Monday, August 15, 2011

Your Grandma Wears Army Boots...

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis:

Meet Mare, a World War II veteran and a grandmother like no other. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less than perfect life in the deep South and lied about her age to join the African American Battalion of the Women's Army Corps. Now she is driving her granddaughters—two willful teenagers in their own rite—on a cross-country road trip. The girls are initially skeptical of Mare's flippy wigs and stilettos, but they soon find themselves entranced by the story she has to tell, and readers will be too.

Told in alternating chapters, half of which follow Mare through her experiences as a WAC and half of which follow Mare and her granddaughters on the road in the present day, this novel introduces readers to a larger-than-life character and a fascinating chapter in African American history.

Summary from GoodReads.

Octavia (Tavia) and her older sister Talitha (Tali) have had their summer hijacked by their parents. Instead of wiling away those hot summer days babysitting and ogling hot lifeguards, they are stuck in a car, driving across the country with their grandmother, Mare, to go to a family reunion.

Mare’s not like other grandmothers. Despite being in her 80s, she favors high heels, outrageous wigs and drives her little red sports car like a maniac.

Trapped in the confines of a small car, Tavia and Talia are a captive audience to Mare’s stories of growing up poor and joining the African-American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) when she was just 17 years old. Though reluctant to listen at first, soon they are asking questions and learning about a part of history really covered in class. Through crazy pit stops, poor road conditions and hot weather, the girls slowly come to understand why Mare is the way she is, and learn what it means to embrace a life lived in spite of the fear of the unknown.

I picked up Mare’s War because I read a moving blog post by Tanita Davis in the wake of the horror in Oslo. This woman’s a writer, I thought to myself, and quick review of her website proved my theory to be true. Mare’s War was available at the library, so I picked it up.

Not only did I end falling in love with Mare (she can be my grandmother any day), but I got to learn something without ever feeling like someone was trying to teach me a lesson. Mare’s War may be narrated by Tavia in the present, but – as the title suggests – this is Mare’s story.

And what a story it is.

Mare’s journey to protect her little sister, and become something beyond being the house girl for the local society maven is captivating. Davis captures her journey during this time period and the politics of WWII (not to mention the irony of fighting freedom for others when you are not complete free yourself) without ever feeling heavy-handed, and the resulting story is a captivating read.

Mare’s personality and journey are so strong however, that her story overshadows that of her Tavia and Tali and their relationship with one another. The periods of time spend in the present while Tavia tries to understand her strained bond with Tali and learn her own strength of character does not have the same impact of the chapters that take place in the past. Mare is just too big of a character. While I enjoyed the present day interludes (and Tavia and Tali’s personalities), I was glued to the couch by what would happen in Mare’s life next.

Mare’s War is highly recommended for readers who are interested in a fictional account of historical events, flamboyant characters, strong women and anyone who enjoys a road trip story.

You can purchase Mare's War from these fine retailers: Powell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: the library.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Mapping out your relationship highway style...

Don’t Stop Now by Julie Halpern:

On the first day of Lillian’s summer-before-college, she gets a message on her cell from her sort-of friend, Penny. Not only has Penny faked her own kidnapping, but Lil is the only one who figures it out. She knows that Penny’s home life has been rough, and that her boyfriend may be abusive. Soon, Penny’s family, the local police, and even the FBI are grilling Lil, and she decides to head out to Oregon, where Penny has mentioned an acquaintance. And who better to road-trip across the country with than Lil’s BFF, Josh. But here’s the thing: Lil loves Josh. And Josh doesn’t want to “ruin” their amazing friendship.

Josh has a car and his dad’s credit card. Lil has her cell phone and a hunch about where Penny is hiding. There’s something else she needs to find: Are she and Josh meant to be together?

Summary from GoodReads.

Lillian wakes up the morning after her last day of high school (ever!) to a mysterious voice mail from her default friend, Penny. Although it’s just three words long – “I did it.” – the message is enough to trigger a foggy memory of Penny planning her own kidnapping. Fake kidnappings are just too much trouble to handle alone – which basically sums up Lil & Penny’s entire relationship – so Lil calls in reinforcements: her real best friend, Josh. Aka the boy who is the definition of unrequited love interest.

