Book Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew Sullivan

Book Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreMatthew Sullivan

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Fiction: Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreMatthew Sullivan

 

Lydia is a bookseller at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. A large, independent bookstore in Denver, CO, it is the home for a number of quirky employees and for a number of regular patrons, the BookFrogs as the employees call them. One night a young member of the BookFrogs, Joey, hangs himself on the third floor during Lydia’s shift. This tragedy starts Lydia on an arc of discovery, about Joey, about herself, and about the night twenty years earlier that changed her life forever.

 

First, this is just a cool book. The characters are fun, the dialog is fresh, and the story feels real. Lydia’s journey is authentic. She is a young woman who survived a brutal event, an event that cost her almost everything dear to her. This has left scars that cannot be hidden, though hide them she tries: a new name, a refusal to discuss her past, complete disconnection from her father. But Joey’s death draws her reluctantly down a path of rediscovery and reconnection with that past. Old faces return to her life in new ways. In unraveling the threads of Joey’s life, she begins reweaving threads of her own. Matthew Sullivan makes Lydia a heroine that we can cheer for. She is broken, but her response to the brokenness is hopeful and empowering.

 

For an adult with fond memories of his childhood in Denver, this book is delightful. Colfax Avenue could almost be a character in the book. America’s longest street, Colfax winds through the neighborhoods of Denver carrying traffic to every kind of business. Sullivan takes his readers through some of these neighborhoods. The LoDo of the book is a real place. The Bright Ideas bookstore itself is a thinly veiled homage to the venerable Tattered Cover Bookstore, one of the best bookstores in America! (No hometown bias in this review!) Sullivan knows Denver–he used to work at the Tattered Cover–and his love for the city is apparent throughout.

 

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a solid book. It is a mystery, but it is not bogged down in procedural drama that so often marks the genre. Instead, the mystery of Lydia’s self-discovery, her journey toward finding her own answers about her own life, guides the reader through the streets of Denver into the life of a special young woman.

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Book Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew Sullivan

 

Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

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Science Fiction: An Unkindness of GhostsRivers Solomon

I love finding new books from authors with different voices. Often, their characters are refreshing and also speak with different voices, representing populations that open my eyes to people I might otherwise overlook.  Rivers Solomon is such an author, and the lead character “Aster” in An Unkindness of Ghosts has that voice. Aster is poor, mixed race, sexually ambivalent (“they” is the preferred pronoun for the character–and for the author), and leaps off the page with fire and rage.

 

The Matilda is a spaceship that has been searching for a new home for humanity for centuries. On board the spaceship, differences between race and class mean everything. A religious/military government, basically comprised of white people, rules harshly over the entire ship. Lower decks are lower class–and largely black or brown in skin color. Into this stratified world walks Aster. Aster is brilliant in many ways: studying under the ship’s Surgeon General Aster has learned traditional medicine. Aster has also learned from books and from experimentation how to grow plants and distill medicines that replace those withheld from the lower classes by the ruling elites. That genius is both recognized and resented by people throughout the ship. Others with darker skin appreciate the skill, but resent that Aster has access to parts of the ship they cannot visit. Guards and rulers also appreciate Aster’s skill, but feel compelled to remind Aster constantly that they are in charge. Aster is a freak, and few can see past the freakishness to appreciate the person inside.

 

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a powerful book, creating a world that pulls the reader in. It is dark. The book does not offer easy answers, it does not end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Aster is a survivor. Sometimes, survival is ugly. It is also triumphant, though. Aster’s answers may not be the answers they, or we, were looking for. But life often refuses to give the answers we want. What matters is what we do with the answers we are given. An Unkindness of Ghosts demands that we examine who the “freaks” are–those who are born differently, who choose a different path, who wear a different skin, who love fiercely the people they love whatever their gender, or those who draw lines between “us” and “them,” who use skin color and gender to divide, who treat power as the opportunity to abuse and mistreat. The Matilda may be a dystopian nightmare. Perhaps, that type of misery is the fertilizer needed for an Aster to fully bloom.

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Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Fiction: Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

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George Saunders book “Lincoln in the Bardo” has won some of the most prestigious literary awards given, including being only the second American book to win the Man Booker Prize. It is an extraordinary book, truly unlike anything I have read before.

 

The book is set in the few days following the death of Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son. Willie Lincoln died of illness during the Civil War. He was a boy who many felt was the very image of his father, more in his heart and demeanor than in his appearance, and Lincoln was devastated by this personal loss. Compounding the loss of his child, the progress of the Civil War was very much in doubt at this time. It was a dark period in the White House.

 

Saunders sets this scene with quote after quote from historians, contemporary observers, and historical documents. In fact, the entire book appears to be a series of quotes in succession. Fans and critics of the president have their say, with both noting that the boy died the same night as the White House held a gala. No doubt the music from the gala traveled to the boy’s sick room, but provided no comfort to the child nor to his distracted parents who frequently excused themselves from their guests to check on him. Many of the quotes are eerily similar to what we read on Twitter and other social media today. Criticism and defense of the president has a strong historical foundation.

