidoso, N.M., called the Aspen Tree, run by
an extraordinary woman named Jane Deyo. She took me under her wing and
showed me the joy and respect of all things literary. I would take
inventory, restock, organize, make displays, run the register. I was all
of 10 or 11. But I was treated like such an equal, given a healthy
amount of adult responsibility, and I'll never be able to thank Jane
Deyo enough for that. It also ignited a fire in me to read as much as
possible. We used to have contests at the elementary school--who could
read the most books in a week or a month. I'd power through 30, 50
books. I was unstoppable. Just loved the feel and the smell of the
pages. Loved immersing my brain into uncharted territories. Loved
turning that last page and closing the book, a changed man. Still do.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was a groundbreaking YA series that had all sorts of mayhem and magic to it. I have wondered about what Mr Handler was up to since then, and it seems he's been doing good things all over the place. 

Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler advised fellow authors to contact their local booksellers and sign books for them to sell and promote, "spreading the word not only about an exciting source of signed books to your readers anywhere in the
country, but about a program anyone can join.... Will Upstream rescue us
all from strife and worry? Of course not. But the hope is that it will
remind both authors and booksellers of their local, less monolithic
resources, and improve general esprit de corps at a disheartening time."

In a separate letter to independent booksellers
Handler wrote: "As you know, many authors lately feel as if they are
engulfed in a rather unpleasant flood--as if the fate of their books is
whirling dreadfully out of control, battered by the waters of some
enormous South American river, the name of which I cannot remember at
the moment. While all this fierce sword fighting rages on around them,
independent bookstores continue to struggle with a similar feeling that
it's some sort of jungle out there.

"As a tonic, allow me to share news of a program, cooked up by assorted
interested parties and named, after some tipsy debate, Upstream. The
idea is to connect authors with their local independent booksellers to
offer signed books as an alternative to, say, larger and more unnerving
corporate machinations.... How does it work? Easily, hopefully.
Especially when aligned with the growing Indies First