Lil and Josh go together like peanut butter and jelly, complete with a general “screw those people with nut allergies” attitude, so (unsurprisingly) upon learning of the adventures of one bad Penny, Josh hits upon the perfect solution.

Can we say road trip?

Armed with vague memories of Penny’s destination and a strong desire to avoid FBI interrogation, Josh and Lil leave Chicago for the open road, destination: Portland, Oregon. Along the way they’ll stop to see the more absurd of the road side attractions and explore that spark that always makes them seem more than friends. By the time they reach Portland, will they have reached a new stage in their relationship as well?

Lil and Josh are very, very clearly teenagers and entitled ones at that. With few familial or economic responsibilities , they can just take off. Armed with Josh’s Dad’s credit card and the semi-reliability of his A/C-less van, they are beholden to nothing other than their own questions. Will this road trip help them find Penny? And more importantly will it answer the questions Lil has always had regarding the possibility of upgrading Josh from best friend to boyfriend?

By sending Josh and Lil on a road trip, Halpern is able to intensely focus on their actions, interaction and reactions. Whether or not Lil will forever be stuck in the friend zone (or even if it is better for her there) is what drives the plot and our understanding of Lil and Josh together. The only outside perspective she supplies comes from Penny’s diary entries.

These diary entries both help and hurt Lil and Josh as characters. We get to experience how Penny perceives them – the ultimate couple whose coupling she doesn’t quite understand the dynamics of, but whose support of one another goes unquestioned.  This is in clear contrast to Penny’s own abusive romantic relationship and her broken family ties. Thanks to these diary entries, I as the reader could see why Penny had gone to such extremes, whereas Josh and Lil have only their impressions of Penny to go on. Still their ignorance in light of her behavior is hard to witness. Even at the very end when Lil confronts Penny about the kidnapping, she cut’s off the other girl’s explanation of why.

While I know – and the story takes great pains to point out – that Lil viewed Penny as a pity friend, I had a hard time accepting this part of Lil’s character. And the reason has to do with the fact that outside of Josh we never really hear about anyone else in Lil’s life. The reader never gets to see Lil interact with another female character (real friend-wise) because she is so wrapped up in Josh that no one else appears to matter.

Very teenager-y? Yes. And maybe Lil is just one of those girls that enjoy the company of men over women. But there was a certain level of insularity to both her and Josh’s character to kept me from loving them whole-heartedly despite the great rapid dialog, crazy landmarks, and the will they or won’t they romantic tension.

Without the Penny drama, Don’t Stop Now is a light road trip tale of best friends trying to define their relationship – whatever that is – before they pass on into full adulthood and all the requirements and restrictions that come with the title. When viewed through a teen viewfinder, we get to explore the friendship zone with two people full of charm and adventure. Whether these things will transition with them to the next stage of life is what Lil and Josh are trying to discover. In fact, had Penny not been part of this, I think I would have been unfazed by Lil and Josh’s flakier moments. Sadly, I’ve known too many Penny’s this affects my judgment of their reactions to her situation.

Despite this, I did enjoy learning about their different stops along the way. I even learned something new about Portland (I’d never been to/or heard of the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House) that I will have to check out. This does lead me to one correction in the text though. While in the Church of Elvis, Lil observes someone giving them the devil sign for talking to loud:

“Can we get out of here?” I ask Penny. “That woman is giving us the evil eye,” which she is, literally, by staring at us and pointing the devil hand sign in our direction.
-page 213 of Don’t Stop Now.

Guys, that’s not the devil sign! It’s the quiet coyote, the hand symbol used by teachers in classrooms and school assemblies to bring order and silence…as well as the occasional smart-ass howl.* (I’m told by high school teachers it doesn’t work so well for them. )

Even zoos have heard of it:

The inclusion of the quiet coyote, although it was unknowing, made my day. For that scene alone I have told three people about this book.