 

Once the boy dies, he is interred in a nearby cemetery. The style of the book continues as a series of quotes, but now the quotes are from other residents of the cemetery. People who died and are interred there now get their chance to weigh in, observing the burial of the child and interpreting the actions of the living through the lens of their own lives. And Willie Lincoln himself gets a voice, reflecting upon his own short life and the love he shared with his father.

 

“The Bardo” is a Buddhist construct, a place of waiting where the dead can let go of their lives and then move on to the next plane of existence. In this cemetery lie people who have been waiting, some for days, others for decades, unable to let go of their hopes and dreams, or their “sins” and wrongdoings, and transition to the next stage. We meet and get to know these self-imprisoned souls in their own words and in the descriptions given of them by their fellows. Saunders’ “quotes” are extraordinary, finding voices for people who are lost, alone, disenfranchised, abandoned, and confused. Each character has a unique voice. Their interactions with each other allow their stories to unfold. We meet ordinary people, white and black, rich and poor, shopkeepers and preachers and housewives and the child of a president, and each gets the chance to speak and be heard. There is no “plot” in the traditional sense, but we find the story moving forward by the statements and conversations of the spirits stuck waiting for futures they will not get, held back by pasts they cannot undo.

 

President Lincoln comes to the cemetery to visit his son’s body. That simple event, one that is recorded by historians and contemporaries, creates a crisis of faith in the Bardo. Each spirit waiting there is forced to confront the real reason why he or she is still waiting. Their stories, told in the first person with all the biases and lack of perspective we have about ourselves, are the beauty of this book. You can almost see Saunders sitting there with a tape recorder, capturing their conversations and reflections and sharing them verbatim, unvarnished and unredacted. The author has an extraordinary gift for finding the voice and unveiling the motivations of his characters.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo touched me. Deeply. The book may be about ghosts. But it is the most profoundly alive story I have read in years.

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Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Book Review: The Invisible Library Series, Genevieve Cogman

Book Review: The Invisible Library Series, Genevieve Cogman

Celebrating National Library Week April 2018

Fiction Fantasy Series

The Invisible Library, Book 1 in The Invisible Library Series

The Masked City, Book 2 in The Invisible Library Series

The Burning Page, Book 3 in The Invisible Library Series

The Lost Plot, Book 4 in The Invisible Library Series

The Mortal Word, Book 5 in The Invisible Library Series

How are you going to celebrate National Library Week? Try reading a book about or set in a library or better yet, a whole book series about libraries! I have read the first three books in Genevieve Cogman’s series about The Invisible Library, and I am very eager to catch up with the rest of the stories. Cogman’s books are fun, with a kick-ass heroine, a dragon side-kick (he looks human most of the time), a Sherlock Holmesian detective, and rich settings in imaginative worlds that are both fun and fantastic. The Invisible Library: a fantastic series to read in celebrating National Library Week.  

Irene works for the library as a book collector cum spy. Her job is to go into alternate realities and collect unique books. Not rare. Unique. Shakespeare may be read in multiple realities, but in one of those realities perhaps Hamlet has an extra scene. The library collects and preserves those unique texts, and in so doing preserves the uniqueness and separateness of the various realities.

Along the way she picks up an assistant, Kai, a young dragon who wants to become a librarian. Dragons can choose to appear as human, and Kai typically remains in human form. When needed, Kai can pull some dragon magic to save the day. Usually, though, it is Irene saving him.

Irene is opposed by a fearsome entity, a former librarian who has forsaken his mission and has turned to stealing books for his own purposes. As the book series develops, we learn that her enemy is trying to replace the library with a creation of his own. He finds, though, that Irene is more than formidable, and that whatever dangers she may encounter in the multiverse, she is capable of handling herself and rescuing her friends.

Cogman’s worlds are creative and well drawn. Irene may find herself traveling through time, traveling around the world, or traveling between worlds. She may find herself in a modern car, a steampunk dirigible, or riding a dragon. Wherever she goes, though, she is armed with her quick wits, her sharp tongue, and both the bravery and the skills to confront any challenge.

Although the series is written for adults, it is quite appropriate for teens as well. Irene is no wilting flower, no damsel in distress, no woman waiting for rescue by a man. She is a bold and sometimes headstrong heroine. She is quite capable of rescuing herself and leading her assistant bravely into battle when necessary.

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The Invisible Library

For Genevieve Cogman’s website on the series http://www.grcogman.com/books/

More ways to celebrate National Library Week, if you like this Book Review on The Invisible Library Series, then see our

Booklist: Books about Libraries for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist about Books for Shared Reading with Kids

What book will you read to Celebrate National Library Week?

