Friday, February 12, 2016

Clinton's Shopping Day, Two Movies and Two TV Shows Based on Great Books, and Staked by Kevin Hearne, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is just so awesome, that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would go shopping in a bookstore if she could do so without being surrounded by people. It means a great deal to me that the democratic presidents that we've had, Clinton and Obama, have been readers. It doesn't surprise me that many of the republican presidents, such as the Bushes, haven't.

Clinton's 'Anonymous' Day Includes 'Stopping in a Bookstore'

"There's nothing I like better than to be anonymous, as hard as that is
to achieve. So I would spend the day, you know, out in nature, talking a
long walk, walking through one of the beautiful towns here in New
Hampshire, stopping in a cafe, stopping in a bookstore. You know, maybe
calling some of my friends, some of whom are here tonight, and say,
don't tell anybody but meet me, you know, there. That's what I, that's
what I want to do, and it's what I get the great joy out of."

--Hillary Clinton, asked by Anderson Cooper during the CNN debate on
Wednesday night
what she would do if she could be anonymous for a day.

Two movies and Two TV shows based on Books.
I'm really excited for the Me Before You movie and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society movies that are coming out based on the wonderful books by the same name. We read both of these books in my library book group, and most of us loved them!
Also, TV shows based on "A Discovery of Witches" and the life of William Shakespeare couldn't come at a better time, now that Downton Abbey is going off the air, after the final season (#6). 

The first trailer is out for Me Before You
based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, Variety reported. Directed by Thea
Sharrock from a screenplay by Moyes and Scott Neustadter/Michael H.
Weber (The Fault in Our Stars), the film stars Emilia Clarke (Game of
Thrones) and Sam Clafin (Hunger Games). The cast also includes Charles
Dance, Jenna Coleman, Matthew Lewis, Vanessa Kirby, Stephen Peacocke,
Brendan Coyle and Janet McTeer. Me Before You opens June 3.
"Much-in-demand Brit actress Rosamund Pike [Gone Girl] is circling
long-gestating project Guernsey
Deadline reported. Directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet
of Fire) and based on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, the project is being produced by
Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan (owner of Books & Books in Miami, Fla.) via the Mazur/Kaplan Company.

Deadline noted that there "is still a ways to go before this project
gets a green light, but the script remains a perennial favorite among
Brit film execs, who praise the richness of the central character.
Financing is coming together for this, with a number of players
potentially in the mix and kicking the tires, including StudioCanal."

Bad Wolf is developing a drama based on A Discovery of Witches
the first installment in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.
Deadline reported that the production company "has acquired TV rights
and is developing a drama based on the book with a view to adapting all
three in the series." Life On Mars' Ashley Pharoah is adapting the novel
for the screen while Harkness will also pen several episodes."

Colm Meaney (Hell on Wheels) and Mattias Inwood have joined the cast of
TNT's drama pilot that "tells the wild story of young William
Shakespeare's (Laurie Davidson) arrival onto the punk rock theater scene
that was 16th century London," Deadline reported. Shekhar Kapur
(Elizabeth) is directing a pilot written by Craig Pearce.

Meaney plays James Burbage, "a carpenter with a vision: to build the
first theatre in London since Roman times, a 3,000-seat auditorium that
became so famous it was simply called The Theatre." Inwood will play his
son Richard Burbage, who "eventually realizes that there is more to
being an actor than the crowd's adoration and he and Will go on to form
the greatest actor-writer partnership the world has ever seen," Deadline

Staked by Kevin Hearne is the final book in the Iron Druid Chronicles, which was a surprise to me as well as a disappointment. As the 8th book in the series, I'd assumed that there would be at least 9 books to round things out, but apparently, Hearne wants to move on to other types of books, such as his Star Wars novelization that he recently published (I read it and didn't like it, but I think I wasn't really the target audience for the book). Here's the blurb:
Iron Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, hero of Kevin Hearne’s epic urban fantasy series, has a point to make—and then drive into a vampire’s heart.
When a Druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand.

As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.

