Sunday, August 24, 2014

Castle, NZ Poetry Plus Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard and A Song for My Mother by Kat Martin

I just adore Nathan Fillion, who played Mal Reynolds on the late lamented science fiction program Firefly, and now he plays Richard Castle on a mystery/cop program called Castle that I've been watching since the first season. Now all the books that Richard Castle has supposedly "written" that are actually out on shelves are about to become TV: Fictional Art Imitates Fiction

"It's a case of life imitating art, or television imitating TV fiction
Deadline.com said about ABC putting in development a show based on the
Derrick Storm series of mystery novels written by fictional author
Richard Castle, played by Nathan Fillion on the ABC drama Castle. ABC
Studios is producing the project, "about a PI-turned-spy working for the
CIA."

David Yates "is back in the world of Harry Potter," according to the
Hollywood Reporter, which reported that the man who directed four of the
eight Harry Potter movies for Warner Bros. (Harry Potter and the Order
of the Phoenix, the Half-Blood Prince and the two-part Deathly Hallows)
"is in negotiations with the studio to direct Fantastic Beasts and Where
the new Potter-based franchise the studio is hoping to launch" with J.K.
Rowling, who is writing the screenplay.

I love poetry, too. And this is lovely:
Robert Gray on New Zealand National Poetry Day:
Then I follow a new trail: The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize
spirit of imagination, freedom and determination" that marked the life
of poet Sarah Broom, who died in 2013. She wrote this

and if, after all,
when the world
starts to stray from me,
like a grazing animal,
nonchalant, diverted,
frayed rope trailing,

if you are still here
and still listening,

then, if you can

sing to me 

I've read about 6 books in the past two weeks, but I am only going to review three here, mainly because the others were not really worth the review time. I'm going to start with A Song For My Mother by Kat Martin because it was a skinny little volume that I read in two hours and nearly reversed my ban on book burning for. I was so insulted by the horrible sexism and the way that the protagonist and her mother were portrayed that I was nauseous by the time the book came to a close. Here's the blurb, which is full of hype and lies. This novel is as far from charming as you can get.

In this charming novel, Kat Martin brings readers back to the town of Dreyerville for another compelling story of love, loss, hope, and second chances…Years after running away with her boyfriend in her junior year of high school, Marly Hanson returns to Dreyerville at the request of her daughter, Katie, who has recently been treated for brain cancer. Katie has never met her grandmother, Marly’s mother, Winnie. But Marly and Winnie have been estranged for years, and confronting the past for each of them is painful. The homecoming is bittersweet, but revisiting the conflict between them is crucial if Marly and her mother are ever to find the bond they shared before Marly left Dreyerville. To complicate matters, living next door to Winnie is handsome sheriff and widower Reed Bennett, and his son, Ham, who is close to Katie’s age. Ham and Katie become fast friends, while the parents find their attraction to one another going deeper than mere friendship. But Marly’s time in Dreyerville is limited and risking her heart isn’t something she’s willing to do.

As the days slip past, and though she tries to avoid it, Marly and Reed become more deeply involved. Can she risk loving the handsome sheriff and giving up the future she worked so hard to forge for herself and her daughter? Can she make a life in Dreyerville after what happened all those years ago?
Will Marly finally realize that her true destiny and ultimate happiness lies in coming to terms with her past?
UGH, where do I start? The big secret of Marly's past is that her father was an alcoholic abusive asshat who nearly raped her and beat both her and her mother so severely that they were hospitalized. "Winnie" Marly's mother, is a poor excuse for a woman, because she didn't do what any decent mother would do and protect her child and throw the abusive bum out. She lived with him until he died, and then somehow expected her daughter to just forgive her for not making a safe home for her child, and for letting her run away and get married at a very young age to a total creep because that was safer than being at home with the old man. Winnie justifies her total failure as a parent by telling her daughter the AWFUL TRUTH that her father's mother (Winnies mother in law, Marly's grandmother) was a, GASP, prostitute, and that since her son had to grow up in a house of sin, watching his mother get paid for sex, he naturally grew up to be an evil abusing bastard who wants to rape his only daughter. Because, you know, anyone raised by a hooker is automatically going to become the next Jeffrey Dahmer....not.
I'm not a fan of prostitution, heaven knows, I find porn and prostitution to be vile and disgusting (and degrading to women) and I do not agree with people who say that there is nothing wrong with women selling themselves, and that 'sex worker' is a valid career for a woman or a man. It's wrong, it should remain illegal and I think that men need to stop seeing women as products that they can own, buy, sell or abuse.But while I believe that selling yourself is wrong, I don't think that children of prostitutes are automatically wired to become evil abusers and alcoholics. At some point, once they are nearing adulthood, young men or women need to realize that their choices in life are their own, and that their choices come with consequences.There are plenty of men and women out there who had truly awful childhoods with parents who were horribly cruel and abusive, and even kids who didn't have parents, but instead spent their childhood in foster homes, and a number of them have lived good lives and had great careers. Of course, the opposite can also be true, there are kids that had perfectly decent parents who grew up to do terrible things. My point is that using your mother's profession, shameful though it may be, as an excuse to abuse your family is ridiculous, lame and pathetic. But Marly, who seems fairly stupid once she gets back to her hometown, ends up going to church with her mother, falling in love with the town sheriff and dumping her career up North to marry and make babies with the sheriff and totally forgive her mother, because "she did the best that she could." That's total BS, she did NOT stand up for herself or her child, and allowed a total scumbag to run her life and ruin her relationship with her daughter, her family and her health. I found her actions unforgivable, and I found Marly's ability to just let it all go and settle back into her small town life unrealistic. The romance was syrupy and the other mom in the book allows someone she's never met to "watch" her 3 year old, and then is surprised when this crazy old lady runs off with her baby! Ugh! Stupid!
This novel deserves a D at best, and I couldn't recommend it to anyone with a brain, because it was just too awful. 