Author Spotlights: If You like Tom Clancy, You will Like Mark Greaney

Author Spotlights: If You like Tom Clancy, You will Like Mark Greaney

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Tom Clancy

In the 1980s the Cold War was nearing its end, though no one knew it then. Into this backdrop of geopolitical tension and rivalry, Tom Clancy, an insurance agent from Maryland, published his first book. With brilliant and heroic CIA agent Jack Ryan working to help a Soviet submarine captain defect with his state-of-the-art sub, The Hunt for Red October became a bestseller. Promoted by no one less than the Book Critic in Chief, Ronald Reagan, Tom Clancy embarked on a second career as an author, turning out book after book that kept him at the top of the best seller lists for decades. Several of his books also became hit movies, starring the likes of Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, and Chris Pine.

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Tom Clancy dominated the literary world like few others, from 1984 until his death in 2013. With iconic characters, sharp dialog, and technical accuracy, he shaped the genre of wide-focused geopolitical thrillers. Multiple conspiracies, nefarious political actors at home and abroad, bold action by our enemies and too often dithering and indecisiveness on the part of the US set the stage for crises that fortunately could be resolved at the end by Jack Ryan, John Clark, Rainbow Six, and the rest of his ultra heroic ubermenschen. His heroes did not have super powers, but they had few physical, mental, or moral weaknesses and never needed (nor ever received) oversight or punishment for overreach.

 

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Clancy could tell a story. To his credit, he often shared that story with others. He partnered with other writers during his life, and his estate has continued to do so since his death.  One writer to pick up his mantle is Mark Greaney. Greaney co-wrote Clancy’s last three novels, Locked On, Threat Vector, and Command Authority.

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Following Clancy’s death, Greaney has written four more novels in the same world: Tom Clancy: Support and Defend, Tom Clancy: Full Force and Effect, Tom Clancy: Commander in Chief, and Tom Clancy: True Faith and Allegiance.

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Mark Greaney

Greaney is also known for his Gray Man series of novels. These novels feature a disavowed CIA Agent who has become the best assassin for hire in the world, but one that holds to a moral code that prohibits him from killing “innocents” or good guys. You could hire him to kill your drug dealing rival, but not your ex-wife (unless she was a drug-dealing rival). As the novels progress, Court Gentry (the Gray Man) works out his differences with the CIA, but continues to hew to his own moral code even when it interferes with his agency missions. This usually means he is in a position where he is opposed by all of the competing parties in the novels, most of whom want him dead. Fortunately, the skill set and tenacity of the Gray Man allows him to walk–or at least limp–away at the end.

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There will never be another Tom Clancy. But in the world of high energy, world traveling, politically intriguing, death-dealing heroes, Mark Greaney fills the void.

 

Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Celebrate First Contact in the Star Trek Universe, April 5th

Book Review Science Fiction: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Along with spin-offs, movies, toys, and inspiration to generations of scientists, Star Trek has given us something almost everyone can relate to: the “red shirt” joke.

Star Trek red shirt meme
Star Trek red shirt meme

Several episodes of Star Trek involved a minor or bit character getting killed. Disproportionately it seems, these extras who were in the script only to die, were wearing a red uniform shirt. Thus a joke was born that has inspired comedians and those who think they are for fifty years.

This joke is at the heart of John Scalzi’s novel Redshirts, a 2012 science fiction novel that blurs the line between author and audience, past and future, and invites readers to share in the love of and amusement at Star Trek. Andrew Dahl is a newly appointed ensign aboard the Universal Union’s flagship. Soon after arriving aboard, though, he discovers that the honor is, for many, short-lived. The Intrepid goes through young ensigns fast. Every away team has a victim (or victims). Avoid decks 6-10, especially if everything is going well. And try to stay away from one of the five key officers–although their presence may save you randomly, you are more likely to die in gruesome and improbable fashion in order to save one of them.

Dahl and his friends must discover why the body count is so high before they become part of it. The question, of course, is whether they can promote themselves to main characters before they become victims of the redshirt phenomena. When you’re not writing the plot of your own show, hijacking someone else’s show leads to a very strange and yet funny end.

Redshirts

Also, Other Books by John Scalzi

Fuzzy Nation

A reboot of the classic science fiction novel Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. Jack Holloway is put on trial for murder, for defending a Fuzzy under attack by a human. When an entire planet’s ecology and indigenous species is on the court docket, the case will be determined by answering the question — what is sapience, are Fuzzies only cute animals or beings with rights?

Old Man’s War

The first book in a five book series.  Here’s the deal, at age 75 after you retire, you can fight for the Colonial Defense Force; if you survive, after two years you will be given a homestead on a colony planet.  Any takers? At age 75, John Perry decides to join the army.

For more on John Scalzi see

https://whatever.scalzi.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Scalzi

Of course, Celebrating First Contact Day in the Star Trek universe wouldn’t be complete without a Star Trek marathon featuring Star Trek – First Contact.

Be sure to serve cheese pirogies (a Voyager episode said these were Zefram Cochrane’s favorite)!

For more on Star Trek see

http://www.startrek.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek

Also see  — Book Review: Lock In, John Scalzi 

Share how you plan to celebrate Star Trek First Contact Day with your favorite Redshirt moment here: