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[sticky post] Fashionista Piranha Book Blog

Welcome to Fashionista Piranha Book Blog, where a good book is always your best accessory!  Life is too short to waste reading bad literature, especially when there's so many good books out there. If I can keep you from reading one atrocious novel, I've done my job. But if I help you find something you'll enjoy, even better. I've achieved my goal.

I have been reading, writing and reviewing since 2008, so there's a lot to see here.  To read the latest reviews, simply scroll down; in the sidebar to the left I also have the reviews grouped chronologically.  If there's a specific title or series you have in mind, I also have the reviews indexed by the author:

Book Reviews by Author, A-H
Book Reviews by Author, I-P
Book Reviews by Author, Q-Z

Sometimes I will wander off-topic and talk about theater productions I've seen.  Usually - but not always - it'll be Shakespeare-related (most commonly the plays from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) or a stage adaptation of a classic book.  But if I see a show and I'm super-excited about it, odds are that it'll show up on Fashionista Piranha.  Less frequently, movie adaptations of books will make a similar appearance.

I always enjoy hearing from visitors to the blog, so please feel free to leave comments or email me at fashion_piranha @ livejournal.com.  This includes you, publishers and authors!  I am always happy to discuss your projects with you; feel free to check out my review policies here and drop me a line.
Thanks for stopping by!
Suzi the Fashion Piranha
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Savor the Dark Book Club
June 2016

Quarterly Co. is a subscription box service company that partners with celebrities to "curate" boxes, usually themed around food or fashion or cool gadgets, which are mailed out four times a year. For their book and chocolate-themed box, Quarterly partnered with Ghirardelli.

Chocolate and books are two of my favorite things to consume. I go through both in absurdly large quantities. Pairing the two items in a subscription service? That's a match made in heaven! I found out about Quarterly's Savor the Dark Book Club, a subscription box limited to only three mailings, and immediately wanted to sign up. I did question the wisdom of shipping chocolate bars in the summer heat, but after considering the amount of candy I've had sent to me and the fact that I can't think of any major meltdowns, I thought it would be safe enough.

I opened the box and it looked like there won't be any problems with melted chocolate. It was packaged separately in its own box, next to an ice pack and wrapped in another bag. I turned my attention to the letter at the top of the box, a note from Miranda Beverly-Whittemore welcoming readers to her novel. Attached to the letter was a list of discussion questions for her novel June and several recipes that I think must tie into the novel, because not a one calls for Ghirardelli chocolate.

JUNE: A Novel by Miranda Beverly-Whitemore
Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery's vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

Sounds OK. It's not a novel I would have been likely to pick up on my own, but it sounds interesting enough. I'm sure I'll find it diverting enough on a lazy summer afternoon.  The book was not autographed by the author, but a bookplate that she had signed was thrown into the box. It's not nearly as collectible, but the fact that they thought to include it was a nice touch.

GHIRARDELLI INTENSE DARK 72% Cacao Twilight Delight Chocolate Bar
The luxuriously deep and velvety chocolate in Ghirardelli Intense Dark is made by selecting the highest quality beans to create our all natural exclusive bean blend. Experience a moment of timeless pleasure as the intense chocolate pleasure lingers and time stands still.

GHIRARDELLI INTENSE DARK Cabernet Matinee Chocolate Bar
The luxuriously deep and velvety dark chocolate in Cabernet Matinee is infused with the tart flavor of blackberries and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes delivering unrivaled chocolate intensity. Experience a moment of timeless pleasure with Ghirardelli's Intense Dark chocolate.

GHIRARDELLI INTENSE DARK Hazelnut Heaven Chocolate Bar
The luxuriously deep and velvety dark chocolate in Hazelnut heaven is infused with crunch, deep roasted hazelnuts delivering unrivaled chocolate intensity. Savor a moment that will carry you through your day.

All three of these chocolate bars sound delicious. I've had some of the Intense Dark chocolate bars before, and they always have a nice balance between the bitterness of the chocolate and the added in flavors like blackberry and hazelnut.

The Savor the Dark Book Club is a nice enough idea, but it's rather a poor deal. Each box is $45 ($40 + $5 S&H) and the value of the items inside is nowhere near that. June is a $26 book, and 3.5 oz Ghirardelli chocolate bar sells for $3.95 at the grocery store (and often will be on sale for $$2.50 or $3). Most subscription boxes have a value higher than the price tag, since it's likely that the recipient will like every single thing in the box. After seeing the contents of this box, I immediately canceled the subscription. I can pick my own book and my own chocolates without the risk of getting something I don't want.

It's too bad, because the box idea was a good one. If another company attempts something similar in the future, I'd be open to trying again.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: The Deception of the Emerald Ring (Pink Carnation #3) by Lauren Willig
2014: The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
2013: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
2012: The Queen’s Vow by C. W. Gortner
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: The Queen’s Lover by Vanora Bennett
2009: Contest #8: Diggin’ Up Reading
2008: New Moon (Twilight #2) by Stephenie Meyer
Powell's Indiespensable Book Club
Volume 59: Homegoing

Since 2008, Powell's Books of Portland, OR has run a book club/subscription service that sends a new, autographed hardcover book in a custom slipcase to its subscribers. Each mailing is accompanied with notes on the selected book and a surprise selection of extra items.

HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.

I'm really excited about this month's selected book! I don't know much about Homegoing but one of my co-workers has been absolutely RAVING about it for weeks, and her enthusiasm makes me want to drop what I'm currently reading and dive in.

Like all Indiespensable books, Homegoing is signed by the author and comes in a custom slipcase. It's so simple, yet elegant.  I love the way these slipcases look when they're all lined up on my shelves.  A small yellow chapbook is also included with the book that includes an interview with Yaa Gyasi.

This is just the sort of notebook I'm always looking for!  It has unlined blank pages, a pocket on the back cover for miscellaneous bits of paper, an elastic band so the book won't fly open when jostled in a bag, and it's roughly 8" x 6" so it's quite portable.  This is great!

When I'm not geeking out about notebooks, I can get pretty obsessive about pens.  I'm not a snob, by which I mean I don't have a brand that I'm strictly loyal to, but one of the easiest ways to put a smile on my face is to tell me to go to Office Depot and pick up some new pens for the office.  I'll spend an hour poring over the different features and testing the smoothness of the ink flow.

I think it's so cool that Powell's is encouraging Indiespensable subscribers to express themselves.  Whether this notebook gets used for taking notes on books while you're reading or for making diary entries or observational sketches, it's a fun, bookish thing to include.

Powell's Indiespensable subscription costs $39.95 per box. To learn more about it, visit the Indiespensable page at Powell's Books.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases: June 30th, 2015
2013: Narcoleptic Sunday by Jeremy Haun and Brian Koschak
2012: Sailor Moon Vol. 3 by Naoko Takeuchi
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Bite Me by Christopher Moore
2009: Winner: Diggin’ Up New Reading
2008: The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman

News: Lois Duncan dies at 82

I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Lois Duncan this morning. She was one of my favorite authors when I was a teenager. I read Down a Dark Hall, Daughters of Eve, and Locked in Time over and over again. The books were so suspenseful and I loved the way she balanced supernatural activity with real-world worries and fears.

Duncan's daughter was murdered in 1989 and the case was never solved. The devastating loss shifted her entire career. She stopped writing young adult fiction and began focusing on the crime. Duncan advocated fiercely for her daughter and other victims like her, creating the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Deaths. I really admire her courage in continuing to revisit this dark period in her life so that she could help others in similar situations.

You can read Lois Duncan's obituary here: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-lois-duncan-20160616-snap-story.html

If you've never read one of her books, I urge you to pick one up and give it a try. She was writing young adult before the term even existed, and decades later I think many of her titles still hold up very well.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases: June 16th, 2015
2013: The Mermaid of Brooklyn by Amy Shearn
2012: The Royal Historian of Oz by Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
2009: A Lion Among Men (Wicked #3) by Gregory Maguire
Beastly Bones
by William Ritter

Book 2 in the Jackaby series

Abigail Rook has begun to settle into her role as assistant to paranormal investigator R. F. Jackaby. Vicious shape-shifters that disguise themselves as kittens and ghosts living in the bedroom are all part of a normal day's work. Life with Jackaby is never dull or routine. When dinosaur bones are discovered in nearby Gad's Valley, Abigail is eager to visit the site and indulge her love of paleontology. Jackaby is disinclined to go until former police detective Charlie Cane writes the pair, asking them to investigate a mysterious animal that has begun attacking the animals and people living around the dig site. They oblige, and soon after setting foot in Gad's Valley are swept up in an intrigue of stolen bones, scientific rivalries, murder, and an impossible creature's return to life.

One of my favorite things about Beastly Bones was the vicious competition between Owen Horner and Lewis Lamb. The characters' names are tribute to real-life fossil hunters like Richard Owen and Jack Horner, and the conflict between the two men is modeled on the behavior of 19th century paleontologists like Richard Owen, who is as remembered today for his ruthless self-promotion and brazen claims of discoveries others made before him as his contributions to the study of dinosaurs. In the book, their behavior seems so ridiculous for men of science, but that's how it was in the early days of this field.

Owen and Lamb may not be able to get along with each other, but Abigail and Jackaby continue to be a powerful partnership. They work so well together, with Abigail's simple common sense, scientific background, and observation skills complimenting Jackaby's endless store of esoteric knowledge and experience with the otherworldly. Their relationship is also refreshingly platonic; although there is some romance, the young adult staple love triangle is avoided.

Other relationships in the novel deepen, too. While the mystery of the events in Gad's Valley consume much of the book, we also learn more about Jackaby's resident ghost, Jenny Cavanaugh. Usually, she appears as a cheerful and beautiful woman, but we see a darker and sadder side of her now. Jackaby describes it as an echo, when a spirit becomes unable to move beyond their final moments. Abigail frets that Jenny may become trapped in this echo state, but they cannot help her until the ghost is willing.