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch is the second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series, and this one, though just as hefty as the first one (The Lies of Locke Lamora) takes place on the high seas, and involves Locke and Jean learning how to become pirates, and eventually settling in with a female-captained pirate crew. Here is the blurb:
 

In his highly acclaimed debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch took us on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with a band of daring thieves led by con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.
After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can’t rest for long—and are soon back to what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves
.
This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele—and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior…and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house’s cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire.
Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors…straight to Requin’s teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb—until they are closer to the spoils than ever.
But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo’s secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough.…
One of the great things about Lynch's books is that he provides plot twists and turns when you least expect them, and somehow manages to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the battles and adventures, though you know that you have 760 pages of action to read through. I felt that there could have been some serious trimming in this book, however, as Lynch got a bit carried away with all the nautical jargon and the intricacies of being a pirate. There was so much detail on everything from ship size to ropes and sails and knots and what to loot and what not to, customs and understandings and rules, etc, that I nearly fell asleep a couple of times during the novel.If Lynch took out all that unnecessary nautical narration, I'd bet he'd have shaved at least 150 pages off of this hefty book that even in paperback is like a brick. Still, even with all that, I loved Locke's brilliance in getting them into and out of situations with such conniving skill, and I also loved the fact that Jean fell in love and was allowed to have fun and have dreams that didn't include spending his life as Locke's "muscle." It seems to me that the bad guys are getting more vicious in each successive novel, and now with Red Skies, Lynch has done what Jim Butcher does so well, he's left us on a cliffhanger, with Locke and Jean battered and sick and without funds, but not without hope. I've ordered the third book in the series, The Republic of Thieves, which I should have in hand by Wednesday. All in all, I'd give this book a solid B+, and recommend it to fans of pirates and thieves and all things nautical.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard was reminiscent of Lauren Willig's "Pink Carnation" flowers series married with Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. Willig's books are all 18th century romantic adventure/spy mysteries, and the Dragonriders of Pern are all romantic fantasy mixed with a bit of science fiction. What this blend ends up giving readers is a slow-starting romantic fantasy that grows more complex and fascinating as it gains steam. Here's the blurb:
A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freed—at any cost.
Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.
Though Tam was a bit too willing to cede her power and her life to her beloved prince, she still had backbone and a lot of common sense, which I appreciated. There is nothing that irritates me more as a reader than a protagonist who is just too stupid to live, or one who becomes stupid once they lay eyes on the man or woman of their dreams. The prose in this novel is a bit formal, but it becomes easier as you go along, and the characters are nicely drawn. The plot glides along on dragons wings, and with the exception of a slow bit at the front of the book, the story is sublime and swiftly told. The HEA is not syrupy or stupid, and the heroes and heroines have doubts and flaws, just like real people. All in all, I feel this novel deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to all those who enjoy well-wrought romantic fantasy with a dragon element...yes, that means you, George RR Martin Game of Thrones fans!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Amazon's kerfuffle, Taxi bookstore, RIP Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams, and The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal, An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd and Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells


 There's been a huge kerfuffle between authors, Amazon and Hachette that seems to be causing nothing but trouble all around. I like it when someone makes something humorous out of something unpleasant.

"But I, Jeff Bezos, also clearly see that we are going to have fewer
great books and writers discovered in the coming years if there are
fewer curators with the financial wherewithal to nurture them. And, no
way around it, fewer publishing houses equals fewer curators. It's not a
money thing, it's a diversity-of-perspective thing. One company--no
matter how high-minded and cleverly structured it is--will offer fewer
perspectives than many companies will.

"I, Jeff Bezos, was a physics student at one point and I assure you I
understand principles this basic.

"So, starting today, I am going to deal with publishers fairly and
openly. No more punishing them with delayed shipments of books we could
have ordered. No more taking down of buy and pre-order buttons, knowing
that Amazon can withstand the revenue dip far better than they can."

--James Patterson in a CNN Opinion piece headlined "If I Were Amazon's


I adored Lauren Bacall, and I was shaken this past week when I learned that she had passed on nearly the same day that comedian and actor Robin Williams took his own life by hanging. So it is with a heavy heart full of grief at the loss of these two legends that I post the obits below. Rest in peace, Lauren and Robin. 

Legendary actress Lauren Bacall
who, as Jacket Copy put it, "decided to tell her own story in not one
but three memoirs"--By Myself in 1978, Now in 1994 and By Myself and
Then Some in 2005--died Tuesday. She was 89.

"Writing a book is the most complete experience I've ever had," she told
the Los Angeles Times regarding By Myself. During a book signing at
Pickwick Books, "Bacall put aside people who wanted her to sign
memorabilia so that she could get to everyone who had a book. After
signing close to 500, she had to move on to her next event, but some
readers were still waiting--so she arranged to have books brought to her
hotel where she could sign them later," Jacket Copy noted.

Tom Campbell, owner of the Regulator Bookshop, Durham, N.C., remembered
a brief brush with Bacall
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz22101975,
writing, "It was a slow Saturday afternoon, back in the late 1980s or
early 1990s. Only one customer in the store. A woman, browsing the
biography section. Susan, who was working the counter with me, put her
hand over her mouth and whispered, 'I think that's Lauren Bacall!'

" 'Really?' I answered skeptically. But glancing at the profile of the
woman's face, I had to admit that she could indeed be Lauren Bacall. But
how were we going to know for sure? I mean, you just don't walk up to
someone and ask them if they are Lauren Bacall. And bookstore policy has
always been that we leave people alone so they can browse without being
bothered.

"Luckily, Ms Bacall helped us out. She turned toward Susan and me and
asked a question. And as soon as we heard that deep, smoky voice, there
was no question. This was Lauren Bacall, browsing in the Regulator.

"As I recall, we had the book she was looking for, and she bought it.
Susan and I stayed cool, no screaming, no asking for an autograph. But
of course we were excited. So much so that I have no memory of what the
book was that Lauren Bacall bought. But I think she had a pleasant,
quiet time, browsing in our bookstore that day.

"Thanks for the memories, Ms. Bacall."

Image of the Day: Remembering Robin Williams

The Books, Inc. http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz22101987 in Alameda, Calif.,set up this display in honor of the late Robin Williams, who lived in
Tiburon. Buyer Rachel Walther wrote, "For many of us on staff who have
worked in the Bay Area for some time we've had occasion to meet him in
our shops or around town. I was struck by how shy and polite he was in
person. We consider his passing a deep loss to our neighborhood, and it
was with a heavy heart that we collected these books."

What a great idea, to bring books to people riding in taxicabs, bored or anxious. Nothing soothes so well as good reading material!

Cool Idea of the Day: Taxi/Bookstore 
The Wall Street Journal has a long profile of the Iranian
husband-and-wife team Mehdi Yazdany and Sarvenaz Heraner, whose
wonderful creation is "a mobile reading room and taxi service
complete with chauffeur-librarian." They call the mobile bookstore
"Ketabraneh," which translates as Books on Wheels.
the past five years, the pair, who met working in a bookstore, have
driven around Tehran like any other taxi, but their cab has "more than
40 titles, 130 volumes in all [that] are stacked behind the back,
shelved on racks over the passenger window, cluttering the dashboard,
crammed into side pockets and stuffed in the trunk. When you pay the
fare, you can buy a book."
Titles are a mix of translated international bestsellers and Iranian
classics and include Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Charles Bukowski's
Pulp and works by Iranians such as Nader Ebrahimi, Zoya Pirzad and
Sohrab Sepehri. They sell 30 books a day on average, and sometimes give
books for free to poor riders.

They also play a collection of "Eastern and Western classical music
designed to create a peaceful mood and compete with Tehran's noisy
traffic."

