Monday, December 25, 2017

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I guess I had higher hopes for this from the author's previous books. Again, it's ordinary people in everyday situations trying to make a life, but, even with the musical references, I wasn't drawn in. Frank is a big bear of a man, devoted to keeping vinyl alive as a source of audio listening, and he has the knack of finding just the right bit of music for someone at exactly the time it is needed. He carries wounds from his past and is surrounded by a band of misfits who inhabit the street where his somewhat lackadaisical vinyl shop resides. And then, one day, a woman faints outside his shop door, and for all in the book, the world changes.

I really wish I liked this book better. Even with the references to music, the little explanations and stories attached to various pieces, and some moments of beautiful writing, I never was fully drawn into the story. But, I've liked two other works by this author, so I am not giving up on her.

Thank you to the publisher and to LibraryThing Early Readers program for sending me this copy. The book is due out January 2, 2018.

Tags: 2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, an-author-i-read, early-review-librarything, everyone-else-liked-it, mixed-feelings, ok-but-not-great, read, somewhat-disappointing, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Friday, December 22, 2017

Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

When I was three, we had a house fire. I was tucked in my bed in a tiny upstairs bedroom. A fireman rescued me, and when he set me in my mother's arms, I told her "he carried me out, just like Superman." I knew a good hero when I saw one. When I was offered the chance to read an ARC of Smoke Eaters, even though I wasn't sure if this was my kind of book, I said sure, because Firefighters vs Dragons? Heck yeah.

This was a good romp in a future world, where not only has the United States devolved into city states, but a plague of dragons is pretty much boiling up from the center of the earth, hellbent on feeding, mating, and consequently ravaging everything in their path. Cole Brannigan, a firefighter for 30 years, is just about to fight his last fire, when he finds out he one of the few people who are immune to dragon smoke. He is recruited into a group called the Smoke Eaters, an elite cadre of people who can withstand the smoke, and fight the creatures destroying the civilization above ground.

Things get dicey as the dragons get stronger, and political intrigue, in the form of a dastardly plot to take over the city, is discovered. Brannigan and his cohorts spring into action to fight the baddies, be they scaled or human. It's a pretty entertaining story. Oh, did I mention there are also wraiths? And robots? And some kick-ass battles?

Aside from my early firefighter interaction, my knowledge and appreciation of these men and women grew when my own son, also age three, developed a major fire truck (and firefighters, by extension) fascination. From that experience, and the inside views a hero-struck boy was given by very kind firemen* the details Sean Grigsby used in the novel all ring true, thanks to his firsthand experience as a firefighter.

It's my understanding that this may develop into a series. If so, I think it could be something fun to follow. I'd like to see a little tightening in the descriptions and rules of the world as it unfolds (but, I do like the cicada theory) and the interactions between the former US and Canada or other countries. The strengths of the book lie in the realism of the characters and of their work in fighting fire. One can extrapolate that the techniques applied to fighting dragons also rings true, but personally, I hope we never find out. But it settles one thing. I do want a robot dog.

I received my copy from the author's agent, for which I am most grateful. The book is due out in March 2018.

*There were no women that we met as firefighters in the early 1990's, though there are many now.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire

I've read the Wayward Children books in a topsy turvy manner, starting with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, then Every Heart a Doorway (I actually bought another book with a similar title thinking it was this one, and by the time I figured it out, had "Sticks and Bones" in my hands so read that first). The only one I've read in order is this, and I'm so glad I did, because it answered a lot of questions I had from Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

Children disappear for a number of reasons, some nefarious, some with an element of magic. That there are doorways between worlds is accepted, thanks to wardrobes, subtle knives, portals, and other devices so many of us have come across in literature. (I personally believe books are gateways, too, but that's another story.) Sometimes those of us who leave one world and enter a different one can stay there, sometimes we come back for one reason or another, sometimes we long to return to that other place-- to find the doorway to take us back. Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, provides a place for those wishing to return to their new world from their home world of Earth, r wait for a new door to open.

In the second book in the series, we were introduced to Eleanor West's home and some of the students living there. This book doesn't exactly take up where that one left off, though it does take place after in time. What it does do is focus on some of the other students, peripheral in the original story, and weave a story where they go on a rescue mission, taking them to a couple of other worlds.

Again, a fascinating story -- one which proves there is a place for each of us, and that maybe it's true: those who live in gingerbread houses seem to have cold, cruel hearts.

The book is due out January 8, 2018.

Thanks to friends at Tor for sending me this advanced readers copy. You're the best!

From the publisher:
Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Bowl of Memories

Bowl of Memories
The story goes that the level of my grandmother's cooking was so good, that she used her oven to store her mail. It never got turned on. Ever. That fabulous chicken remembered from childhood visits to her home in Brooklyn was from the deli down the street, under the El* across from Uncle Izzy's candy shop.

My grandmother was a small, but strong  woman. You had to be to run a business, raise 4 children, keep a home, and support the love of your life in his endeavors, all during the depression, and while speaking a language not your native tongue. There's even a story our uncle told us, which our mother denied, and my eldest brother adopted as a gospel truth. The icebox in one of the apartments she rented out to tenants died, and a new one was delivered, but the person who delivered it refused to take it to the 4th story walkup. It was summertime in the city. The man was no fool. Faced with a problem, and no one available to help her, my bubbe* managed to heft the thing and carried it up. By herself. Did I mention she was 5 feet tall or less? In our childhood imaginations, it was our tiny 80 something bubbe hauling the Matag refrigerator/freezer that graced out kitchen, up an impossibly long flight of stairs. Our bubbe was tough.

 Our bubbe while not the best cook, did excel at a few dishes. She made a mean chopped liver, and good gefilte fish. (Each parent claimed their mother made the better gefilte fish, which resulted in my mother not making it, and opting to buy it from the deli.) When she made these dishes, she used a wooden bowl and a hackmesser, a chopper similar to a messaluna or ulu, though not crescent shaped. This variant was from Eastern Europe; messer means "knife" in German, and hack translates pretty obviously.

Chopping Bowl
The bowl where she did her chopping was simple and wooden. And she passed her bowl and hackmesser to her eldest daughter, when her daughter got married. That daughter was my mother. The bowl and chopper were ever-present in our home. I remember chopping spinach and hard cooked eggs in it as a teenager. When my mother moved to South Carolina to live with us, it moved too. Somewhere along the line, something noxious had spilled in it, staining a portion of the inside black, sinking deep into the wood, and leaving a residue that was questionable enough that nothing further was chopped in it. Resanding didn't help. The bowl stayed with us, and after my mother died, became mine. When we moved, it moved with me, because even though it was no longer used to chop, it help all those memories.

I've struggled what to do with it-- it's a hand carved bowl, with an uneven rim, and smooth sides. The inside holds the chopping scars of a multitude of meals, and has helped make the food that nourished four generations of family. I did not want to discard it, simply because it could no longer be used for what it was originally intended.

The bowl is full again, though not of food. Though I probably enjoy cooking far more than my mother or grandmother, the bowl now contains something else that is a part of me: my art. Depicted in the design are images of the cities my grandmother and mother lived. There are representations of important aspects of the lives of both, pictures of memories. Many may only be discernible to the artist, but the artist knows they are there. It is a bowl of memories. It is cherished, still. 

*elevated rail; elevated train
** bubbe (also spelled bubebubbie, bubbeh, bobbe, bobeh and bubby)