I picked up Don’t Stop Now because it sounded like a fun “will they or won’t they” novel with the added bonus of some Portland landmarks. In the end, I found that my reservations regarding Penny’s situation and Lil and Josh’s attitude toward that situation dimmed my overall enjoyment slightly. Maybe it’s a sign of my age that I wanted a little more from these characters. Still, this won’t keep me from picking up Halpern’s other titles if my mood and the library’s hold system are in alignment.

Recommended for fans of road trips and the best friends turned lovers trope (or at least an exploration of some of its aspects). Like movie theater popcorn Don’t Stop Now will either be the perfect accompaniment to a summer day or leave you with a hangover from the butter high.

You can purchase Don’t Stop Now from these fine retailers: Powell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

*This in itself is amusing because anyone who lives in a rural area with a coyote population will tell you that they are often anything but quiet. It took me many years after I moved out of my parent’s house to get used to going to sleep without their howling.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Links for tea drinkers and introverts and whinos (or tea drinking introvert whinos)

In my searches I came across this very old article from the Atlantic regarding “Caring for Your Introvert.” In 2003 (March) Jonathan Rauch wrote about Introverts or “people who find other people tiring.”

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m an introvert, but I do think everyone needs a little alone time sometimes, especially with a book…and perhaps with a cup of tea. Although you had better watch out because apparently tea makers have been lying to us! A recent i09 article states: “High school scientists discover "undisclosed ingredients" in tea.”

What did they find? A kettle full of deception! Although the teas that were not flavored mostly kept honest, with only about four percent having extra plants mixed in, over a third of the herbal teas had unlisted ingredients. The main additives were bluegrass, which grows on lawns, and white goosefoot, which is a relative of spinach. There was also parsley, and a lot of extra chamomile.

That’s right, there might be newspaper lurking in your green tea and undisclosed bluegrass in your chamomile! The article prompted the following conversation with my roommate:

Roommate: …all the more reason to avoid herbal teas
Me: yep. I'm sure some of the paper could be from the tea back itself. I expect a little paper dust because of the bags
 Roommate: yeah. I would want to read their paper and evaluate their methods
 Me: but damn it, would have totally done that for a high school science class
 Roommate: did they choose high quality tea or blah tea? did the herbals declare themselves a blend, or claim to be pure
 Me: J, those teas were ladies. of course they were pure. whatever are you implying?
 Roommate: and if they examined 33 companies, how many were black teas, so the 4% that had contaminants is probably only one company
Me: yeah, I would like to read the paper, but good on them for doing something different
 Roommate: no kidding. I'm impressed at the idea and follow-through, even if I might want to critique their actual methods*
Me: god, we don't have degrees in science or anything

Oh, science nerds…Without them I wouldn’t be able to justify my wine drinking habit. That’s right, according to a new Spanish study, a glass or two of Sauvignon blanc might help fight sunburns and protect your skin.**  A license to drink more? Of course! I have to have something to protect me from the evils of tea.

And while I’m having that drink, I’ll take the Daily Beast’s quiz and see if I can tell the difference between lines from Taylor Swift’s songs and Jane Austen’s books. At least I won’t be operating a motor vehicle right?

*Seriously though, if someone could get me a copy of this paper I would love to read it. I want to see how they went about attaining their data and what their margin of error was. 
**Thanks to Nate for the link.

Monday, August 01, 2011

But, Mama, he’s a magic man...

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen:

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.

For the bones—those of charismatic traveling salesman Tucker Devlin, who worked his dark charms on Walls of Water seventy-five years ago—are not all that lay hidden out of sight and mind. Long-kept secrets surrounding the troubling remains have also come to light, seemingly heralded by a spate of sudden strange occurrences throughout the town.

Now, thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the dangerous passions and tragic betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover truths of the long-dead that have transcended time and defied the grave to touch the hearts and souls of the living.

Summary from GoodReads.