The couple's next project is opening a coffeeshop/bookstore/reading
room.
I just finished reading Barbara O'Neal's The Secret Of Everything and, as it was packaged like your average "chick lit" trade paperback, and I found it at the library book sale, I was totally surprised and enchanted at the depth of the novel itself. 
Here's the blurb:
At thirty-seven, Tessa Harlow is still working her way down her list of goals to “fall in love and have a family.” A self-described rolling stone, Tessa leads hiking tours for adventurous vacationers–it’s a job that’s taken her around the world but never a step closer to home. Then a freak injury during a trip already marred by tragedy forces her to begin her greatest adventure of all.
Located high in the New Mexico mountains, Las Ladronas has become a magnet for the very wealthy and very hip, but once upon a time it was the setting of a childhood trauma Tessa can only half remember. Now, as she rediscovers both her old hometown and her past, Tessa is drawn to search-and-rescue worker Vince Grasso. The handsome widower isn’t her type. No more inclined to settle down than Tessa, Vince is the father of three, including an eight-year-old girl as lost as Tessa herself. But Tessa and Vince are both drawn to the town’s most beloved eatery–100 Breakfasts–and to each other. For Tessa, the restaurant is not only the key to the mystery that has haunted her life but a chance to find the home and the family she’s never known.
Although the publishers try to sell the book as a romance, it's really more about finding yourself and learning to deal with grief and pain by making what amends that you can and then letting go.  Both Tessa and her lover Vince's daughter Natalie are suffering from losing someone that they cared about, and they also feel set adrift by memories of past trauma, in Tessa's case splintered memories of being the child of a commune leader and a crazy mother who tried to kill her and her twin when they were children. I found Tess's journey very compelling, and I found the character of Natalie equally fascinating, because I could understand her need to steal things, to somehow have something that was her own, because the pain of losing her mother was so inexpressible.  The book had an HEA ending and yet it had more gravitas than most of the other books of this type. The sweetness and sorrow and all the recipes mingled to create a real sensory experience for me. Certainly worth an A, and I'd recommend it to those who love Jennie Shortridge's books, or Erica Bauermeister's fine works. 
Dirty Magic was the first book I've read by Jaye Wells, and it was on the recommendation of Kevin Hearne, author of the wonderful Iron Druid Chronicles, that I bought the book in the first place. The book takes place in what I am assuming is a future dystopian America, where magic is okay only if one pays for "clean magic" and works within the proscribed guidelines of the government. Unfortunately, "dirty magic" abounds, of course, since it's off-book and illegal, and people have become addicted to potions that tend to kill them slowly and in horrifying ways. Enter cop Kate Prospero, daughter of one of the dirtiest wizards around, who has vowed never to use magic again now that she's a cop and raising her little brother Danny. Here's the blurb:
MAGIC IS A DRUG. CAREFUL HOW YOU USE IT.
The Magical Enforcement Agency keeps dirty magic off the streets, but there's a new blend out there that's as deadly as it is elusive. When patrol cop Kate Prospero shoots the lead snitch in this crucial case, she's brought in to explain herself. But the more she learns about the investigation, the more she realizes she must secure a spot on the MEA task force.
Especially when she discovers that their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier - on the same day she swore she'd given up dirty magic for good. Kate Prospero's about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should never say never.
I felt for Kate, who gets herself into a situation where she must use magic to save her idiot teenage brother (who seemed like a huge douchebag during the entire book, so I had very little sympathy for him) but I couldn't understand why she was unable to control herself around John, who has now become a corporate scumbag, the antithesis of the kind of person she claims to want to get involved with again. Kate seemed strong in so many important ways, but then she'd just get stupid, weak-kneed and girly when it came to her ex, or to disciplining her brother. Other than those moments, though, I loved Kate's general kick-arse attitude, and smarts and her ability to think under fire. The only other thing I didn't like about the book was the constant stream of invective, which took away from the otherwise decent prose. I don't mind a few well-placed swear words or curses, mind, but when it is every other word of dialog it gets old, fast. Still, this book gets a B+, and I would recommend it to those who are fans of Laurel Hamilton, Kvein Hearne, Mercedes Lackey and Tanya Huff. 
An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd is the 4th book of the Bess Crawford series that I've read. Because of my adoration of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, written by Jacqueline Winspear, I've become interested in the world of WW1 England, and the lives of the nursing sisters who worked under hellish conditions to try and save an entire generation of Englishmen. Here's the blurb:
World War I nurse Bess Crawford, introduced in A Duty to the Dead, returns in an exciting new mystery in which a murder draws her inexorably into the sights of a cunning killer
It is the early summer of 1917. Bess Crawford has returned to England from the trenches of France with a convoy of severely wounded men. One of her patients is a young pilot who has been burned beyond recognition, and who clings to life and the photo of his wife that is pinned to his tunic.
While passing through a London train station, Bess notices a woman bidding an emotional farewell to an officer, her grief heart-wrenching. And then Bess realizes that she seems familiar. In fact, she's the woman in the pilot's photo, but the man she is seeing off is not her husband.
Back on duty in France, Bess discovers a newspaper with a drawing of the woman's face on the front page. Accompanying the drawing is a plea from Scotland Yard seeking information from anyone who has seen her. For it appears that the woman was murdered on the very day Bess encountered her at the station.
Granted leave to speak with Scotland Yard, Bess becomes entangled in the case. Though an arrest is made, she must delve into the depths of her very soul to decide if the police will hang an innocent man or a vicious killer. Exposing the truth is dangerous—and will put her own life on the line.
Bess is so calm and deals with the rather vicious characters in this book that I was surprised to find myself getting to the end of the book within a day. I suppose that I just fell into the mystery and into the internal rythmn of the prose and plot, as I often do with compelling stories.  Though its a mother-son team writing these books, the prose is seamless, and if you didn't know that two people were writing it together, you'd never know. I gather this is what they mean by "cozy mysteries" or books that are easy for the reader to digest. Still, the book held my interest and deserves a B, and I would recommend it to Great War buffs and cozy mystery lovers.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Two Books Adapted to Movies, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara and Norwegian Folk Tales of Anthon and Gurina Johnson by Jean Russell Larson

I am so excited about these two movies, I can hardly stand it! My son Nick and I both read "The Martian" and LOVED it, and now it will be made into a movie directed by the wonderful Ridley Scott, which is awesome. Also, I started reading the Dragonriders of Pern series back in the late 70s when I was in high school, and I LOVED them so dearly, I can only hope that they will do Anne McCaffrey proud in putting them up on the big or small screens. It is interesting that her estate, meaning her children, are allowing the books to be optioned, as I somehow think Anne wouldn't have allowed it while she was alive. But then, she hadn't seen what has been done to GRR Martin's Game of Thrones, so she might have been swayed to allowing an adaptation if she would have. At any rate, I am looking forward to both of these films or series with great anticipation.

Fox has announced that "the previous mystery date of March 4, 2016 has
now been moved ahead to November 25, 2015" for The Martian http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21979375, adapted by Drew Goddard from the novel by Andy Weir, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott," Indiewire reported.


-->
Harry Potter, The Hobbit and now.... Dragonriders of Pern?
On an endless search to find big-scale fantasy books that lend
themselves to global franchises, Warner Bros has optioned the Pern book
series from the estate of American-Irish author Anne McCaffrey,"
Deadline.com reported. The first book in the 22-volume series was
published in 1968.

The deal was spearheaded by Drew Crevello, who joined Warner Bros. "a
couple of months ago after writing for two years." Warners' Julia Spiro
also is working on the project. 