A Victorian atmosphere, ghosts, and dinosaurs...how could I not love this book? It's got all of my favorite things in one neat package. Even better, Ritter handles each of these elements well, bringing them together for a story that's creative, fun, and full of surprises. The third book in the series, Ghostly Echoes, will be released towards the end of summer. I can't wait.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Beastly Bones, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal
2013: The Big Top Giveaway
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: Discussion Question: E-Reading
2009: News: Digital Piracy Affects Books, Too

Review: Everland by Wendy Spinale

by Wendy Spinale

Sixteen-year-old Gwen Darling has protected her brother and sister ever since their parents were killed when bombs were dropped on London and a horrific plague unleashed. Each day they scavenge the ruined city and try to avoid the German soldiers who call themselves the Marauders. Under the command of Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer, the Mauraders kidnap survivors and use them for desperate experiments to find the cure to the plague that claimed the lives of most adults and will eventually kill everyone else. When they take Gwen's sister, she is determined to get her back. As she sets out to pursue the soldiers, she stumbles across a boy named Pete who leads a gang of children in defiance of the Captain and his men. Pete agrees to team up with Gwen to recover her sister after realizing that she has something he needs very badly to save his family of lost boys.

I really enjoyed this steampunk spin on J. M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan. It's a darker, grittier story set in a dystopian London that has been re-named Everland. Instead of a magical island accessible through pixie dust flights, Everland is a bombed-out shell cut off from communication from the rest of the world. Anyone who was there when illness broke out died or are now unable to leave, and it's unknown what the fate of the rest of the world has been. It's also unclear just when this story is meant to take place. The fact that the German empire has invaded England makes me think it's set right around World War I, a popular era for steampunk stories, but Gwen acts so contemporary and modern that I thought she might be in the not-so-distant future. The complete lack of any version of Internet or cell phones makes me throw the story back into the past, but maybe it's just an alternate world that doesn't quite line up with anything.

Some characters remain very recognizable. Bella may no longer be a fairy, but she zips through the air thanks to steam-powered wings. Gwen and her siblings share the closeness of the original Darling children, though Gwen is far more active than her Edwardian counterpart. Individual Lost Boys may only get a few pages of story time, but their personalities shine in even brief appearances. But other characters are dramatically different. Captain Hook has transformed into a prince of the German Empire. Instead of a grown man, he's just another boy roughly the same age as Peter Pan. I have to admit that I didn't care for some of the changes to his background and story, but the core of Hook, that callous and bloodthirsty nature mixed with a frustrated childishness, is definitely at the heart of this character.

One little change that I really liked was a change to Tiger Lily's ethnicity. Instead of a Native American, she's been recast as South Asian. After all, we're in London, not a fantasy island in the sky. It makes far more sense that Lily wears a sari, not buckskins and feathers, as she leads the Lost Boys through London's secret underground tunnels.

Everland has some great plot twists and leaves the ending open for a sequel. (In fact, the author has confirmed that the book is the first in a proposed trilogy.) I love the world that Wendy Spinale has created and I'm looking forward to seeing where Gwen, Pete, and the Lost Boys go next.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Everland, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jonathan Case
2014: Bracelet of Bones (The Viking Sagas #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland
2013: Crystal Bones (Faelin Chronicles #1) by C. Aubrey Hall
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: The Big Book of Gross Stuff by Bart King
2009: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson
by William Ritter

Abigail Rook arrives in New England determined to make it on her own. The young Englishwoman immediately seeks employment, but the only job available is assistant to R. F. Jackaby, supernatural investigator and resident town weirdo. Jackaby agrees to take on Abigail after realizing her observation of mundane details neatly complements his own skills. On her first day, Abigail and Jackaby are confronted with a serial killer who drains his victims' blood. The police want nothing to do with Jackaby and his tales of extraordinary, supernatural killers, but if he and Abigail can not identify the person responsible he will surely strike again.

If you're looking for a strong-willed and entertaining heroine, Abigail is your girl. Born to a life of privilege in England, she abandoned it to excavate bones on a paleontological dig. When that project abruptly ended, Abigail sailed to America rather than return home to her parents and a more conventional life. Abigail is smart, funny, and modern – yet she's unusual, not impossible. She's a natural successor to spunky protagonists like Jacky Faber and other female adventurers.

Familiar with stories of Sherlock Holmes, she initially assumes Jackaby uses Holmes' rational deduction to figure out the secrets hidden by the residents of New Fiddleham. R. F. Jacaby's intuition stems from a far more mysterious place, as he can see and hear that which others cannot. He shrouds himself in mystery and even Abigail can rarely penetrate the facade. Their conversations are so much fun as Jackaby skillfully evades answering Abigail's questions. There is so little revealed about his character. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not even sure how old Jackaby is meant to be. Abigail describes him as a young man with eyes a hundred lifetimes old, but she definitely doesn't give the impression that they are contemporaries.

The mystery of the serial killer is one of the weaker aspects of the novel, in that the identity of the murderer is telegraphed early and frequently. Most readers will solve the mystery far puzzle than the two detectives – well, detective and his assistant – which makes Jackaby and Abigail seem a bit slow on the uptake. But the strength of the book rests not on the plot but on the characters and their interactions with each other. Abigail and Jackaby, Jackaby and his testy relationship with the local police officers, Abigail and a cute puppy dog of a policeman who helps the detectives on the case...the relationships between all of these characters add up to a fantastic, rich world that is utterly delightful to visit.

I'm glad that I discovered this series rather late because I don't have to wait for the sequel, Beastly Bones. I want to go back to New Fiddleham as soon as possible to learn more about the mysterious world of R. F. Jackaby Investigative Services.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Jackaby, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jonathan Case
2014: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
2013: Crystal Bones (Faelin Chronicles #1) by C. Aubrey Hall
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell
2009: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson

New Releases: April 26th, 2016


CITY OF SECRETS by Stewart O'Nan
In 1945, with no homes to return to, Jewish refugees by the tens of thousands set out for Palestine. Those who made it were hunted as illegals by the British mandatory authorities there and relied on the underground to shelter them. Taking fake names, they blended with the population, joining the wildly different factions fighting for the independence of Israel. CITY OF SECRETS follows one survivor, Brand, as he tries to regain himself after losing everyone he's ever loved. Historical Thriller

FATHER'S DAY by Simon Van Booy
At the age of six, a little girl named Harvey learns that her parents have died in a car accident. As she struggles to understand, a kindly social worker named Wanda introduces her to her only living relative: her uncle Jason, a disabled felon with a violent past and a criminal record. Despite his limitations --- and his resistance --- Wanda follows a hunch and cajoles Jason into becoming her legal guardian, convinced that each may be the other’s last chance. Fiction

HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened, or the consequences will be too terrible to bear. The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated by being kept in lockdown, the town's teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past. Fantasy / Horror

THE STATESMAN AND THE STORYTELLER: John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism by Mark Zwonitzer
John Hay, famous as Lincoln’s private secretary and later as secretary of state under presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, famous for being “Mark Twain,” grew up 50 miles apart in the same rural antebellum stew of race and class and want. This shared history helped draw them together when they first met as up-and-coming young men in the late 1860s, and their mutual admiration never waned in spite of sharp differences in personality, worldview and public conduct. In THE STATESMAN AND THE STORYTELLER, the last decade of their lives plays out against the tumultuous events of the day. Biography / History


AURORA by Kim Stanley Robinson
A major novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system. Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers. Science Fiction

BARBARIAN DAYS: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
Raised in California and Hawaii, William Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia and Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. BARBARIAN DAYS takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds and immerses us in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves. Memoir

In a former brothel turned low-rent hotel, the lives of three unusual strangers --- a former female priest, recently fired from her church; the ruined grandson of an ex-millionaire working as a receptionist; and Killer-Anders, a murderer newly released from prison --- accidently collide with darkly hilarious results. HITMAN ANDERS AND THE MEANING OF IT ALL is a story of idealism and fanaticism, gangsters and entrepreneurs, sensationalism and spirituality, that explores the values that matter in contemporary life. Fiction

HOLD STILL: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
In HOLD STILL, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Sally Mann's preoccupation with family, race, mortality and the storied landscape of the American South are revealed as almost genetically predetermined, written into her DNA by the family history that precedes her. In lyrical prose and startlingly revealing photographs, she crafts a totally original form of personal history that has the page-turning drama of a great novel but is firmly rooted in the fertile soil of her own life. Memoir / Photography

Pen Davenport is the most infamous bookaneer in Europe. A master of disguise, he makes his living stalking harbors, coffeehouses and print shops for the latest manuscript to steal. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: books could be published without an author’s permission. Yet on the eve of the 20th century, the bookaneers are on the verge of extinction, as a new international treaty is signed to grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. THE LAST BOOKANEER tells the astonishing story of these literary thieves’ epic final heist. Historical Fiction

LUSITANIA: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age by Greg King and Penny Wilson
A hundred years after her sinking, Lusitania remains an evocative ship of mystery. Was she carrying munitions that exploded? Did Winston Churchill engineer a conspiracy that doomed the liner? Lost amid these tangled skeins is the romantic, vibrant and finally heartrending tale of the passengers who sailed aboard her. Authors Greg King and Penny Wilson resurrect this lost, glittering world to show the golden age of travel and illuminate the most prominent ofLusitania’s passengers. History

THE WATER MUSEUM: Stories by Luis Alberto Urrea
Examining the borders between one nation and another, between one person and another, Luis Alberto Urrea reveals his mastery of the short form. Suffused with wanderlust, compassion, and no small amount of rock and roll, this collection includes the Edgar Award-winning "Amapola" and his now-classic "Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses," which had the honor of being chosen for NPR's "Selected Shorts" not once but twice. Short Stories