 I just finished two more books in Aprilynne Pike's Fairy series, which began with "Wings" and went on to "Spells" and "Illusions," and ends with "Destined" which I have on hold at the library but have yet to read. Blurbs:
"I can't just storm in and proclaim my intentions. I can't 'steal' you away. I just have to wait and hope that, someday, you'll ask," Tamani said.
"And if I don't?" Laurel said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Then I guess I'll be waiting forever."
Although Laurel has come to accept her true identity as a faerie, she refuses to turn her back on her human life—and especially her boyfriend, David—to return to the faerie world.
But when she is summoned to Avalon, Laurel's feelings for the charismatic faerie sentry Tamani are undeniable. She is forced to make a choice—a choice that could break her heart.
"I don't do patrols, I don't go hunting, I just stick close to you. You live your life, I'll keep you safe," Tamani said, sweeping a lock of hair from her face. "Or die trying."
Laurel hasn't seen Tamani since she begged him to let her go last year. Though her heart still aches, Laurel is confident that David was the right choice.
But just as life returns to normal, Laurel realizes that a hidden enemy lies in wait. Once again, Laurel must turn to Tamani to protect and guide her, for the danger that now threatens Avalon is one that no faerie thought would ever be possible.
This is a review from a school librarian that says it better: "In Spells (2010), the sequel to Wings (2009, both HarperTeen), faerie Laurel chose her human boyfriend David over Tamani, her faerie guardian, who then disappeared. Now Laurel's thrown when Tamani unexpectedly shows up at the start of her senior year, posing as a Scottish exchange student. Klea, the mysterious female troll hunter who saved Laurel from her evil troll nemesis in the previous book, turns up in town, too. She asks Laurel to look after a shy Japanese exchange student who isn't "exactly…human." Suspecting that Yuki's a faerie, Laurel is wary of both Klea and Yuki's motives since Yuki doesn't respond to Laurel's efforts at friendship and might even hate her. When Tamani befriends Yuki to gather information, Laurel can't help feeling jealous. There have been signs of trolls in the vicinity, but no actual sightings until they attack Laurel and her friends and then disappear through an invisible barrier. After David and Tamani come to blows over her, Laurel breaks off with both of them—but can't deny her attraction for Tamani. Everything comes to a climax at the winter dance, when they discover what Yuki really is and what she's capable of. Readers are left hanging just as the action gets exciting, guaranteeing another book in this romantic paranormal series.—Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton" 
 So basically after three books worth of Laurel not being able to make up her mind about which guy to love, she will have flirted and made out with both David and Tam and left the reader still in limbo until the fourth book. Personally, after all the blathering about how beautiful and seductive Laurel is, how she's so much prettier than any of the human girls she goes to school with, I was beginning to get a whiff of the horrible stench of Bella the Boring from the horrible Twilight series, so I was going to beg off halfway through Illusions. However, the redoubtable Tam and his fascinating POV kept me going, and then the mystery of who, exactly is Yuki was also a page-turner. Turns out she's a bad seed, in more than one way, and that her guardian is also a bad fairy out for revenge against Avalon. Though the immaturity of the characters and their flighty and stupid dithering over boys can be a bit nauseating and annoying, I found the clean prose and the zippy plots to be refreshing and easy reading. Any good reader can finish one of these books in about 4-6 hours, so you can read the whole series in a day and night. I was glad that I read the books, but also glad that I didn't purchase them, as this wasn't a keeper of a YA series, in the sense that I'd want to keep them on my shelves for a re-read at some point in the future.Still, I'd give the first three books a B+ overall, and recommend them to those who liked Carrie Jones Pixie series.
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy was something of an impulse buy, and I was surprised when it turned out to be a real page-turner that I could not put down. The stories seem so disjointed at first, but they all come together at the end, and the prose is very dreamy and mesmeric. Here's the blurb:The characters in Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness discover at their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in a chain we cannot see. This gripping novel—inspired by true events—tells the interwoven stories of a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. They move through the same world but fail to perceive their connections until, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal the vital parts they have played in one another's lives, and the illusion of their separateness.
 This novel deserves an A, but it's not for everyone because the prose is so whisper-soft and strange. I would recommend it to fans of The Terrible Lightness of Being.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Martian Movie, The Night Manager, Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey, Fool's Gold by Phillippa Gregory, Alchemystic by Anton Strout and Wings By Aprilynne Pike

I adore Hugh Laurie, and have been watching him since his days on Blackadder Goes Forth! Of course, I watched him in House and A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Bertie and Jeeves tales. Now it appears that handsome Hugh and gorgeous Hiddleston will be together in an adaptation of a John Le Carre novel. I can hardly wait to see it. 

Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston will star in BBC's television adaptation
of John le Carre's The Night Manager
"with WME fielding multiple offers from U.S. networks for a
straight-to-series pickup," according to the Hollywood Reporter. Ink
Factory (A Most Wanted Man) is producing, with David Farr (Hanna,
Spooks) writing the script.

My son Nick and I both read the Martian, and LOVED it, but I am not really happy that they have Matt Damon playing the young protagonist, mainly because Matt isn't that young anymore. But I am still thrilled that they're bringing this excellent SF novel to the screen!

Jeff Daniels (Newsroom) is joining the cast of Ridley Scott's
"high-profile sci-fi movie" The Martian
based on the novel by Andy Weir, the Hollywood Reporter wrote. Matt
Damon stars in the film, with Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Kate
Mara "circling the project" as potential cast members.

This is a hilarious video and so much fun to watch!
"When the computer says we have 5 copies, but we can't seem to findthem." Buzzfeed featured "12 awkward bookseller moments
noting that "no booksellers, books, readers, or bears were harmed in the
making of this list. Unless you count feeling awkward as being harmed.
In which case, yeah, there's a good amount of that."