As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won’t come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend. 
There are plenty of battles and lots of insane bad guys to vex the trio of Owen/Granuaile/Atticus, but there are also lots of lesser gods and witches set to help them vanquish the vampires who want to wipe out the druids before they've even gotten more than a handful trained. As with all of Hearne's books, there's a lot of witty banter, lots of backstory/history lessons with Oberon the Irish Wolfhound, and lots of pain and suffering (and death) by not only the main trio, but everyone around them. Though I understand the need for these battles and collateral damage, I felt that Hearne was a bit heavy-handed with the bloody bits, because it began to veer closely to horror fiction for me when people start dying for something they have no real part in, other than a tenuous connection to Atticus. This particular novel, which is told from three POVs, also didn't have the same swift plot as the previous books, though the prose was just as vital and vigorous. Still there was an HEA ending, (or at least Happy For Now) and though I will miss Atticus and Oberon, I can honestly say that the ride has been worth the price of admission.  An A- for this final book, which I'd recommend to anyone who has read the rest of the Iron Druid Chronicles.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard was something of an impulse buy. It sounded like a Discovery of Witches combined with Arabian Knights and Steampunk kind of fantasy novel, which is right up my alley, usually. However, Dennard's prose style was stilted and florid, which slowed down the plot considerably, especially during the first half of the book. The two main characters seem at first to be in love with one another, but as the novel progresses, they are supposed to be a kind of prophesy come to life, as sisters who are sent to save the world. Here's the blurb:
On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a "witchery," a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.
Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safiya’s hotheaded impulsiveness.
Safiya and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and privateer) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
Both Safi and Iseult have to deal with the prejudices and limitations of their time, which sets lethal limitations on women, especially noble women like Safi, who is made doubly valuable as a "truthwitch," though her powers do not extend as far as everyone believes that they do. While I gather that the duo want to make their own way, they seem to suffer from a great deal of stupidity, especially Safi, who seems to forget her past disasters and just jumps headlong from one mistake to another. After slogging through the first slow chapters, I was glad when things began to pick up, and by the halfway mark it got really interesting. Still, I didn't really like Safi and Iseult as people, because they seemed rather selfish and intent on their own lives instead of realizing that Merik's people were starving and dying due to political machinations they both should have been well aware of. That they eventually realize this and stop to help is good, I just felt that it took too long for them to get there. Still, not a bad novel, all in all. I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to the YA fantasy crowd, especially young women who enjoy adventures that star young women, and who like Jane Austen's prose style.

I hotly anticipated Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. I've read all of LMB's Miles Vorkosigan science fiction novels, and LOVED them dearly. Bujold has created, after all, science fiction's first handicapped hero who solves problems with his brain rather than brawn. This 17th novel was dubbed a "new Vorkosigan saga novel" and fans like myself were looking forward to catching up with Miles and his family, especially now that he's middle aged and dealing with 6 children and a smart wife. BTW, I've also read nearly all of LMB's other works, including the first book of the Sharing Knife series, which I deeply disliked for its sexism, but has been absent from the rest of her work. Unfortunately, Gentleman Jole proved to be an excruciating bore for the first 70 pages, and only started to get a bit interesting around page 93. By page 123, things picked up considerably, and it was pretty smooth sailing from there on, but good god, why LMB decided to have Cordelia (Mile's mother) and her dead husband's male lover Oliver Jole just futz around in their daily routines for so many pages without actually doing anything is beyond me. It was an insomnia cure that I never expected from an adventurous writer like Bujold. Why have a middle aged (50 year old) man and a 76 year old senior citizen woman blather on about having children in uterine replicators and then act all shy and reticent about having sex, though they'd both had intercourse before with each other and with Cordelia's bisexual husband Aral? It boggles the mind, and not in a good way.  Here's the blurb:
Three years after her famous husband’s death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he’d never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his career.
Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor’s key investigators, this time dispatches himself on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated – his own mother.
Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.

We don't even see Miles until near the end of the book, and then it's only peripherally, to get his approval for his mothers insane scheme to replicate 6 female children from eggs and sperm she'd had frozen before her husband died. She's given 3 of these eggs to Jole, for him to replicate boys from his lover Aral's genetics and his sperm, though Jole is somewhat loathe to commit to having children at this stage of his life. This makes much more sense than Cordelia, who is OLD, for heavens sake, wanting to raise 6 babies in her retirement years. My mother is only 2 years older than Cordelia, and she (and all her friends) would no more want to deal with babies at their age than they'd want to jump off a cliff. By the time you reach your 70s, no matter if you're going to live to be 100, you're more tired than horny and jonesing for babies (and bottles, diapers, spit up and crying at all hours). It also makes no sense that Cordelia still looks like she's in her late 30s, with only a little gray hair and a totally rocking body that somehow has missed the ravages of time and gravity. No sagging boobs, butts or crinkly skin and crows feet for the Vicerene! Of course Jole is also a total hottie, with very little gray hair and all lean muscle with, again, hard abs, no extra weight or sagging skin and flagging libido! Heaven forbid these characters have anything in common with mere mortals! Miles seems to be the only person with any sense at all, who questions why, when she has two children and plenty of grandchildren, that Cordelia wants to take on 6 babies, who, even with the help of nannies, are going to be a handfull at best.
From what I can discern from their few and stilted conversations, Cordelia's justification for this is best summed up as a selfish need to have babies that weren't born damaged, like Miles, and because she wanted girl children but never had the opportunity to slow down and have them replicated before this, which is BS, in my opinion. Babies require a lot of time and energy, and once you reach your 70s, I don't care how long-lived your species is, you're not going to be as full of vim and vigor as you were during your child-bearing years, which is currently up to age 40 or so. And if you have to have a phalanx of nannies to do the work of raising the children for you, why have them at all? Just as playthings or guarantees of immortality? The two main characters sneaking around for sexual liaisons also got to be more than a little ridiculous (they are adults, for crying out loud!) and Mile's capitulation to his mother's bizarre whims seemed sad more than accepting and excited. I was so disappointed in this novel I wanted to cry. Where was the adventure, the brilliant Miles problem-solving? Boring and ridiculous, I'd have to give this book a C+, and recommend it to only the most die-hard LMB fans, who won't mind wading through all the dull day to day to get to the story at the end. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Night Manager and American Gods movies, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, Night Study by Maria V Snyder and Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

I'm really excited to see these two movies/TV movies being brought to the screen from books. The first, the Night Manager has a stellar cast, and the second has already cast the lead role and is based on a fascinating novel by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors.