 The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch was a recommendation of (I think, I am not certain) Patrick Rothfuss, and though I am not generally into swashbuckling adventure fantasy, this book was a heck of a ride from page one to page 722. Though it's a chubby paperback, this substantial story never wavers or bogs down in useless narration or speeches about politics/religion or any other subject. The story revolves around Locke Lamora, a grubby street orphan who is scooped up by the local Fagin, ala Dickens Oliver, who attempts to turn him into a pickpocket and regular street thief, only to discover that Locke has a talent for large-scale mischief, mainly because he's a smart kid with aspirations of becoming a criminal mastermind. So the Fagin sells Locke to the head of a local priesthood that is really just a front for a criminal gang who are educated and turned loose on the city to scam everyone. All the local gangs pay a percentage of their profits to the city's Mafia don, called a "capo" who has absolute authority over all of the crime in Camorr. Here's the blurb:An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.
  I was surprised by how much I loved this rather brutal world, and how hard I was rooting for Locke and the Gentlemen Bastards. After all, they are lying, cheating, thieves and murderers, but Locke tries to keep bloodshed out of his thievery, and he's got a soft spot for all his friends and his mentor. Perhaps it was because he is described as being small and runt-ish, and not good looking, but I found his ability to don theatrical costumes and scam the nobility without them realizing it to be most charming and great fun. I also loved his nickname, the Thorn of Camorr, because he's such a thorn in the side of the nobility and the constabulary. His encounter with the city's spymaster was brilliant, as was his dealings with the Gray King. Though one could hardly call the ending an HEA, it was still satisfying enough that I had to purchase the second book in the series, just to see how Locke fares in his new life. Note to readers, this book contains a lot of cursing, swearing, violence, death and crude rough-stuff, so it's not appropriate for kids under the age of 17. It grades a well-deserved A, and it recommended to adults who enjoy pirate-style adventure and charming thievery. 
Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara was another book that was recommended to me, as it has a theater in it and is about a woman's struggle to find her creative self in a small town, something I can certainly relate to. Here's the blurb:
During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made
  Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.
            It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?
I found this to be an interesting book, but one that moved rather slowly at certain spots. I also found Des to be something of a ninny, because she couldn't seem to understand in a mature way, her feelings for Jacob the Jewish peddler and artist until it was too late. She also wanted to continue to hang onto her boring and blithering husband, though it was clear that she didn't really love him, just for the sake of what others thought and because it was easier and more secure. This made her somewhat morally bankrupt, and though she tried to speak out several times, she ended up making things worse because she couldn't commit to her real feelings or ideals. Still, late in the book she finally moved to New York to work at a newspaper, illustrating the downfall of the small towns on the East Coast. She also manages to save her father's Shakespearean theater, and has a good marriage and a good life in the end. But her waffling and wimpy ways grated on my nerves for the first half of the novel. I was glad to see that she did grow up and became an artist during the second half, and that did make the first half easier to take. So I'd give the novel a solid B, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in what life in a small town on the East Coast was like during the Great Depression.
Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini is this month's book group pick, and I was, therefore, compelled to read it. I have read way too many books about Lincoln and the Civil War in the past couple of years, because American history in general bores me to tears. I realize that there are a number of authors who want to write about what a huge deal the Emancipation Proclamation was, how grateful the slaves were, how they loved President Lincoln for setting them free, etc. I just grow weary of hearing about it over and over and over again. This novel focused on Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a black woman born into slavery who bought her freedom and that of her sons by dint of hard work as a talented seamstress. She sets up shop in Washington DC, where she eventually comes to the attention of Mary Todd Lincoln, the presidents wife, who is something of a spendthrift and a nutter, but since two of her beloved sons died, she has every right to be depressed and dysfunctional.
Here's the blurb: In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion. A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.
I liked Elizabeth the dressmaker a great deal, and her voice and POV were a soothing counterpart to the strident and manic voice of Mary Lincoln, who comes off as a not-too-bright egomaniac who takes out her depression on shopping for things she doesn't need and running up huge bills that guarantee that she will die penniless. The prose was good, but stiff and a bit formal in parts, and that hampered the plot slightly, though it all started moving fast about halfway through the book as the war comes to a close and Lincoln's assassination draws near. I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to those who want a more intimate view of Lincoln, the Civil War and slavery.
Norwegian Folk Tales of Anthon and Gurina Johnson by Jean Russell Larson is her 7th book for children, and though it is a slender volume, it's filled with beautifully-illustrated stories that are somewhat like fables, from the memory of Mrs Larson, as told to her by her Norwegian grandparents. Larson passed these tales along to her children and grandchildren, (called "chimney corner tales") and has now put them in a book for future generations of children to enjoy. Larson is a noted folklorist and a brilliant author, so the gentle prose of each of these 8 tales is impeccable and evocative.  Herein we meet "The Sooner the Quicker" and Dumpling, Elsie, the miser, trolls and spotted pigs. Each tale has a moral center, and readers soon learn that the easiest way isn't the best, and that kindness and helping others is the best way to avoid getting gobbled up by something nasty. The tales are short enough for a quick bedtime read, and its certain that parents will find themselves reading these stories over and over to their little ones at night. A solid A, recommended to parents who enjoy folktales and fables for children.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Six Books Reviewed, Colbert Vs Amazon and Beautiful Bookstores


Mr Colbert is not only a wonderful comedian, he's a truly smart guy who has taken on Amazon and proven that you can mobilize people to shop at independent bookstores for a specific recommended title. 

On Stephen Colbert: Bestseller Lepucki Recommends Sweetness #9

 Edan Lepucki thanks the Colbert Nation.
Last night Stephen Colbert celebrated
the debut of California by Edan Lepucki at #3 on this Sunday's New York
Times bestseller list with an appearance by the author, who thanked
Colbert and the Colbert Nation for preordering her book and then paid it
forward by recommending another debut novel from Little, Brown:
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, which is being published August 19
(see our review below).

Colbert reveled in his demonstration of the "Colbert bump," which has
made California, as Colbert put it, "the third goodest book in America
right now." He noted, "For the last six weeks, we at the Colbert Nation
have been at war with online shopping giant Amazon." Then, displaying an
Amazon shipping box with the arrow running from A to Z, he said, "Oh,
we're going to wipe the smirk right off that box's face."