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
2013: Amazon Robots Fail
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
2010: White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black
2009: Discussion Question: Ruining Your Books

New Releases: April 19th, 2016


BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing, but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single, unforgiveable misstep. Years later, Sabitri’s own daughter, Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees abroad with her political refugee lover --- but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she’d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path, she unwittingly imprints her own child, Tara, with indelible lessons about freedom, heartbreak and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel. Fiction

THE DARK LADY’S MASK: A Novel of Shakespeare's Muse by Mary Sharratt
Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything. They begin secretly writing comedies together and fall in love, but their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women. Historical Fiction

DAUGHTER OF ALBION: A Novel of Ancient Britain by Ilka Tampke
A baby girl is abandoned on the doorstep of the Tribequeen’s kitchen. Cookmother takes her in and names her Ailia. Despite being an outsider in her village, Ailia grows up an intelligent and brave young woman, serving the Tribequeen of her township until the day when an encounter with an enigmatic man named Taliesin leads Ailia to the Mothers, the tribal ancestors, who have chosen her for another path. Ailia’s growing awareness of her future role as the tribal protector and her relationships with the two very different men she loves will be utterly tested by the imminent threat of Emperor Claudius preparing to take the island. Historical Fantasy

ELIGIBLE: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
This version of the Bennet family --- and Mr. Darcy --- is one that you have and haven’t met before. Liz is a magazine writer in her late 30s who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help --- and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Fiction

JOIN by Steve Toutonghi
What if you could live multiple lives simultaneously; have constant, perfect companionship; and never die? That’s the promise of Join, a revolutionary technology that allows small groups of minds to unite, forming a single consciousness that experiences the world through multiple bodies. But as two best friends discover, the light of that miracle may be blinding the world to its horrors. Chance and Leap are jolted out of their professional routines by a terrifying stranger --- a remorseless killer who freely manipulates the networks that regulate life in the post-Join world. Science Fiction

MAESTRA by L. S. Hilton
By day, Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a prestigious London art house. By night, she’s a hostess at one of the capital’s notorious champagne bars, although her work there pales against her activities on nights off. Feeling reckless, she accompanies one of the champagne bar’s biggest clients to the French Riviera, only to find herself alone again after a fatal accident. Tired of striving and the slow crawl to the top, Judith has a realization: If you need to turn yourself into someone else, loneliness is a good place to start. And she’s been lonely a long time. Psychological Thriller


BENEATH THE SURFACE: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove, with Howard Chua-Eoan
When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, John Hargrove decided that SeaWorld's wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers. After leaving SeaWorld, he became one of the stars of the controversial documentary "Blackfish" and now contributes his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act. In BENEATH THE SURFACE, Hargrove paints a compelling portrait of these highly intelligent and social creatures. Nature

CAPITAL DAMES: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Washington, D.C. found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle that would determine the future of the United States. With their husbands, brothers and fathers marching off to war, the women of Washington, D.C. joined the cause as well. Cokie Roberts chronicles their increasing independence, their political empowerment, their indispensable role in keeping the Union unified through the war, and in helping heal it once the fighting was done. History

With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed during World War II. When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, she helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit. But when Charlotte’s husband befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor their daughter, the implications of Charlotte’s decision become apparent --- especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. Historical Fiction

Graham Swift presents a vision of a country, England, that is both a crucible of history and a maze of contemporary confusions. Moving from the 17th century to the present day, from world-shaking events to domestic dramas and frequently mixing tragedy with comedy, ENGLAND AND OTHER STORIES is bound together by an underlying instinct for the story of us all: an evocation of that mysterious thing, a nation, enriched by a clear-eyed compassion for how human individuals find or lose their way in the nationless territory of birth, growing up, sex, aging and death. Fiction / Short Stories

IF YOU FIND THIS LETTER: My Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers by Hannah Brencher
Fresh out of college, Hannah Brencher moved to New York, where she found herself lonely and depressed. When she noticed a woman who looked like she felt the same way on the subway, Hannah did something strange --- she wrote the woman a letter. She folded it, scribbled “If you find this letter, it’s for you...” on the front and left it behind. When she realized that it made her feel better, she started writing and leaving love notes all over the city. She found solace in the idea that her words might brighten someone’s day. Memoir

A PERFECT HERITAGE by Penny Vincenzi
The House of Farrell is a prolific skincare company and home of The Cream, an iconic face product. But the world of cosmetics is changing, and the once glorious House of Farrell is now in decline, its customers tempted away by more fashionable brands. With no idea how to right the ship, company figurehead Athina Farrell hires Bianca Bailey, a formidable businesswoman. Athina and Bianca lock horns over the future of the House of Farrell, but it’s the past that tells its devastating tale of ambition and ego, passion and wonder. Fiction

RE JANE by Patricia Park
For Jane Re, half-Korean, half-American orphan, Flushing, Queens, is the place she’s been trying to escape from her whole life. So she’s thrilled to become the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys, two Brooklyn English professors and their adopted Chinese daughter. Jane is the recipient of Beth Mazer’s feminist lectures and Ed Farley’s very male attention. But when a family death interrupts Jane and Ed’s blossoming affair, she flies off to Seoul. Reconnecting with family and struggling to learn the ways of modern-day Korea, Jane begins to wonder if Ed Farley is really the man for her. Fiction

Felicia Day is a violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become at least semi-influential in the world of Internet geeks and Goodreads book clubs. She moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But her misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her very own production company, and become an Internet star. Memoir

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
2013: Written in Red by Anne Bishop
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: Three Cups of Criticism: Jon Krakauer and 60 Minutes censure Greg Mortenson's work
2010: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees
2009: Completely nothing to do with books – sorry!

New Releases: April 12th, 2016


THE BED MOVED: Stories by Rebecca Schiff
A New Yorker, trying not to be jaded, accompanies a cash-strapped pot grower to a “clothing optional resort” in California. A nerdy high-schooler has her first sexual experience at Geology Camp. A college student, on the night of her father’s funeral, watches a video of her bat mitzvah, hypnotized by the image of the girl she used to be. Frank and irreverent, Rebecca Schiff’s stories offer a singular view of growing up (or not) and finding love (or not) in today’s ever-uncertain landscape. Fiction / Short Stories

DAREDEVILS by Shawn Vestal
Fifteen-year-old Loretta slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet her so-called gentile boyfriend. Her strict Mormon parents catch her returning one night, and promptly marry her off to Dean Harder, a devout yet materialistic fundamentalist who already has a wife and a brood of kids. The Harders relocate to his native Idaho, where Dean’s teenage nephew Jason falls hard for Loretta. A Zeppelin and Tolkien fan, Jason worships Evel Knievel and longs to leave his close-minded community. When he and Loretta finally make a break for it, someone Loretta left behind is on their trail. Fiction

FEVER AT DAWN by Péter Gárdos
In July 1945, Miklos --- a 25-year-old Hungarian who survived the camps --- is brought to Sweden. His doctor has given him a death sentence; his lungs are filled with fluid, and he will be gone in six months. But Miklos has other plans. He acquires the names of 117 Hungarian women also recovering in Sweden and writes a letter to each of them. One of these women, Lili, reads his letter and decides to respond. The two engage in a funny, absurd, hopeful epistolary dance for the next two months…eventually finding a way to meet. Historical Fiction

FIRST WOMEN: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
One of the most underestimated --- and challenging --- positions in the world, the First Lady of the United States must be many things: an inspiring leader with a forward-thinking agenda of her own; a savvy politician, skilled at navigating the treacherous rapids of Washington; a wife and mother operating under constant scrutiny; and an able CEO responsible for the smooth operation of countless services and special events at the White House. Former White House correspondent Kate Andersen Brower draws on a wide array of untapped, candid sources to tell the stories of the 10 remarkable women who have defined that role since 1960. Social History

THE NATURALIST: Theodore Roosevelt, a Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History by Darrin Lunde
No U.S. president is more popularly associated with nature and wildlife than Theodore Roosevelt --- prodigious hunter, tireless adventurer and ardent conservationist. We think of him as a larger-than-life original, yet Darrin Lunde has firmly situated Roosevelt’s indomitable curiosity about the natural world in the tradition of museum naturalism. Drawing on his diaries and travel journals, as well as Lunde’s own role as a leading figure in museum naturalism today, THE NATURALIST reads Roosevelt through the lens of his love for nature. History

In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization --- the Regional Office --- and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. But a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack. Recruited by a defector from within, Rose is a young assassin leading the attack. Defending the Regional Office is Sarah, who is fiercely devoted to the organization that took her in as a young woman in the wake of her mother’s sudden disappearance. On the day that the Regional Office is attacked, Rose’s and Sarah’s stories will overlap, their lives will collide, and the world as they know it just might end. Fiction


ARMADA by Ernest Cline
Zack Lightman dreams that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Then he sees the flying saucer. Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada --- in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. His skills --- as well as those of millions of gamers across the world --- are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it. Science Fiction

THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.   Historical Fiction

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Subscription Box: Comic Bento, March 2015
2014: William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher
2013: The Iron King (The Accursed Kings #1) by Maurice Druon
2012: The Burgermeister’s Daughter by Steven Ozment
2011: The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
2010: Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes
2009: Discussion Question: At what point do you give up on a book?