The first trailer has been released for the BBC's The Night Manager
based on John Le Carré's novel and starring Tom Hiddleston and
Hugh Laurie. Indiewire noted that "Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the
Wedding) directed all six episodes, and while no air date has been
revealed just yet, the show will get a premiere at the Berlin
International Film Festival along side some other shows."

TV: American Gods
English actor Ricky Whittle (The 100) will play Shadow Moon in the Starz
TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods
io9 reported. Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Heroes) and Michael Green (Heroes)
are the showrunners and writers, with David Slade (Hannibal, 30 Days of
Night, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), directing the pilot. American Gods
is expected to air in 2017, with filming slated to begin in April.

"I'm thrilled that Ricky has been cast as Shadow," Gaiman said. "His
auditions were remarkable. The process of taking a world out of the
pages of a book, and putting it onto the screen has begun. American Gods
is, at its heart, a book about immigrants, and it seems perfectly
appropriate that Shadow will, like so much else, be Coming to America.
I'm delighted Ricky will get to embody Shadow. Now the fun starts. 

Night Study by Maria V Snyder is a long-awaited addition to Snyder's popular Poison Study series, about a former royal food taster and kings assassin who come to love one another.
Here's the blurb:
New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder transports readers back to the realms of Sitia and Ixia in an exciting new Study novel full of magic, danger and intrigue.
Ever since being kidnapped from the Illiais Jungle as a child, Yelena Zaltana's life has been fraught with peril. But the recent loss of her Soulfinding abilities has endangered her more than ever before. As she desperately searches for a way to reclaim her magic, her enemies are closing in, and neither Ixia nor Sitia is safe for her anymore. Especially since the growing discord between the two countries and the possibility of a war threatens everything Yelena holds dear.
Valek is determined to protect Yelena, but he's quickly running out of options. The Commander suspects that his loyalties are divided, and he's been keeping secrets from Valek…secrets that put him, Yelena and all their friends in terrible danger. As they uncover the various layers of the Commander's mysterious plans, they realize it's far more sinister than they could have ever imagined.
Yelena and Valek are on the run in this book, but there's also the complication of Yelena's pregnancy and her inability to do magic,(and whether or not the two are related) plus the re-emergence of some of her old enemies, like Owen and others, who want her dead and Valek incapacitated before they take over both countries. Yelena's idiot brother Leif is still causing more trouble than he is worth, and still eating his way through every chapter, and her father, who got them into this mess because he found a killer poison in the jungle, is also seemingly working against the interests of our hero and heroine. Fortunately, Ari and Janko are there to help pull Yelena out of some sticky situations, and Valek's new rival/apprentice assassin seems to want to help them, too, though she has her own agenda. As usual, Snyder's prose is lucid and lush, and her plot zips along beautifully, allowing the characters full breadth of motion to get things done. This is the kind of book you sit down to read and look up and realize you've read the whole thing in one sitting. I'd give this page-turner an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read any or all of the books in the Poison Study series.