During the segment, called "Colbert Nation vs. Amazon
the show ran a fast-frame video
preordered copies of California at Powell's.
Lepucki signing at Powell's
Lepucki said, "They called me the robot... I was their fastest signer
ever." This caused Colbert to comment: "I assume [your] followup novel
is about a young woman battling to overcome a crippling case of carpal
tunnel syndrome."

Lepucki also described her reaction when she heard that her book would
be recommended on the Colbert Report: "It was bonkers. It was a
beautiful moment. Sherman Alexie called me on the telephone and said he
was going to talk about my book on the Colbert Report. I pretty much
fainted out in the backyard."

 I would love to visit all of these bookstores, and they've all made it onto my literary bucket list!

Road Trip: Beautiful Bookstores 'Worth Traveling For'
  
"Bookstores aren't just literary gathering spots--they're often
beautiful, fascinating destinations in their own right," Condé
Nast Traveler wrote in featuring "12 beautiful bookstores that are worth
Included are U.S. destinations City Lights Books, San Francisco, Calif.;
Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.; Strand Book Store, New York, N.Y.;
Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., and Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa
City, Iowa.

I love that these are a strange kind of poem, and that an Iowan has decided to revive them:
 
The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram
illustrated by Julia Anderson-Miller (Ice Cube Press), from the
legendary longtime bookseller at Prairie Lights
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21851659, Iowa City, Iowa.