Poison Fruit is the third and final book in Jacqueline Carey's excellent "Agent of Hel" series, and it just debuted this past week. I've read all of Carey's Kushiel's series, and all of her Santa Olivia books, too. Carey is a true storytelling genius, able to create a world that engages the reader from the first page, while also writing believable characters that make the story glide along on plots that are swift and sure. Carey's prose is deliciously evocative without being sentimental or drippy, and yet her stories shine with heartfelt emotion. Here's the blurb: 
The Pemkowet Visitors Bureau has always promoted paranormal tourism—even if it has downplayed the risks (hobgoblins are unpredictable). It helps that the town is presided over by Daisy Johanssen, who as Hel’s liaison is authorized by the Norse goddess of the dead to keep Pemkowet under control. Normally, that’s easier to do in the winter, when bracing temperatures keep folks indoors.
But a new predator is on the prowl, and this one thrives on nightmares. Daisy is on her trail and working intimately with her partner and sometime lover from the Pemkowet PD, sexy yet unavailable werewolf Cody Fairfax. But even as the creature is racking up innocent victims, a greater danger looms on Pewkowet’s horizon.

As a result of a recent ghost uprising, an unknown adversary—represented by a hell-spawn lawyer with fiery powers of persuasion—has instigated a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, Hel’s sovereignty will be jeopardized, and the fate of the eldritch community will be at stake. The only one who can prevent it is Daisy—but she’s going to have to confront her own worst nightmare to do it.
  Though I was thrilled that Daisy had to confront her fears and better yet, confront her choice between Cody (Officer Down Low) and Stefan (The Ghoul/Outcast), I was a bit alarmed at how swiftly the romantic resolution happened after Persephonie's war. It seemed that Daisy and Stefan just dallied with one another, when her heart belonged to Cody all along (so why did she sleep with Stefan if not to be in a real relationship with him?). I also was confused by the fact that Hel herself never seemed to take any sort of action to protect the world tree. She was supposed to pit herself against Persephonie to retain hold of her domain, and instead she just sent out her hound, who guarded the tree anyway, and a couple of frost giants while Daisy's crew of monsters and friends did all the heavy lifting. Hel seemed to be a figurehead more than an active monarch, and therefore her threats of battling until the end seemed weak, since she herself wasn't prepared to actually DO anything or use any powers she may possess.
It was our heroine Daisy who had to bargain with an Angel (who was the messenger for God) to renounce her heritage and set everything to rights. I also didn't buy that her father the demon was pretty much okay with that. I would think a demon would be angry about losing his daughter and her influence on earth, and I also don't see how he would have tolerated his daughter mouthing off to him about messing with the wrong woman, her mother...what did that even mean? That she had the stones to raise Daisy to be a bad-ass? I found Daisy's talk with the Angel to be also somewhat disrespectful, in that she wasn't even polite enough to say please and thank you to God's messenger. When people have fallen on their knees and wept at the sight of an angel, suddenly Daisy's all business. But I still enjoyed reading this novel, so much so that I read through it in one day. It deserves an A, but I would recommend that those who enjoyed the first two books in the series keep themselves braced for a roller coaster ending that was a bit too slight and quick, but still satisfying.
Fool's Gold is the third book in the Order of Darkness series by historical fiction author Phillippa Gregory. Here's the blurb:
All that glitters may well be gold in the third book in the Order of Darkness quartet filled with intrigue, mystery, and romance, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory.
Tasked to expose a coin counterfeiting scheme, Luca and Isolde travel to Venice just in time for Carnival. Amid the masks, parties, and excitement, the romantic attraction between the two reaches a new intensity that neither can deny.
Their romance is interrupted by the arrival of the alchemist, who may be the con artist they’ve been looking for. But as Luca starts to investigate the original charge, the alchemist reveals his true goal—he plans to create the Philosopher’s Stone, a mystical substance said to be capable of turning base metals into gold and producing the elixir of life.
With pounds of undocumented gold coins and an assistant who claims to be decades older than she appears, all evidence points to the possibility that the alchemist has succeeded in his task. But as Luca and Isolde get closer to the truth, they discover that reality may be more sinister than they ever could have imagined.
Luca and Isolde seem to be more in love than ever in book 3 of the series, and I can't imagine how the author will resolve the issue of Luca being promised to the church and a life of celibacy while Isolde needs to reclaim her estate from her evil brother and then make an advantageous marriage into the Italian aristocracy.I was also concerned that the Jewish people were conflated with evil counterfitting alchemists and witches. I know that throughout history, when anything went wrong, Jews were thrown out of towns and ghettos and often harmed or killed by townspeople in pogroms. But the readers are left to see that the young girl is actually an old "hag" and the alchemist with her have not only created a homonculus, they've created fools gold that turns into bloody mush after a certain period of time. Therefore they nearly destroyed the Venice economy and yet Luca's servant Frieze helps them get away with it on Luca's orders.I don't see how Luca could have helped them escape in good conscience, though he followed his bosses order to buy up all the false gold because apparently there is a small amount of real gold inside. There were a number of annoying inconsistent moments in the book, but I would still give it a B, and recommend it to those who have read the first two books of this YA series.

I read Alchemystic on the recommendation of a friend, and while I thought it was going to be a series I would want to follow (magic masons who bring gargoyles to life? What is not to love?)I found the female protagonist, Alexandra Belarus to be too immature, annoying, ignorant and impulsive/reckless.Here is the blurb:
Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…
Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.
Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…
Lexi, (short for Alexandra) has an adopted brother who is a complete jerk, selfish and cruel, who tries to force Lexi to give up her grandfather's spellmason books to the psychopathic Kejetan, a ruler from the past in Lithuania who has promised her brother immortality as long as she gives up the books and the secrets to spellmasonry. Lexi fo course does this, and gives up Stanis, even though he is far more valuable to her family than her obnoxious brother. She also has two tremendously annoying friends, a cringing coward named Marshall and a ballerina friend named Rory who is also apparently adept at martial arts. Though Rory actually battles the bad guys and helps save Lexi from her impulsiveness, Marshall just seems to gasp and whine his way through the book, proving himself nothing but a liability. I found myself hoping that Stanis the gargoyle would drop him off the balcony and put an end to his uselessness. Still, having a coward who still swaggers around is something of a "Scooby gang" trope for YA fantasy novels and TV shows, so I would assume that Marshall is in the series to stay. Which is one reason I won't be continuing to read this series, which was a disappointment to me. The prose was juvenile, the characters annoying and stereotypical and the plot was stop/start jumpy, not at all smooth and clean. I'd give this book a C+, and recommend it to people who like to put their brains on hold when they read.

Wings by Aprilynne Pike was another recommended book that I picked up at Powells, and I am glad that I did. Unlike the the first of the Spellmason Chronicles, Wings is the first book in a series that doesn't condescend to the reader and has characters that are multi-faceted and fascinating, rather than cliches of teenage annoyance. Here's Publisher's Weekly's blurb:
Pike's debut novel-a faerie story with a touch of Arthurian legend-offers a botanical twist on the genre. Laurel Sewell, the new girl in town, discovers a strange "zit" on her back, which blooms into a flower. With the help of her friend and growing love interest, David, with whom she entrusts this information, Laurel finds out that she is a faerie, and that faeries are really highly evolved plants (Pike gives readers hints: Laurel prefers to have lunch outside and eats little besides vegetables and Sprite). Tamani, her sexy faerie guardian, completes the love triangle, as he protects Laurel from encroaching dark forces and fills in the blanks about her past. As Laurel and David never muster much chemistry, her rocky journey of self-discovery is the main draw ("It makes me want to go home and go to sleep and wake up to find that all of this is a dream. That the flower, the bump, even public school never happened"). Pike's novel mythology should win fans for this book, billed as the first in a series. 
I disagree with PW that there wasn't any chemistry between David and Laurel, I believed that there was plenty of chemistry between the two, and more between Laurel and Tam, who obviously loves her. I found the fact that her mother and father (adoptive, of course) had to be drugged regularly so that they didn't question the strange nature of their daughter to be rather poignient, yet it still seemed a little far-fetched that they never noticed that she was a plant who can't bleed or eat anything but other plants and soda pop. But this didn't detract too much from what was otherwise a very charming story. I read it in 4 hours flat, which I believe is a good thing. The prose was clean and light, the plot like a bubbling brook, zoomed right along and the characters seemed very realistic, in their highs and lows and yearnings. I enjoyed the changes in fairy mythology that Pike has written, and I also enjoyed the "blossoming" as an alternative to menstruation. Would that we all could have flowers on our backs instead of blood in our uterus. I'd give this lovely fantasy an A, and recommend it to those who enjoyed Jones' "Need" pixie series.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Alam Cumming's Memoir, Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun by Jeffrey Cook and Sarah Symonds, and My Fair Assassin Series by Robin LaFevers