In Walls of Water, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Madam was just one more decrepit Southern mansion before Paxton Osgood’s family and the Women’s Society Club decided to resurrect it to its former glory. Despite being a descendent of the former owners, Willa Jackson isn’t too thrilled by the Osgoods or any of the Walls of Water society mavens, but she is happy the Madam is getting her due.

"Whenever I would get too nosy as a child, my grandmother would say, "When you learn someone else's secret, your own secrets aren't safe. Dig up one, release them all." – The Peach Keeper

The Madam’s restoration takes a dark turn, however, when the body of Tucker Devlin is uncovered. A door-to-door salesman and con artist, Devlin blew into town in the 30s and captivated its inhabitants with his face, golden promises and an odd ability to command the elements. Now seventy-five years later the man who claimed to have peach juice in his veins is discovered buried under the estate’s lone peach tree, right next to a cast iron skillet – the possible murder weapon. And the most likely suspect? Willa’s grandmother, now trapped mostly in her mind by Alzheimer’s and living in a nursing home.

Devlin’s death was the birth of the Women’s Society Club, and it will take Willa and Paxton – granddaughters of its founding members – working together to discover what happened in Walls of Water so long ago. Along the way they will have to come to terms with their lost dreams, town roles and the true meaning of friendship.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen has been making the rounds as the perfect summer novel for book club set, which normally would make me walk in the other direction. Maybe it’s too many years in the business or too many years just hearing the phrase “book club pick” associated with what publishers consider women’s fiction, but the whole marketing process has been done so often that it strips the books of their uniqueness. Not the book’s fault, but with so many other choices out there, it makes it easy for me to pass on by. Sell me on why I would like it, not why it won’t anger the eight other ladies in the group.

And this is what Katy the Pages Worth Remembering tumblr did by posting several passages from the novel:

"Throughout marriages and children, Willa and Paxton would still call each other almost every night, sometimes just to say goodnight. Sometimes Willa would know it was Paxton without her ever having to say a word. She would be in bed, Colin asleep beside her, and the phone would ring and she would pick it up and say, ‘Good night, Paxton. I’m here if you need me.’

That, they knew, was true friendship.

And they knew, if you’re lucky enough to find it, you hold on to it.

Hold on, and never let it go."

A little sweet and sappy? Yes, but that was the mood I was in when I added The Peach Keeper to my library list. I’d had enough books with mean girls and infighting, and I wanted something soothing.

The Peach Keeper is a gentle novel whose magical realism followed in the same vein as Hoffman’s Practical Magic. Despite the magical elements, this is a novel about two women understanding who they are and how important the connections they have with others are to their wellbeing. As Paxton’s grandmother explains her current and enduring friendship with the Alzheimer ridden Georgie:

“We are friends,” Agatha snapped. “She’s still here. I’m still here. And as long as we are we’ll always be friends.”

Connections to last a life time.

This is the heart of the book: friends are there for each other, they stand up for each other and they support one another in times of need. Sweat and idealistic at times, but comforting to read none the less.

The Peach Keeper didn’t break new ground or blow me away, but it did make me smile while I sat on my porch swing enjoying the summer that just finally got here. I don’t necessarily agree with everywhere the story wandered, but its slow Southern drawl pulled me in.

Recommended for readers looking for a long drink of sweet tea on a hot afternoon and book clubs (of course) who want something less edgy, more heartwarming and not Nicholas Sparks.

You can purchase The Peach Keeper from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: The library.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Grandmother’s Chicken Soup Recipe

For many years I was afraid to make chicken soup. It wasn’t something we had a lot when I was a child (and when we did, I think it came in a can and it always involved noodles), and as I began cooking for myself soup-making itself was slightly intimidating. I mean, homemade soup? It’s an entire meal, not just one dish of a whole. What if I screwed it up? That’s a whole meal destroyed (or multiple meals when you take into account a whole pot of soup).

For years I avoided chicken soup, instead using my soup pot for boiling artichokes and upping my multivitamin dosage to deal with the evil that is the cold. When a sore throat had me down, I just microwave some chicken broth – a little protein without the work. Bland as hell, but it did the job.