I'm tearing through my Powells TBR at a brisk pace, and I find that I need to catch up with reviews before I become overwhelmed.
I read The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston because I had just read the final book in Deborah Harkness' "Discovery of Witches" trilogy, The Book of Life, and I was in the mood for more historical paranormal romance and tales of magic.  
 Unfortunately, Brackston is no Harkness, and her book reads more like a regular historical romance with magic thrown in than a true paranormal that focuses on the magic. Here's the blurb:
Lady Lilith Montgomery is the daughter of the sixth Duke of Radnor. She is one of the most beautiful young women in London and engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. She is also a witch.
When her father dies, her hapless brother Freddie takes on his title. But it is Lilith, instructed in the art of necromancy, who inherits their father’s role as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. And it is Lilith who must face the threat of the Sentinels, a powerful group of sorcerers intent on reclaiming the Elixir from the coven’s guardianship for their own dark purposes. Lilith knows the Lazarus creed: secrecy and silence. To abandon either would put both the coven and all she holds dear in grave danger. She has spent her life honoring it, right down to her engagement to her childhood friend and fellow witch, Viscount Louis Harcourt.
Until the day she meets Bram, a talented artist who is neither a witch nor a member of her class. With him, she must not be secret and silent. Despite her loyalty to the coven and duty to her family, Lilith cannot keep her life as a witch hidden from the man she loves.
To tell him will risk everything.
 I found it difficult to like the heroine, Lilith, because she, like so many romance novel protagonists, becomes a complete idiot when it comes to love, and rapidly proves herself too stupid to live. Her idiotic brother is just one example of a male that she's willing to sacrifice everything in her life for, even though he's an asshat and doesn't deserve a bit of love or trust. She talks about pulling his unworthy arse out of the fire from childhood on, and even begins the book by dragging him out of an opium den. I feel no sympathy for a character who throws his life away and is petulant and stupid, and allowed to never grow up because someone will always clean up his messes for him. Therefore I was glad that he died, and horrified that his sister wanted to bring him back to life. Fortunately, he's dragged down to a watery grave, but there are still more men in this novel who are ridiculous and irresponsible and are allowed to remain so by dint of the women around them sacrificing all for their sakes. Even her 'soul mate' Bram seems petulant and not too bright, and his mentor Mangan is a wastrel who publically flaunts that he lives with both his wife and his German mistress, and a passel of children that he can't feed or care for. But because Lilith is young and beautiful, she somehow manages to transcend the class lines and common sense and saves the day while also ending up with her penniless artist Bram. I found this overly sentimental, sweet and sexist novel tiring and I wouldn't want to read any of her other books, if this is how she writes all of her characters. Still, the prose was decent, clean and the plot managed to plow through the murky bits, so I'd give the book a C+, and recommend it to those who like somewhat syrupy romances.
The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder (she insists that's her real name), reminded me of one of my favorite YA reads this year, "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green. I would imagine Ms Wunder gets pretty tired of that comparison, too, especially since her novel's heroine, Cam, is much more Holden Caufield than Hazel Grace. Still, any book about a teenage girl with cancer is bound to be compared to Green's blockbuster hit book that became a popular movie. Here's the blurb:
Campbell Cooper has never been in love. And if the doctors are right, she'll never have the chance. So when she's told she needs a miracle, her family moves 1,500 miles north to Promise, Maine--a place where amazing, unexplainable events are said to occur--like it or not. And when a mysterious envelope arrives, containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies, she finally learns to believe--in love, in herself, and maybe even in miracles, as improbable as they may seem.
I found Campbell to be a delight, and more realistic than most teen girls are depicted, because she's by turns bitchy and smart, kind and cynical and often fearful of what is ahead for her family and for herself. Her 'bucket list' becomes a "Flamingo List" because of her friendship with another cancer teen who also lives in Florida.  Though the two have a falling out, Cam decides to finish not only her own list, but that of her friend who dies before the two can reconcile in person. One of the things about Florida that was it's pride as well as its curse, Disney World, is laid bare here in some behind the scenes looks at what it is like to grow up with a family who works for "the Mouse." And since there are so many quirky towns in Florida, like Casadega, an entire town of psychics, I wasn't surprised by Cam's superstitious mother driving her to a town in Maine that promises miracles, as a kind of hail Mary for Cam, whose doctors tell her that chemo hasn't worked, and she has very little time left before she dies. Having lived in both Florida and Maine, I can say that I loved the accurate depictions of the people and the atmosphere of these towns. I loved all the bizarreness of Promise, Maine, and I hoped, as will most readers, that the book would have a happy ending. While it doesn't, the author still manages to make the romance and Cams journey totally worth it. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who loved The Fault in Our Stars.
I've read two more mysteries by Charles Todd, the mother and son team who write the Bess Crawford mystery novels that feature a World War 1 nurse. I've already read "A Bitter Truth" and just last week I finished "A Question of Honor" and "A Duty to the Dead." I have purchased "An Impartial Witness" and will be reading that one as soon as it comes in the mail. The Todds write of the British Empire during a time when the Lion roared and the world was a much different place for the English. I find that I particularly enjoy Bess Crawford's unflappable ability to be kind and nurturing even during harrowing circumstances, and I like that she adores her parents, because most books that I read that are written by British authors point to terrible parenting by cold, aloof and abusive people as the reason the books villain ends up killing people in some gruesome way. Though the surrogate parents in "A Question of Honor" are those horrible people who abuse children and neglect them for money, there is always the contrast of Bess' parents, who are supportive and helpful to her whenever she needs them. Bess is also always helped by her father's assistant, Simon, who drives her wherever she needs to go and is, I believe, somewhat sweet on her, though he's probably too old for her as well. These mysteries remind me of Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, and they're engrossing and full of lovely descriptions of towns in England as they used to be, and as they changed following the Great War, which wiped out a generation of men and boys. Though they're a bit more "talky" than the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, I find that their cozy, historical mysteries are soothing to read after something that is more jarring or upsetting. I'd give them an A-, and recommend them to Winspear fans, or just those who like British historical mysteries.
The Memory Book by Penelope Stokes wasn't at all the "paranormal romance" that I thought it was going to be. Unfortunately, there's a strain of the Christian religion that is woven into the novel that is somewhat jarring for those expecting an easy ghost story with epistolary elements. Still, the prose was good and the story itself flowed nicely along the plot rails. Here's the blurb:Phoebe Lange has it all – a Master's Degree, an adoring fiancĂ©, and a future with unlimited possibilities – but something is missing. Orphaned at age five and raised by her grandmother, Phoebe longs for a past and a sense of connectedness, but it is not until she stumbles upon a scrapbook dating back to the 1920's that she discovers a terrible secret about her family's history which triggers an identity crisis. Phoebe becomes obsessed with the mysterious ancestor, also named Phoebe Lange, whom she is convinced is the key to answering the questions that have plagued her. But the answers may not be what she has in mind.
The abuse and crimes that the protagonist uncovers and then tries to find forgiveness for is a bit too neat and tidy, I found, but though I found Phoebe to be a bit wimpy and not as bright as I had hoped, I did like the book and found the story to be engrossing and well told. I could have done without the religion, because no one likes to be preached to, but despite that I wished the main characters well and I appreciated the diaries and memory books and their look back into the past. I'd give this novel a B-, and recommend it to those who like Christianity and religion woven through their romance novels.

Finally, Tina Fey's "Bossypants" was a fun and funny memoir, full of great stories, photos and graphs from the authors life and work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock television shows. Fans of her delicious wit and fabulous portrayal of Sarah Palin, former governor of a town in Alaska, will find much to love here, as Fey writes arch vignettes of what life as a funny feminist is all about. I found the prose elegant and the chapters so fascinating, that I read the whole book in 4 hours in one sitting. Fans of funny women like Lucille Ball, Whoopie Goldberg and Elayne Boosler will adore the laugh-out-loud moments as well as the more subtle humor and sarcasm. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who needs a laugh, and don't we all need one in this day and age?