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner is the third book in the Starbound Trilogy. Though it is over 400 pages long, that's barely enough time for the authors to tie up all the loose ends of the story that they began with These Broken Stars and This Shattered World. Each book focuses on a guy and a gal who are worlds apart, politically, socially and in every other way, and yet they are destined to become a couple, through a chance meeting and circumstances that throw them together. Here's the blurb:
A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now-infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness LaRoux Industries' corruption. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were the only survivors of the Icarus shipwreck, forced to live a double life after their rescue.
Now, at the center of the galaxy on Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players in the fight against LRI.
Gideon Marchant is an underworld hacker known as the Knave of Hearts, ready to climb and abseil his way past the best security measures on the planet to expose LRI's atrocities. Sofia Quinn, charming con artist, can work her way into any stronghold without missing a beat. When a foiled attempt to infiltrate LRI Headquarters forces them into a fragile alliance, it's impossible to know who's playing whom—and whether they can ever learn to trust each other.
With their lives, loves, and loyalties at stake, only by joining forces with the Icarus survivors and Avon's protectors do they stand a chance of taking down the most powerful corporation in the galaxy—-before LRI's secrets destroy them all.
The New York Times best-selling Starbound trilogy comes to a close with this dazzling final installment about the power of courage and hope in humanity's darkest hour.
My favorite of the trio of couples, Lilac and Tarver make a tortured appearance in this book, as to Flynn and Lee from the second novel. My only problem with the third couple, Gideon and Sofia, is that Sofia's goal of killing LaRoux himself is foiled at least twice due to her cowardly inability to carry out her vendetta, which make her character seem almost wimpy, in addition to being duplicitous and manipulative. LaRoux is an evil creep who seems to be in love with his daughter, and not in a normal way, and he's intent on using and torturing as many alien beings (and killing as many human beings) as he needs to so that he can take over the galaxy and turn humanity into zombies with no free will, so that there will be "peace" and he will be in control of everyone. Why they don't kill this insane bastard, I don't understand. And when his daughter tells everyone that he's just "misunderstood" at the end, when he's obviously gone crazy and needs to be committed to a mental institution, I nearly lost it. He's not misunderstood, he's an insane and evil meglomaniac who tried to wipe out humanity, for crying out loud. He's like Hitler on steroids! Why she feels the need to sugar coat it and procure sympathy for him is beyond me.  But at least all three couples manage to survive and live to love one another and rebuild, with the help of the freed aliens. The prose is clean and not too overwrought, while the plot got a bit convoluted, yet it still righted itself by the end. All in all, a nicely done SF/Romance/YA hybrid that isn't as sophisticated as Linnea Sinclairs work or as complex as the Poison Study series, but manages to deliver a good solid read with an HEA ending. I'd give it a B+ and recommend it to those who enjoy the aforementioned authors, or who like space opera or SF/Romance books. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald was not what I expected at all. Supposedly a story about a small Iowa town and it's quirky residents response to the addition of a timid Swedish bookseller, I was thinking it would be something like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. While "Readers" does have some of the same ideas in it, with the epistolary aspect of each chapter, it lacks the love of place and much of the warmth of Guernsey, and I thought I detected a slight edge of contempt toward Iowa and its small towns in the early chapters. Here's the blurb:
Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...
Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor—there's not much else to do in a dying small town that's almost beyond repair.
You certainly wouldn't open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You'd need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy's house is full of them), and...customers.
The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel's own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.
A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us. 

From Publisher's Weekly: Swedish author Bivald's debut novel is a delight. Erstwhile bookseller Sara Lindqvist has traveled from her home in Sweden to the tiny town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, in order to spend time relaxing and reading with her pen pal, Amy Harris, but what she finds upon arriving is that she's just in time for Amy's funeral. Sara is bewildered but the townsfolk insist that she stay in Amy's house and generally refuse to let her pay for anything. She decides to give back by opening Amy's old store and sharing Amy's books with the community. Bivald fills the pages with book references, chief among them Austen and Bridget Jones, but it is her characters that will win readers over. Sara is unassuming and, as an outsider, provides a wonderful view of the Iowans. Amy's nephew, Tom Harris, Poor George, Caroline Rohde, and the rest all bear their own hurts and each is, in some way, healed by Sara's presence and her books. As in Austen, love conquers but just who and how will come as a pleasant surprise.
As a native of Iowa, born and raised, I have seen my fair share of the state, and I was a bit taken aback by the description of the town of Broken Wheel, and the fact that if it were where it was described as being, it would be in Southeastern Iowa, not Eastern Iowa. My parents both grew up on farms in small towns in Southeastern Iowa, (Wellman and Hopkinton) which are near the "big cities" of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. I went to college in the most Eastern of Iowa towns, Dubuque, which is right on the Mississippi River and in the "hump" of Iowa that borders Wisconsin and Illinois.  And while my families farms were also sold off in the 1980s and many small towns surrounding them became even smaller and less inhabited, I can't imagine any of the mostly German/Irish heritage people who have lived there for generations allowing an entire town to fade and go to wrack and ruin. Small town folk not only know everyone's business, but they tend to have a lot of pride, so they usually keep things neat and tidy and try to put a good face on even the most dire of circumstances. 
Also, Iowans, especially small town Iowans, are a friendly lot, very generous and bound to help others and take people in. While I lived there, I never saw a homeless person because in every town I lived in, everyone took care of everyone else, so if someone were in need of a place to stay, someone else with extra room put them up, and fed them, and there were always soup kitchens and free meal programs and food banks or places that had day old bread from a local bakery for free, that kind of thing. There is also virtually no crime in small towns, again, because everyone knows everyone else. We never locked our doors until we moved to the "big city" of West Des Moines and then Ankeny. 

But Bivald's Broken Wheel is a town of suspicious and aloof characters, many of whom are narrow-minded and pushy. There are few young people, which tracks if you take it as gospel that this is a dying town, but nearly all of the supposedly 600 residents seem to be weird/crazy or lonely enough to have become somewhat cruel, or at least very defensive around one another. Perhaps things have changed in Iowa in the 30 years since I've lived there, but I am unsure that people, especially small town folk, change that often or that radically. Also, Bivald might not realize this, but Iowa has allowed legal same-sex marriage for more than a few years now. So her gay characters complaint of not being able to marry rings false. All of this makes me wonder if Bivald has ever even been to Iowa, or if she just visited at some point and decided to write a book about it. 