New Releases: April 5th, 2016


COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS by Domnica Radulescu
From the moment Marija walks into Lara's classroom, freshly moved to Serbia from Sarajevo, Lara is enchanted by her vibrant beauty, confidence and wild energy. Closer than sisters, the girls share everything. But when the Bosnian War pits their homelands against each other in a bloodbath, Lara and Marija are forced to separate for the first time. In America, Lara seeks fulfillment through work and family, but when news from Marija ceases, the uncertainty torments Lara, driving her on a quest to find her friend. As Lara travels through war-torn Serbia and Bosnia, she must also wrestle with truths about her own identity. Fiction

In Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, children have always disappeared under the right conditions and emerged somewhere else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost. Fantasy

GLORY OVER EVERYTHING: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
The author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite THE KITCHEN HOUSE continues the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad. This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Historical Fiction

LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren
LAB GIRL is told through acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren’s remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Memoir

LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday's world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939 --- and then sets its sights on France. Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power. The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Historical Fiction

THE MIDNIGHT ASSASSIN: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth
Beginning in December 1884, Austin, Texas was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London's infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, using axes, knives and long steel rods to rip apart women. Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders. When Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city. History / True Crime

THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King
Mary Russell is used to dark secrets --- her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond. And what of the other person to whom Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son. What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him --- as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. Historical Fiction / Mystery

THE RAINBOW COMES AND GOES: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
Though Anderson Cooper has always considered himself close to his mother, his intensely busy career as a journalist for CNN and CBS affords him little time to spend with her. After she suffers a brief but serious illness at the age of 91, they resolve to change their relationship by beginning a year-long conversation unlike any they had ever had before. The result is a correspondence of surprising honesty and depth in which they discuss their lives, the things that matter to them, and what they still want to learn about each other. Memoir

RISE OF THE ROCKET GIRLS: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
In the 1940s and ’50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible. For the first time, RISE OF THE ROCKET GIRLS tells the stories of these women --- known as "human computers" --- who broke the boundaries of both gender and science. History

TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980 by Molly Prentiss
Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the ’80s: a gritty, not-yet-gentrified playground for artists and writers looking to make it in the big city. Among them are James Bennett, a synesthetic art critic for the New York Times whose unlikely condition enables him to describe art in profound, magical ways, and Raul Engales, an exiled Argentinian painter running from his past and the Dirty War that has enveloped his country. As the two men ascend in the downtown arts scene, dual tragedies strike, and each is faced with a loss that acutely affects his relationship to life and to art. Fiction


BETWEEN YOU & ME: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker's copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in BETWEEN YOU & ME, which features her laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation and usage, and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Reference

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco, and buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, and they marry and have four kids. Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, now adults and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. Fiction

EMMA: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith
The summer after university, Emma Woodhouse returns home to the village of Highbury to prepare for the launch of her interior design business. Soon she befriends Harriet Smith, the naïve but charming young teacher’s assistant at an English-language school run by the hippie-ish Mrs. Goddard. Harriet is Emma’s inspiration to do the two things she does best: offer guidance to those less wise in the ways of the world and put her matchmaking skills to good use. Fiction

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve. But Ani has a secret. There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything. Fiction

THE MILLIONAIRE AND THE BARD: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio by Andrea Mays
Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. THE MILLIONAIRE AND THE BARD tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession. History

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is 77 years old and crazy. She is also Elsa’s best (and only) friend. When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other. Fiction

THE WATER KNIFE by Paolo Bacigalupi
The American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches, deciding if it should just take the whole river all for itself. Into the fray steps Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez. Detective, assassin and spy, Angel “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert and that anyone who challenges her is left in the gutted-suburban dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. Science Fiction / Thriller

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
For 14 years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life. She comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives. But one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future. Fiction

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Conventions: Wonder Con 2015, Day Three
2014: Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent
2013: Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2013: The Taming of the Shrew
2012: Event: Christopher Moore and Sacre Bleu
2011: Rage (Horsemen of the Apocalypse #2) by Jackie Morse Kessler
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

News: April Book to Movie Adaptations

Read the Book Before You See the Movie!

Thank you IMDB.com for providing the movie plot summaries.

Date: April 15th
Adapted From: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson
Plot Summary: After a threat from the tiger Shere Khan forces him to flee the jungle, a man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self discovery with the help of panther, Bagheera, and free spirited bear, Baloo.

Date: April 22nd
Adapted From: “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen and “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt
Plot Summary: Eric and fellow warrior Sara, raised as members of ice Queen Freya's army, try to conceal their forbidden love as they fight to survive the wicked intentions of both Freya and her sister Ravenna.

Date: April 29th
Adapted From: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett
Plot Summary: A brother and sister return to their family home in search of their world famous parents who have disappeared.

Date: April 29th
Adapted From: The Man Who Knew Infinity by by Robert Kanigel
Starring: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones
Plot Summary: The story of the life and academic career of the pioneer Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and his friendship with his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: Conventions: Wonder Con 2015, Day One
2014: The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli
2013: The Deadly Sisterhood by Leonie Frieda
2012: The Lady of the Rivers Book Giveaway
2011: The First Clash by Jim Lacey
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper


Powell's Indiespensable Book Club
Volume 58: A Doubter's Almanac

Since 2008, Powell's Books of Portland, OR has run a book club/subscription service that sends a new, autographed hardcover book in a custom slipcase to its subscribers. Each mailing is accompanied with notes on the selected book and a surprise selection of extra items.