Then a couple of years ago a friend scheduled a tonsillectomy, and in preparation had a bunch of us over to make soup she could freeze for her post surgery meals. By this point I’d mastered tomato soup (just add wine…and then more wine…that’s right, get in touch with your inner Julia Child) and a cream of asparagus. My soup paralysis was over, but my repertoire was still small. Besides she was going to be on pain killers, how much could she actually taste? I dutifully copied down my recipes with exact measurements and hauled my soup pot and produce over to her house.

When I arrived another friend was already there with her own hodgepodge of veggies and a package of chicken. We began to chop. For ever cup I carefully measured, she would drop in a handful of this or that into her pot. Potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots: in they went. And when I asked what she was making?

Chicken soup.

It was the first time I’d ever actually seen someone make it from start to finish. Soup making is rarely a short process – you want to let is thicken or cook down – so we spent the day watching movies and drinking wine while we chopped, sautéed, stirred and packaged. I learned that day that the key ingredient to chicken soup – good chicken soup – was time. Oh, and chicken. Everything else is up to you.

She wrote down the recipe for me, but it was more a list of possible ingredients and suggestions than instructions. Still, this was enough. Chicken Soup had been demystified and made accessible.

And with these ingredients, made very tasty.

About year, and many batches of soup later, I had a friend come over to deal with a laptop emergency. As he was trying to de-worm my computer I was cooking, and it’s only right to feed your computer tech, I dished up a bowl of soup and sliced up some crusty bread.

“How did you get my grandmother’s chicken soup recipe?” he asked.*

Your Grandmother’s (Or Your Mother’s, Or Your Aunt Minnie’s, Or Your Next Door Neighbor’s) Chicken Soup Recipe

(Remember: these are all more like guidelines anyway.)

The Ingredients:
  • 1 onion - diced
  • 1-2 Leeks - halved and sliced
  • 3-4 carrots – halved and hopped
  • 3-4 celery (ribs) stalks – thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic – diced
  • 1 package (3-4) chicken thighs (or breasts)
  • 1-2 containers chicken or vegetable broth (containers should be 28 to 32 ounces)
  • 3-4 small potatoes of your choice – cut into 1 in. chunks (I leave the peel on)
  • 1 handful parsley – chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

The Suggestions:

To the soup pot add the onion, leek, garlic, celery and carrots and drizzle with olive oil. Sauté over medium heat until the onions begin to turn clear. Add in the chicken, salt and pepper, and one container of the broth of your choice. Bring the mixture to an almost boil and then reduce down to a simmer.

Cover and walk away for 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove cover and check the chicken. If you can break it up with your spatula/wooden spoon/switchit then it’s time to add the potatoes and the parsley. Increase heat to a medium low and leave the lid off the pot.

Go do something else for another 10 to 15 minutes.

At this point you can add more broth (or water), if a lot of your liquid has been absorbed by your ingredients and let it cook a little longer to blend the flavors, or you can turn off the heat. Using two forks, shred the chicken into manageable pieces. Ladle into your favorite soup bowls and serve.

I suggest pairing it with crusty French bread and butter. Oh and wine.

Because everything is made better by wine. In this case a white would be appropriate.

Because you’re not adding noodles to this recipe** you can freeze it in individual sized containers and pull it out in the future when you don’t have time to prep the recipe from scratch.

For spice, serve with Aardvark hot sauce or Rooster Sauce.

*I think that all Chicken Soup recipes have the same point of origin…and no, it’s not the broth and the chicken. Although to be fair, there were two degrees of separation between the friend who taught me how to make chicken soup and the friend who was fixing my computer. Regardless, the recipe I was following that night was based on what I had in my fridge, so maybe his grandma’s chicken soup recipe really was in the all that and the kitchen sink style.

**If you are going to add noodles you will want that to be in the very last step and serve the dish after the noodles have cooked as long as their package instructs. You can also cook the noodles separately and add them right before serving. Personally I find that noodles get slimy too quickly in leftovers and I love the way that potatoes thicken the broth.