Her main characters, the Iowan Amy who writes to Sara in Sweden, about her charming neighbors and friends, are fascinating as bibliophiles who share a deep love of reading a good story. What is odd is Sara's experiences once she lands in Iowa, and her need to "pay her own way" when its obvious that the town runs on mostly a barter system anyway. Still, when she opens her memorial to Amy bookstore, and people start reading books and appreciating how a good story can change your life and broaden your thinking, the book really starts to enchant and entertain the reader with the joy and life that is brought back to Broken Wheel by that determined Swedish introvert, Sara. While the prose wasn't perfect, it was good for a translation from Swedish to English, and the plot moved along nicely. There was an HEA ending and lots of growth from the townsfolk to warm the heart, plus good discussions of books and how the various genres enrich people's lives, something I truly appreciate myself. All in all, this book gets an A-, and I would recommend it to those who enjoy heartwarming tales like those of Fanny Flagg or Helene Hanff.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

RIP David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, Powells Wins Best Bookstore in Oregon, Indie Bookstores Can't Be Replicated, Ordinary Grace by Willam Kent Krueger, City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen, and Rush by Eve Silver

Musician and actor David Bowie died last week at age 69. He was an amazing talent and he was a book lover. Rest in peace, gentleman.

David Bowie: Book Lover's Lament

"I'm a real self-educated kind of guy. I read voraciously. Every book I
ever bought, I have. I can't throw it away. It's physically impossible
to leave my hand! Some of them are in warehouses. I've got a library
that I keep the ones I really really like. I look around my library some
nights and I do these terrible things to myself--I count up the books
and think, how long I might have to live and think, 'F-k, I can't read
two-thirds of these books.' It overwhelms me with sadness."

--David Bowie, quoted in the Daily Beast in a 2002 interview with Bob

Of course Powell's City of Books was voted best bookstore in Oregon. It is a well-deserved title for a bookstore that is a mecca for bibliophiles nationwide.
Powell's Voted Portland's Best Bookstore
Powell's City of Books, Portland, Ore.,"dominated" the Oregonian's People Choice voting for Portland's best
the paper reported.

Powell's won 32% of the vote. "Broadway Books also made a strong
showing, garnering 19% of the vote, followed by A Children's Place with
nearly 14%. Annie Bloom's Books and Wallace Books were tied, each
receiving 8% of the vote."

One commenter wrote: "Portland has the best bookstore options in the
country, if not the world. So it's hard to pick a single best, kind of
like picking the best song ever. How could you ever do with just one? If
I really had to choose, I say Powell's City of Books! And for anyone who
says it's hard to get to, well try living in another city the size of
Portland for a while and reevaluate that question."

I completely agree with this quote, though, due to there being no bookstores in my community, I have purchased books on Amazon and Barnes and Still, there is nothing that can replace the joy of browsing and buying books in an actual bricks and mortar store, as I used to do when I worked at the Mercer Island Reporter and shopped every week at Island Books.

Indie Bookstores 'Can't Be Replicated by Amazon'
 "For years, has been the place to find the cheapest books and
in the most convenient way. Now, Amazon is trying to emulate the
neighborhood bookstores we adore with its new brick-and-mortar location
in University Village.

"But places like Third Place Books, the Elliott Bay Book Company and my
own place of work, A Book for All Seasons, can never be replaced. The
experience of an indie bookstore just can't be bought.... People are
unique. We don't want to feel like another data point, another sale in
the machine that tells the company how many books to buy. Indie
bookstores also use sales data, but we leave ample room for
experimentation and improvisation. If I remember an amazing book from my
childhood that I think we should carry, I can tell my boss. We have the
freedom to experiment, which means our customers do, too."

--Indigo Trigg-Hauger, a freelance writer and a bookseller at A Book for
Wash., in a Seattle Times opinion piece headlined "Indie bookstores

Last week we also lost another icon, British actor Alan Rickman, a huge favorite of mine from movies like Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves ("and cancel Christmas!") to an indie favorite called "Blow Dry" about a hair styling competition. He was a generous and kind man, from all reports, and a huge bibliophile who said that when he was caught reading the Harry Potter books when he was in his dotage, his grandchildren would say "You're reading them still?" and he'd respond, "Always."
Glenn Frey, founding member of the Eagles rock band also died last week, so many people are calling January a month of death. I don't blame them, it is horrifically hard to learn that actors you've enjoyed watching or musicians you've listened to your whole life are gone from this earth. I freaking HATE cancer, which is decimating the population and for some reason, we've not been able to find a cure for this evil disease.

Magnificent Actor Alan Rickman Dies Too Soon.

For most actors, it's in the eyes – that's where the camera lingers.