I adore Alan Cumming, not just because he's an amazing actor, but also for his lovely persona, his brio, and he has a very sexy way about him that has nothing to do with his pairing off with men or women, it just is, like some people have red hair or blue eyes. The Scottish accent helps, too, at least for me, because I find Scottish men tremendously attractive (There is a new Hugo Boss fragrance out that has as its spokesperson Scotsman Gerard Butler putting on a suit in the morning, and it is the sexiest commercial I've seen in a decade). Now Cumming has come out with a book about his terrible childhood, and yet I imagine it is hauntingly beautiful, despite the horrific subject matter of child abuse.
Not My Father's Son: An award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer and director, Alan
Cumming recently starred in a one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway and
appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won
a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical
Cabaret, a role he is reprising in 2014. He hosts PBS Masterpiece
Mystery, and has appeared in many films, including Spy Kids, Titus, X2:
X-Men United, The Anniversary Party, Any Day Now and Eyes Wide Shut.
He's now written a memoir, Not My Father's Son (Dey Street Books,
October 7, 2014); watch the trailer here

 Having read the first book in this series, I was given a copy of Gods of the Sun to read a couple of weeks ago by author Jeffrey Cook. Here's the blurb, and information on gentleman Jeffrey and his co author, the beautiful Sarah Symonds.

Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun is an alternate-history, early-era Steampunk epistolary novel. In 1816, Gregory Conan Watts's chronicle of the adventures begun in Dawn of Steam: First Light continues - as does the Year Without a Summer. The crew of the airship Dame Fortuna travel to four continents and are embroiled in combat on three of them: conflict with New Spain in Britain's American colonies, an ambush in Machu Picchu, and entanglement in the Maori Potato Wars in New Zealand. As they progress through darkened skies, Gregory gradually discovers that nothing at all was as he thought it was. All his assumptions are cast into doubt: what their orders are, which tales of foreign lands are true, and what parts of the social order as he knows it really are natural. Also in doubt is whether they will all survive the experience.

Author Jeffrey Cook lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. He's contributed to a number of role-playing game books for Deep7 Press out of Seattle, Washington, but the Dawn of Steam series are his first novels. When not reading, researching, or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football. Co-contributor Sarah Symonds also lives in Washington. Born and raised in Seattle, she left for college and promptly came back. Sarah has been writing for fun since high school and tends towards short-shorts or novels. When not working on her own novels, Sarah enjoys costuming, fiber arts, and making Jeff explain football. 
Though I wasn't pleased with the sexism of the first book, I did note that the prose was dense and intricate, while still managing to be clear of typos and grammatical errors. Fortunately, Cook and Symonds continue their virtuous prose in the second novel, and they also make their protagonist Gregory learn and grow as a person, so there is much less judgmental sexist commentary on his part throughout the book. The adventure is ramped up, and the added action makes the plot zoom along like a train on greased rails. the female protagonists of the book remain heroines and there is more humor and a lighter touch on the footnotes, too, which makes the novel more of a pleasure to read. Though the epistolary style and antique prose can be slightly difficult for some readers, those who enjoy a good steampunk tale will find that once you dedicate some uninterrupted reading time to Gods of the Sun, you will find the book difficult to put down, and the language of the book becomes second nature. I give the book a B+ and recommend it to those who enjoy steampunk adventures along the lines of Jules Verne.