It feels like it's been a long time, but it's only been about a month so I guess I'm just impatient.

Well, let's dive in and see what we've got in the box.

Milo Andret is born with an unusual mind. A lonely child growing up in the woods of northern Michigan in the 1950s, he gives little thought to his own talent. But with his acceptance at U.C. Berkeley he realizes the extent, and the risks, of his singular gifts. California in the seventies is a seduction, opening Milo’s eyes to the allure of both ambition and indulgence. The research he begins there will make him a legend; the woman he meets there—and the rival he meets alongside her—will haunt him for the rest of his life. For Milo’s brilliance is entwined with a dark need that soon grows to threaten his work, his family, even his existence.
Spanning seven decades as it moves from California to Princeton to the Midwest to New York, A Doubter’s Almanac tells the story of a family as it explores the way ambition lives alongside destructiveness, obsession alongside torment, love alongside grief. It is a story of how the flame of genius both lights and scorches every generation it touches. Graced by stunning prose and brilliant storytelling, A Doubter’s Almanac is a surprising, suspenseful, and deeply moving novel, a major work by a writer who has been hailed as “the most mature and accomplished novelist of his generation.”

This title keeps popping up in industry newsletters and recommendation lists, but I'm not familiar with the author.  I have no idea if this is my cup of tea or not!  I'm certainly willing to give it a try.  As with all Indiespensable featured titles, a small chapbook containing an interview with the author is also included in the package.

The main character in A Doubter's Almanac is a mathematician, so this red water bottle is entirely appropriate. On one side, the "nutrition facts" for mathematics is listed. On the other, a meter measures how many ounces remain in the water bottle. The more you drink, the farther up the lineage of famous mathematical thinkers you'll progress. Pythagoras begins the list, and it continues through Euler to Fibonacci to Newton and beyond.  It's basically the same bottle they sent back in Volume 48, which I love for its sturdiness but rarely use because the base won't fit in my car's cupholders.

Great theming on the box - I love that the water bottle actually ties into the story of the book.


Powell's Indiespensable subscription costs $39.95 per box. To learn more about it, visit the Indiespensable page at Powell's Books.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: News: April Movie Adaptations
2014: The White Lie by Andrea Gillies
2013: The Deadly Sisterhood by Leonie Frieda
2012: Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2012: Romeo & Juliet
2011: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
Work has been very busy of late, and I haven't been able to do much reading. To give myself a chance to catch up, I'm going to put the blog on hiatus for the rest of March.

Updates should resume the first week of April.


The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
by Lauren Willig

The fifth book in the Pink Carnation series

After many years abroad in India, the Duke of Dovedale returns to England to avenge the death of a friend. Robert has barely set foot on his estate when he encounters his distant cousin Charlotte and rekindles their childhood friendship. Charlotte, a daydreamer who loves books and fairy tales, is instantly smitten and quickly convinces herself that Robert is a hero straight out of one of her stories. When his plot for revenge forces Robert to befriend the members of the notorious Hellfire Club so that he can infiltrate their organization, he breaks off his budding relationship with Charlotte in order to protect her. Devastated, Charlotte is soon distracted when she stumbles across a plot against the king and realizes that she may be the only person who can protect him.

I have to get a few disappointing things off my chest: there's no Pink Carnation in this book. In fact, very few characters from the previous novels in the series make an appearance. No Black Tulip. No Lord Vaughn or Mary Alsworthy, no Amy and Richard Selwick. While Charlotte is a sweet girl with a surprising spine of steel, she was never quite as interesting as some of Willig's other heroines. She spent too much mooning and moping over Robert, especially in the first half of the book, which was quite sluggish at times as a result.

Robert never quite matched the charm of his preceding leading men, either. He was constantly rehashing the old “I'm no good for this pure girl so I must leave her...but I love her so much that I can't stay away!” argument and it was tiresome. There was friction between him and his Dovedale relations because he wasn't raised as a member of the aristocracy, so there's so much that he doesn't know about the workings of court life. I wish we had seen more of that in the book and less of his inner waffling.

Charlotte was a side character in The Masque of the Black Tulip, one of Henrietta's closest friends, and she's appeared occasionally in other the books. She isn't quite interesting enough to hold her own, now when there are so many other interesting personalities in Willig's world.

In the present, Eloise and Colin have settled into a relationship. Their scenes are an amusing break from the melodrama of Charlotte's life. In this sitcom-like episode, Eloise realizes that she has no idea what Colin does for a living, and in imitation of her research she tries to uncover the answer by sneaking into his study at night and going through his bookshelves instead of simply asking him directly. The silliness of her situation was a welcome relief.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2015: New Releases: March 3rd, 2015
2014: Review: Who Owns America's Past? by Robert C. Post
2013: Lady at the O.K. Corral by Ann Kirschner
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

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