Alan Rickman had an extra gift: a voice that sparked shivers of every sort. He used it to disarm Bruce Willis in Die Hard, to woo Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility and to rattle Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter films. That rumbling bass baritone moved audiences and made Rickman one of the most respected actors of his generation. When it was silenced by cancer on Jan. 14, the only thing left to feel was heartbreak. He was 69.

Ordinary Grace by Willian Kent Krueger is the February pick for my Tuesday Night library book group. In looking at the book, and the subject matter, I was afraid that this would be another grim and horrible novel full of whining from a old guy who wants everyone to know that his dreams never came true, and consequently, the American Dream is dead. 
I was wrong, thank heaven. Ordinary Grace is actually a lovely novel about a 13-year-old boy named Frank, his younger, stuttering brother named Jake, and their beautiful older sister Ariel.   
Frank's mother married his father when he was a law student, and after he lived through WWII and decided to become a Methodist minister in a small town in Minnesota, she has to live the rigid life that is expected of a minister's wife, though she does so will ill grace, reminding him that this is not what she signed up for. 
“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.
Having grown up in a German (with a bit of Irish and Swiss) heritage family in a small town in the Midwest, I readily identified with Frank's life and the way that the whole town knows your business in a matter of moments. Though this book takes place in 1961, when I was only a year old, things didn't change much in Iowa's small towns for years while I was growing up. There was still a great deal of bullying and prejudice, and there was always the "caste system" when it came to school, of the jocks and cheerleaders, the "smartest guys/girls" who were popular if they were good looking, the drama or band nerds and the kids that everyone picked on because they were different somehow. They were too fat or too thin, were obviously gay or lesbian, had cleft palates or some other physical deformity, were Down Syndrome or just plain "ugly" and poor.If you happened to be extremely talented at something, like disco dancing, you could climb the social ladder, but that would only get you so far. It is into this world, during the summer, that we find Frank, who is a somewhat typical PK (preacher's kid) in that he is always finding ways to bend or break the rules, and hoping to not get caught. His younger stuttering brother Jake is his conscience, and takes great umbrage when Frank embellishes stories to make himself the hero.  When a "slow" boy in town (he probably had Down Syndrome) gets hit by a train and dies, he sets off what seems like a chain reaction, with one person after another dying from suspicious causes. Things get really personal when Frank's sister Ariel is found dead in the river, and an autopsy reveals that she was pregnant. I found her affair and love of the local composer (who had been in love with her mother for years, but broke things off when he returned from the war blind and badly scarred) rather grotesque, and somewhat hard to believe, as I found the death of her high school boyfriend who is revealed as gay completely believable. Though he was from the wealthiest family in town, the shame would have been enormous for his family, as small minded small town people would never have let them forget it. The amount of religion in the novel becomes a bit cloying at different points, and though the prose is lucid and elegant, the plot intricate and sublime, I felt that readers could have done with a bit less proselytizing. Still, it was well worth reading, and I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Gilead or Bill Bryson's books about growing up in Iowa.

Rush by Eve Sliver was a book I found for a dollar at our local dollar store, and, as I am a fan of YA Fiction, I was intrigued enough to grab a copy. Unfortunately, this book suffers from the authors laziness and her decision to not seek a less well-tread plot than the dystopian world with a teenage girl protagonist who is forced to learn to fight to protect and save the world from some outside force, in this case, aliens. This novel is basically a mash-up (or rehash) of Twilight and Hunger Games with a little "War Games" thrown in for good measure. The protagonist even has the distant/cold and totally handsome guy tell her that she "smells like strawberries" just like Bella does in Twilight, a book I loathed with all that is in me.  Here's the blurb:
Rush pulls you headlong into the thrilling, high-stakes world of Eve Silver's teen series The Game, about teens pulled in and out of an alternate reality where battling aliens is more than a game—it's life and death. Eve Silver's teen debut offers science fiction and gaming fans romantic thrills at a breakneck pace. New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong says, "Smart and original, Rush is an action-packed ride with plenty of heart."
Sixteen-year-old Miki Jones's carefully controlled life spirals into chaos after she's run down in the street, left broken and bloody. She wakes up fully healed in a place called the lobby—pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game in which she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader, Jackson Tate, who says the game is more than that and what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival—and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn't. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.
Miki, who is Asian, even has the stereotypical ability to use a martial art, in this case, Kendo (sword fighting). This is like having a black teenager with great dancing and singing skills, because that's a racist stereotype. Of course, like Bella, the idiotic girl from Twilight, Miki also has a dead/absent mother and a father who is so caught up in his own life he has no idea what is going on with his daughter, and remains blissfully ignorant of her changes in mood, circumstance, and boyfriends. But then, parents in these now ubiquitous dystopian YA novels are always either stupid, ridiculously blind to their children's lives or dead. What this says to teenagers in the past 20 years and currently reading this sort of fiction, I don't know, but as the parent of a teenager who isn't blind or stupid, I can say I find it offensive. Of course, Jackson Tate turns out to be part alien, and rather mean/cruel, which of course means that our heroine Miki can't help but fall desperately in love with him, because what girl doesn't love being treated like crap by a handsome alien teenager? Granted, he tries to protect her, to his detriment, but when push comes to shove, he uses her to get "out of the game." The prose is workman like and the plot completely predictable. I'd give this book a C, and recommend it only to those who enjoyed Twilight and who like video games and unoriginal storylines.