The My Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers begins with Grave Mercy and continues with Dark Triumph. The third book in the series, Mortal Heart, hasn't come out yet.  I got a copy of Grave Mercy from the library, and was instantly consumed by the story of a young girl who was viciously abused and marked from birth by a potion forced on her mother by her hideous father to abort her (it didn't work) who is smuggled from a marriage she was sold into, to the Convent of Saint Mortain, the God of Death. There Ismae, along with Sybella and Annith learn to use weapons, guile, poisons and their brains to assasinate those with the marque of Mortain on them, and those who have been chosen by the abbess for death. Grave Mercy is mainly Ismae's story, so we learn of this world, which is somewhat like 15th century England, through her eyes. Her first assignment is to help a duchess of the high court of Brittany escape marriage to the dreadful Count D'Albret, who has abused and murdered his past 6 wives and only wishes to marry the duchess to gain her lands and power. Part of Ismae's assignment is to pretend to be the mistress of the duchesses half brother, Gavriel Duval, which at first is a problem for Ismae, because she's only known men to be brutal, stupid and abusive. Duval is none of these, and of course the two fall in love, but that they do isn't really the focal point of the plot. Ismae discovers, after a meeting with Death/Mortain himself, that her gift isn't just to assassinate for political or moral reasons, but to give a merciful death to those who have fallen on the battlefield and are in need of a way to get out of pain and cease suffering. This, and her falling in love with Duval put her in opposition to the abbess of the Convent, and the book ends with Ismae wanting to forge her own path as a giver of Mercy instead of a political pawn. Dark Triumph picks up right where Grave Mercy left off, except it's the story of Sybella, who is actually D'Albret's much abused daughter. Syb has been placed back in her home to spy on her father and get information to the duchess and her forces. Unfortunately, Syb's half-brother Julian believes he's in love with his sister, and has been forcing himself on her for years, which she accepted because it afforded her protection from her vile father and her other brother, all of whom seem bent on raping every female they encounter. So Julian shadows Syb for a great deal of the book and thwarts many of her plans, yet she still manages to help the duchesses forces, and when she breaks a prisoner known as the Beast out of her father's dungeon, she discovers, as did Ismae, that all men are not evil, and that it is possible to be loved for who you are, darkness, flaws and all. Sybella discovers, after a chat with Mortain himself, that her gift is for meting out death for justice. Through vigorous prose and enthralling storytelling, LaFevers creates a world that, not unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy, will have readers glued to the page long after bedtime. A well-deserved A, with the recommendation that those who enjoy historical romance, fantasy, adventure and strong female protagonists who get justice and get the guy, run out and buy these books.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Kittery Bookstore, Small Business Saturday and Entwined by Heather Dixon, Stormbringer by Phillipa Gregory and The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

I lived in Kittery Maine for a summer in 1983, and I worked part time for a bookstore called The Gentle Reader. I totally adored that tiny bookshop, and I was so sad when the owner decided to close it down. However, cheek and jowl with Kittery is Portsmouth, NH, which has a bunch of great stores and cafes, and now they will have the only bookstore for the two towns to share. I wish I could visit the place again and see how much has changed in the past 30 years. 
close its Kittery, Maine, location, which opened last year
announcing the decision, Riverrun said its flagship store in nearby
Portsmouth, N.H., "is NOT closing, it is alive and well."

Expressing gratitude to "customers who supported RiverRun in Kittery
Foreside," the bookseller noted: "We loved, loved, loved being there,
but unfortunately our sales at that location have not come close to the
level needed to sustain our expenses. Nothing ventured, nothing gained
as they say, and we are happy we took the risk. We will miss that
location greatly."

I love Neil Gaiman, and though I find his latest wife rather annoying and attention-seeking, I appreciate that she seems to support him in his love of indie bookstores and wordsmithing. As I also wanted to work in a bookshop or a library when I was a child, I found this idea from the two of them to be truly delightful. I don't know that the owner of the Sequel or the owner of Finally Found Books, the two closest bookstores to me (in Enumclaw and Auburn, respectively) would welcome my help in their stores, but I can visit their stores and buy books in the next couple of weeks, after my wedding anniversary trip to Powells next weekend.

In an open letter to "you lot: writers of books
Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer called on their fellow authors to actively
support Indies First by linking to
indies for book sales and signing up to be booksellers at their favorite
independent bookshops on November 29, Small Business Saturday
Bookselling This Week reported. Among the letter's highlights:

"Neil wanted to be an author when he grew up. But if he wasn't an
author, he thought, the best possible profession would be working in a
bookshop, pointing people at books they might like, ordering books for
them, divining with some kind of superhuman ability that the book with
the blue cover that their granny needed was actually Forever Amber, and
otherwise making people's lives better while being in bookshops....