Please note: this will make for some mushy soup as the ingredients all cook for so long. This is the way I like my chicken soup because it feels so damn nice when you are under the weather. If you want your veggies to keep some form, let the chicken simmer in the broth and sauté your veggies on the side. Add them all together and allow to cook for 15 minutes or so to mingle the flavors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saving You 15% or More on Links for the Past, Present and Future

Courtney Milan talks the future of agents in a self-publishing world in “An open letter to agents,” the first of (what sounds like) two columns. Milan, whose self-published novella Unlocked is currently sitting at spot # 102 in the Kindle store, has an amazing mind, and her dissection of agents and their role in a world where author’s don’t need them to publish raises some very important points. She writes:

Agents, I don’t think you have any idea how much your writers are talking about you right now. Seriously. I don’t think you have any idea. I am getting multiple e-mails every day from writers who are worried about what their agents are doing, and who are worried about how to handle agents, and who want to be fair to their agents but also don’t want to pay them a percentage when there’s little to no work involved, and/or the agent handles little of the risk.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest adding her to your feedreader of choice. (Link via Kalen O’Donnell)

For you SciFi fans looking for out of print lost loves there is good news – “Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world's largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks.” Check out the Book Trade Announcement pressrelease for more information. (Link via io9’s Charlie Jane Anders)

The Apple store has started to enforce it’s in app buying policies and this just adds to the hard couple of weeks the publishing world has experienced. Mike Shatzkin suggests that “Publishing is living in a worldnot of its own making.

“…the happy symbiosis between the ebook retailers and Apple, by which the retailers got access to customers they would not otherwise have had and Apple was able to readily deliver their customers content they hadn’t otherwise aggregated, appears to have come to an end.”

(link via TeleRead.)


Flavorwire highlights Christian Jackson’s “MinimalistPosters for Your Favorite Children’s Stories.” I’ll take the one of Little Red Riding Hood.

As if the Borders news wasn’t sad enough, GalleyCat says that BAM has dropped its bidfor the 30 stores in the NE. That said, the “Help Ex-Borders Employees” continues to add new job postings every day.

I've been getting hits daily for people searching "When will close down?" or some variation there of. While I don’t know when the Borders website will be closing, I assume that it will be posted to the Borders Group, Inc  Case Administration website soon. For those of you looking for information on the bankruptcy or how it will affect your ability to buy books, this is the site to check. Currently it states:

On July 21, Borders Group received Court approval of a previously announced proposal from Hilco and Gordon Brothers to purchase the store assets of the business and administer the liquidation process under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Liquidation of 399 stores nationwide commenced July 22 and stores are expected to close by the end of September.
During the liquidation period:
  • Borders gift cards will be honored in stores throughout the sale.

  • In addition to store liquidation discounts, Borders Rewards PLUS members will continue to receive additional discounts on qualifying purchases through Aug. 5. In addition, all existing Borders Bucks can be redeemed until they expire on July 31.

  • and the Kobo eBook store, which can be accessed through, are operating. In addition, Borders gift cards are being honored on

And finally, this sign my roommate sent me this sandwich board for the Between theCovers Bookstore in Bend:

This does raise the question though, if I go to bed with a new book every night does that make me a slut?

Monday, July 25, 2011

In the Vespers I see...

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell:

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

Summary from GoodReads.

Baltimore, 1889. Amelia van den Broek has been sent down from her small town in Maine to find a husband. In this city she’ll experience many things for the first time: balls, archery, and mysterious visions that come on at sunset. These visions – some innocent, some sinister – open doors into a high society fascinated by spiritualists and the supernatural. Equally mysterious is Nathaniel, Amelia’s unacceptable suitor, who appears and disappears from her life at will.

As the visions become more horrifyingly true and her obsession with Nathaniel grows, Amelia must take control of her future and her heart.