City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen is the 13th Molly Murphy mystery, and the 10th or 11th that I've read. Here's the blurb:
Molly and Daniel Sullivan are settling happily into the new routines of parenthood, but their domestic bliss is shattered the night a gang retaliates against Daniel for making a big arrest. Daniel wants his family safely out of New York City as soon as possible. In shock and grieving, but knowing she needs to protect their infant son Liam, Molly agrees to take him on the long journey to Paris to stay with her friends Sid and Gus, who are studying art in the City of Light.
But upon arriving in Paris, nothing goes as planned. Sid and Gus seem to have vanished into thin air, and Molly's search to figure out what happened to them will lead her through all levels of Parisian society, from extravagant salons to the dingy cafes where starving artists linger over coffee and loud philosophical debates. And when in the course of her search she stumbles across a dead body, Molly, on her own in a foreign country, starts to wonder if she and Liam might be in even more danger in Paris than they had been at home.
As Impressionism gives way to Fauvism and Cubism, and the Dreyfus affair rocks France, Molly races through Paris to outsmart a killer in City of Darkness and Light, Rhys Bowen's most spectacular Molly Murphy novel yet.
Molly is, in this novel, the mother of an almost one year old child, and yet she seems content to leave him with strangers, so she can go sleuthing, and she doesn't mind putting herself in extreme danger, knowing that her child could grow up without a mother. Molly also comes off as rude, or more rude than usual, pushy and deceitful, as she continues to hide her crime-solving obsession from her husband Daniel, who has gotten her to agree to give up her private investigation business in order to become a wife and mother. Because the book is set in 1905, I understand that women had no rights at this time, and were dependent on men for a place to live and access to money, etc. Still, Molly's friends Sid and Gus, who are wealthy and live together in a "bohemian" lifestyle (code for their being a lesbian couple) somehow manage to live free and do whatever they want without much censure, though the staid Daniel clearly disapproves of them and their friendship with his wife. I find it tough to believe that someone as feisty as Molly would agree to give up something she loves so much, ie solving mysteries, for a life as a housewife and mother. Still, mysteries seem to find Molly, and now that Sid is somehow a suspect in the murder of a notorious artist and anti-semite, Molly has to go to work to solve the murder and save her friend. Sid used to be quite the feisty gal herself, until she's in trouble, and suddenly she becomes quite the weak and weepy woman, afraid of her own shadow. It bothered me that Sid and Gus also had no problem putting Molly in danger, though they know that Liam, her son, needs her. I found their selfishness upsetting, and the way that Molly kept running afoul of so many famed artists of the era, who also happen to all be rather lecherous and mean, seemed contrived, (though I did enjoy her encounter with famed female artist Mary Cassat, whose work was dismissed at the time because she painted women and children in domestic scenes.) Bowen's prose is sterling, and her plots, though meandering, always end up with a nice little twist. I'd give this novel a B+ and recommend it to anyone interested in Paris at the turn of the century, and in the Paris art scene of the time.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Plot Twist Bookstore Opens in Ankeny, Iowa, Bookstore Cats, Across A Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

I lived just outside of Ankeny, Iowa (in a rural area called Saylorville) from 5th grade through High School, and I took the bus into town to go to school there. My family moved into Ankeny proper when I was 17, and a year later my parents got a divorce and I moved to my favorite town, Dubuque, Iowa to go to Clarke College (now Clarke University). I have too many horrific bullying memories and terrible memories of my parents break up (and the married men in town who pursued my mother like slavering dogs) to actually say that I "like" Ankeny as a town, and while I lived there, you could only get books at the Kirkendahl Library, there wasn't a bookstore in sight. All that is to say that a bookstore opening in Ankeny is a welcome announcement. I hope it thrives.

Plot Twist Bookstore Opening in Ankeny, Iowa

Mary Rork-Watson is opening Plot Twist Bookstore
of Des Moines, in April. The 1,400-square-foot store will feature new
books for all ages, gifts for readers and community events.

"What I want to offer my customers is connection," Rork-Watson said.
"Connection to the right book, to authors, and to other readers. It is
important to me to provide expertise and find the right book for each

Rork-Watson has extensive administrative/ office management experience
and said she wanted to "use my skills to operate my own business. I have
spent the last year researching the business of owning a bookstore and
decided I would be able to use my office management skills (and finally,
that English major) to operate a successful bookstore. Like most
industry professionals I've met during the last year, I am an avid
reader and book lover. As I move toward opening day, I am getting more
excited about bringing an independent book store to a community that has
never had one."