"The Internet cannot make this magic happen. It cannot suggest books you
have no idea you want. There's nothing like the human, organic
serendipity of an independent bookshop, where people who read and love
books share their love with others....

"So: choose your independent bookshop, talk to the owner or manager, and
agree on what you are going to do that day.... You will be supporting
independent bookshops. They need your help. They in their turn will be
supporting you. Everybody wins."

I've just finished the second book in Phillipa Gregory's charming YA series, "The Order of Darkness," called "Stormbringers" and I was even more delighted by this book than I was of the first book, "Changeling." Here's the blurb:
The year is 1453, and the end of the world is closer than ever.
As Luca and Isolde continue their journey, their attraction grows with each passing day. Even as they try to remain focused on the mysteries they’ve been ordered to investigate, the tension between them builds.
Their budding, illicit relationship is put on hold when a boy, Johann, and his army of children arrive in town. Johann claims to have divine orders to lead the children across Europe to the Holy Land, and the townspeople readily accept his claims. Luca wants to believe, but his training tells him to question everything...but when Johann’s prophecy begins to come true, Luca wonders if they have finally stumbled upon a real miracle.
Yet even the greatest miracles have the potential for darkness…and the chaos that follows Johann is unlike anything anyone could have imagined.
This book was quite a thrill ride, though the plot had it's moments of lagging behind the action a bit. The Pope's inquisitor, Luca Varo, is once again embroiled in the plot of a mystery, as he and his manservant Freize, along with Isolde and her Muslim maidservant Ishraq, (and the bothersome brother Peter) find themselves beguiled by a children's crusade and it's charismatic leader. Unfortunately, the leader, Johann, is a religious fanatic who believes the seas will part for himself and his group of starving children, so they can enter the holy land and wrest the place from the Ottoman Turks and the Muslims. Once the ocean pulls back, it appears as if Johann was right, only to have an earthquake produce a tsunami that drowns most of the children and the party assumes, Frieze, who had gone back to save the horses from drowning. Freize turns up again, thankfully, but not long after he comes back from the dead, the head of the Order of Darkness, whom no one seems to ever have seen (he wears a hooded cloak) decides to drop in and denounce the slaver pirate Radu Bey, a Muslim who tries to get Ishraq to leave with him. As if all this weren't enough, Luca is required by the townspeople to put Isolde and Ishraq on trial in an inquisition because they're accused of being "stormbringers" who conjured the tsunami by witchcraft (all because they'd been seen walking to the local pond to bathe). Fortunately they're found innocent, and yet a coolness develops between Isolde and Ishraq because Ishraq soothes Luca when he's grieving and also gives Freize a kiss when he returns from the dead. This apparently sets Isolde into fits of jealousy, and she seems willing to throw away a lifelong friendship for very little reason, which I found not at all plausible. Still, I enjoy the history, the excellent character development and the surprisingly complex mysteries that this group of young people are called upon to solve. I look forward to the third book, which I hope to find soon.I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to anyone who enjoyed "The Name of the Rose" or Brother Cadfael mysteries.