Saundra Mitchell has an amazing ability to set a scene. In her first book, Shadowed Summer, I sweated along with the main character as she braved the humidity and sun in a search for ghostly answers. In The Verspertine she transports her readers back in time to 1889 Baltimore capturing the feelings of change and the supernatural that captivated the upper and middle classes.

Amelia’s cousin Zora and her parents are lodged somewhere on the upper scale of the emerging middle class – able to provide for dresses and dinner parties – but pinching pennies by doing most of the housework and food prep themselves. It is through this class window that Amelia experiences what Baltimore has to offer. The balls they attend are public, and Zora’s father hires young men to round out their dinner parties. This is how Amelia meets Nathaniel – a poor portrait artist from a bad neighborhood – beginning one of the most intense relationships I have read in young adult fiction.

Amelia and Nathaniel burn for each other and it comes across in every illicit touch and clandestine meeting. Their actual physical contact is very limited – a touch of bare hands through lace gloves should not smolder this much – but with each connection their bond grows stronger and hotter.

I used the word obsession in my summary and the more I look back on the novel, the more I feel it’s an accurate descriptor of their relationship. They are equally in thrall with each other, caught up in a first love that threatens to be all consuming. It is a testament to Mitchell’s writing ability that I was able to accept this level of feeling from both of them as real and not destructive. It helps that this is not the only example of love in the book (for example, Mitchell allows Zora and Thomas’s relationship to build on their mutual respect).  In fact, it is the myriad of relationships – romantic and familial – that make the story so strong and the results of Amelia’s visions so devastating.*

When you see the future, you take the good with the bad.

After reading The Vespertine, I found myself wondering not how it would do as a YA novel (although I hope it does well…very, very well), but how it would do as a book club selection for a more adult audience. As keeping with the YA genre, Amelia is clearly a teenager attempting to find herself and understand her place in life, but the aspects of Amelia’s visions and her relationships with family, friends and Nathaniel, as well as the time period itself, would make for great discussion topics for mature readers of any age.

Very much recommended for teens looking for a historical novel with romance, drama and a touch of something more, and to all readers looking for something a little different. Fans of Franny Billingsley’s Chime should also check this out. I’m looking forward to the next book and what she plans for the companion novel.

You can purchase The Vespertine from these fine retailers: Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Your Local Indie, or you can pick it up at your local library.

Book Source: The library, but I will be purchasing my own copy soon.

*Read the whole book and then read the acknowledgements. I’m with Jackson Pearce.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Borders Closing Round Up: News, Memories and More...

These aren't the first (and the certainly won't be the last) stories on the Borders Liquidation, but they are worth checking out for their unique take:

  • Edward Nawotka of Publishing Perspectives has a run down of the damage done under CEO Greg Josefowicz: "Can you treat books like orange juice and shampoo? Josefowicz seemed to think so and soon implemented the controversial strategy of “category management,” a program that limited the number of titles that would be on sale in a particular genre, say cookbooks or biographies. It wasn’t as draconian as pay-to-stay “slotting” — the norm in the grocery business – but was nevertheless widely criticized as favoring large publishers over small presses and for catering exclusively to mass market tastes." 
  • Dennis Johnson of MobyLives rounds up the new articles out there and points out that most miss the boat on the real estate aspect: "The story of Borders failure is, first and foremost, a real estate story."
  • This Week gives us "Why Borders failed and Barnes and Noble hasn't: 4 theories.
  • The Brand Channel gives a good timeline of Borders online and ebook activities (and how they compared to the competition.
  • TeleRead rounds up some Elegies for Borders and points out the nostalgia for what the company once represented wasn't enough to get people to go there and buy books. Of all the links within the story, check out "On Endings and Sugar Free Raspberry Lattes."
  • Romance author Sarah MacLean gives thanks to Borders for the memories and the job she once held in a Borders cafe.
  • The Nappy Bookseller, who has done this story closing thing before, gives advice on "How to Work/How to Shop at a Liquidated Borders."
  • And finally in a move that is so very corporate, the Borders website and the Borders Twitter account still do not reflect any news regarding the liquidation.