She added that "bookstores are a wonderful place of discovery and
reflect the character of a community. I always visit the funky, local
stores when I travel and I decided that I wanted to create that kind of
space. Ankeny has a strong history of supporting local culture and
businesses so it just fits here."

The store is located at 502 N. Ankeny Blvd., Unit 6, Ankeny, Iowa

I love bookstore cats, though I am allergic to them. These are especially funny photos of cats judging the bookstore patrons.

Bookstore Cats at Work: 'Silently Judging'

"Remember that New Year's resolution to read more books and watch TV
less? How's that working out for you?" Buzzfeed asked in warning that
"bookstore cats are silently judging your lack of reading in 2016
Your decision to neglect another book club meeting has not gone
unnoticed by these fuzzy-bellied, hyper-judgmental bookworms."

The solution? "Pick up a book from your local independent store. Or
bring them a peace offering of catnip, both are acceptable."

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner is the second book in the Starbound Series, which began with These Broken Stars. Here's the blurb:
Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.
Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.
Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporate conglomerate that rules Avon with an iron fist. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.
Desperate for any advantage against the military occupying his home, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides in a senseless war. The stunning second novel in the Starbound trilogy is an unforgettable story of love and forgiveness in a world torn apart by war.
This sequel had all the same earmarks of the first, two people who shouldn't click at all, but do, coming together over bad things happening on a planet. Except, in this book, there is a war between the military and the planet's colonists, and the inevitable bad corporation from the first book shows up and once again tries to kill everyone who knows their secret. Lee and Flynn are wonderful characters, full of determination and compassion, and though I found the ending just a bit pat, I still loved the way that the two managed to survive all the hatred and fear and misinformation from their various groups. It reminded me of stories of Germans and Jews falling in love during WWII. The prose is lucid and strong, and the plot moves along at a swift pace. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to those who read the first book.

Across a Star Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund is the sequel to her book For Darkness Shows the Stars, which I read last month. Whereas the first book was a science fiction reimagining of Jane Austen's Persuasion, this novel is an SF reimagining of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Here's the blurb:
From Rampant and Ascendant author Diana Peterfreund comes this thrilling companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, now in paperback. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a romantic science-fiction reimagining of the classic The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the islands of Galatea and Albion stand alone, a paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on Galatea, an uprising against the aristocracy has turned deadly. The revolutionaries' weapon is a drug that damages their enemies' brains, and the only hope is a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy. On neighboring Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous teenage aristocrat Persis Blake. Her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo . . . is her most dangerous mission ever.
When Persis discovers that Justen is keeping a secret that could plunge New Pacifica into another dark age, she realizes she's not just risking her heart, she's risking the world she's sworn to protect.
Other than Persis spending too much time distrusting and hating, or trying to hate Justen, and Justen believing, against all evidence, that Persis is an aristocratic idiot (when it's clear to the reader that she's sharp as a tack), there wasn't much not to love about this novel, which takes place on an island similar to Hawaii. As with the previous novel, I found the ways that humanity had re-invented technology and pharmacology fascinating. The flutternotes that are embeded in the hands of most people, and run by sucking nutrients out of their bodies, the genetic temporary solutions that can make you look like anyone, for awhile, the genetically engineered creatures like Persis' pet "sea mink" which sounds like a cross between an otter and a ferret...all of it was riveting. Yet all is not well, when we have a dictatorship claiming to be something like the French revolution on one Island and on another we have the aristocrats busy trying to prevent the "regs" (short for regulars) from rising up against them and turning them into mindless idiots. Throw in a couple of heated love scenes and you've got me hooked and waiting for the next installment of this series.
I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book, as you will need knowledge of those characters, because they show up 2/3 of the way through this one.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a book that my son's sophomore high school English class is reading, and, because my son Nick had serious qualms about reading the book, he asked me to pick up a copy and read it with him. To be honest, I was shocked and dismayed at this story of pre-apartheid Nigeria/Africa, which is full of violence against women and children, and murder as well. Here's the blurb: Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.
Okonkwo is a horrible man who beats his wives and children, and even murders once of his foster children for the flimsiest of reasons. He's a savage and evil man, and the women and girls in this book are treated like chattel, possessions to be bought and sold and used and abused at will. When I wrote to Nick's teacher to explain my dismay, she said it was a perfect portrait of the clash of cultures that she felt students needed to read and understand, so that they might be glad they don't live in this primitive society. I find that argument somewhat specious, as things have changed in Africa since the end of Apartheid. Women have more opportunity, and there are groups like the Peace Corps that are helping women get microloans to start their own businesses and helping them lower infant mortality with well baby programs and deal with HIV with condom programs. Though I know there is still a great deal of work to do for women and girls in Africa (and America), I don't see the value in reading a book with such a reprehensible character at its center. It's a short book and I read it in a few hours, but I feel terrible for my son having to read about this horrible man and his abuse of women (along with all the other men in his tribe). I'd give this book a D-, and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone. It's a vile and disgusting novel with no redeeming qualities.