Entwined by Heather Dixon reads like a retold fairy tale, modernized a bit, with dialog that sounds something like 1920s British, (with words like "ripping" and "cracking" being liberally strewn throughout the text), yet appears to be placed in a 19th-century mileau, complete with Victorian furnishings in a shabby castle inhabited by poor nobility. Here's  the Publisher's Weekly blurb, (because the publisher's blurb was uninformative):
Readers who enjoy stories of royalty, romance, and magic will delight in Dixon's first novel. Part confection, part acute observation, the story of Azalea and her sisters is a reimagining of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" by an author who knows both the protocols and the pleasures of dance. The girls lose that when their mother dies in childbirth, and the castle is plunged into deepest mourning. Their father, whom they call "the King," banishes the girls from his sight and shortly thereafter goes off to war without saying good-bye. Grieving, angry, and bored, Azalea discovers a hidden passage out of the princesses' room, and the magical pavilion it leads to, guarded by the enigmatic spirit Keeper, is the perfect place to dance again. Or is it? Azalea, keenly aware of her duties as the Princess Royale, cannot trust a dream-come-true scenario nor can she forget the warm brown eyes of Mr. Bradford, met briefly and now warring beside the King. The language is simple, rendering Dixon's insights with a light touch without simplifying the problems Azalea faces or the nuances of the understanding she develops.  I disagree with PW that the language is "simple," rather I found it to be clean and clever prose, with a plot that shot along like it was on greased rails. I ended up reading the whole book in 4.5 hours.  Dixon manages to make each of the twelve princesses a distinct character without having them become stereotypes. Plus, their father the King, whom they called "Sir" tended to be the more believable for being a military man who is consumed with grief for the loss of his wife who bore him so many children (no wonder she died young!).But because they are princesses and they must marry, there was a great deal of discussion about suitable men and their father's uncharacteristic kindness in allowing them to be married to someone they love. Of course, the evil "Keeper's" plot to free himself from the magic beneath the castle and rule again after killing their father puts a scarey spin on the whole story. Of course the men who come to the rescue are deemed suitable for marriage to these teenage girls (who are considered "of age" to marry when they are 15! Horrors!), and there is a nicely-tied up HEA, which I enjoyed, but while I realize that this is a romantic fairy tale, I was still a bit creeped out by the fact that the only things these girls seemed interested in was dancing, wreaking havoc and finding a man. Except for Azalea, the eldest, who had promised her mother on her deathbed that she'd take care of her sisters (and her father), there doesn't seem to be much ambition in any of the 11 other girls, which doesn't make a lot of sense, even for a fairy tale. It would have been better, I think, to see some of the princesses pining for a life of study at a University, or showing an interest in mathematics, engineering, science or politics. Still this book deserves a A- and I'd recommend it to those who like "reboots" of fairy tales.

I won The Secret Life of Violet Grant from the publishers, Putnam, on a Facebook post, and it came with a spiffy little suitcase filled with colorful streamers, as if I were going on an ocean voyage in the 1920s. Here's the blurb:
Passion, redemption, and a battered suitcase full of secrets: the New York Times-bestselling author of A Hundred Summers returns with another engrossing tale. 
Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Madison Avenue world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.
Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate d├ętente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.
As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love ––she wants most.
This was, indeed, a very engrossing story, though I don't think the dialog of Vivian S in 1964 was realistic to how people spoke at the time, especially in a progressive city like New York. Vivian sounds like a character from the Great Gatsby, complete with sarcasm, wit and horridly snobbish relatives.An example: "Now I don't know if you would call me and Nicholas Greenwald Jr kissing cousins, I mean, we'd only kissed once. Well, twice. But we had a zing, he and I, if you know what I mean, and my poor wounded little heart revived just a smidgen at the way his handsome old scoundrelly face lit to blazes at the sight of me." I adored the fact that Vivian worked for a magazine and couldn't get a break until she gives up the man she's in love with in exchange for the chance to write and publish the story of her great aunt Violet's troubles leading up to the Great War. Ah the intrigue! The murder of Violet's horrid husband, who was her mentor and professor, and her struggle to become a scientist and be allowed to do her own experiments and take credit for her work was fascinating stuff. Though she seemed at times to be too naive and innocent, her character still rang true to the era, and she nearly made Vivian seem slightly less colorful by contrast. Still, the prose was very F Scott Fitzgerald, with a side of Edith Wharton and a plot fully as fast as the Queen Mary at full steam. Once you pick the book up, all bets are off for the rest of the day, as you will want to leap from chapter to chapter to find out what happens to both Schulyer women. The chapters trade off from Violets POV to Vivians, yet this doesn't disturb the novel's flow one iota. Deliciously rebellious as both women are, I was glad to see them tucked away in an HEA by the end of the book, and I found myself hoping that Beatriz Williams comes back to Vivian in one of her future novels, just so I can revel in the stream of bon mots. A well deserved A, and I'd recommend this novel to anyone who was fascinated by the life of Marie Curie or other women of science in the early part of the 20th century.