Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Michelle Cooper's books

Sunrise was at 7:58 and sunset will be at 4:26. 39 seconds more daylight today than yesterday.

Every morning I get up and walk around the house in the dark, drinking my coffee, keeping an eye on the sky, watching the hills become defined as the sky lightens. The clouds change as the sun rises, too. What were smears over the Olympics pre-sunrise become mountain-shaped and -sized as they roll up against the western barrier to the Sound.

As the earth rolls around the sun, spinning as it goes, daylight shines through the windows at Beacon Hill's Pac Med Building one morning and then misses it the next. It's cool to watch the windows brighten and then dim as we move through space- it really shows our place in the universe: We spin in and out of the sun's light through day and night, we turn around the sun, tipping one way and then the next through summer and winter, around a star (!) that is a million times the size of the earth, that is one of billions of such stars. We sit inside a snowglobe of stars, the light of which reaches us maybe long after that star died, the light piercing our skin and bones, making us the "stuff of stars".

I wonder about other beings looking toward our yellow star, what constellation does our star appear in? What myth or legend have they created because our sun was part of the story explaining their world?

It's snowing at Lake Forest Park, where I work. 14 miles away, at the north end of Lake Washington. The south end of the Lake is dry, the mid-point, where I live, is dry, there is blue sky over our house. Lake Washington is a BIG, LONG lake. Cliff Maas, the weather guy at UW and KUOW would say that this is part of the convergence zone, a whole different kind of weather there from the weather here. I have left my house in clear weather and driven into pea-soup fog just south of where I turn off of I-5 to go to work. Driven into a wall of rain; no rain here, wall of rain there.

I am smack dab in the middle of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the second of The Montmaray Journals written by Michelle Cooper. I absolutely love this little series of books. It reminds me very much of I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, in that it is the story of a family of girls and boys, poor but royal, who are the monarchs of a small country, Montmaray, an island off the coast of Spain.

Wonderful dialogue, quippy and fun, smart and snappy, the family is made up of cousins who are distantly related to other royalty, queens of Spain, princesses of England, and the story takes place in the 1930s, just at the beginning of World War 2. Montmaray is not going to war, it's a little blip in the ocean, and they have never allied with anyone in particular. I guess they are a part of Britain, in a way. Unfortunately, other countries have a different idea about what Montmaray can do for them.

The eldest daughter, Veronica, is writing a Brief History of Montmaray (also the title of the first book) and the middle daughter is our narrator. Or maybe they are cousins. I can't remember how the whole lineage goes. It is a wonderful series and so much fun to read. Our narrator, Sophie, is chronicling her life and as she fills us in first on life in the village and then on the more sophisticated life of London debutante life, we learn about how the war crosses Europe. Not something I have too much interest in, usually, but reading about it via Sophie's journal is enlightening and interesting.

If you liked I Capture the Castle and Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will really enjoy these books. So good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

umbrellas and books

Sunrise is at 7:57 today and sunset will be at 4:25.

Gray, not raining. Yet. Debris, open bins, buckets are strewn all over the yard. Must have been quite a wind at some point. There is a chance we may have some snow tonight, half an inch at most, they say. I say, "Bring it on." I have my new boots, I have warm clothes, I have already broken bones that will be stronger for having gone through the last snow. I will take the bus (whenever it comes) and I will pack my bag with water, snacks, and a few good books. Oh, and the new umbrella my niece and nephew gave me because they wanted me visible while I walk.

I am tempted to figure out how to rig little Christmas lights in it so I can read in the dark in the rain and the teensy bit of snow we may still get. They will have to be the kind of lights that we put outdoors, huh? Can't you see it now? The myth and legend that will rise up out of this pale, glowing, happy, polka-dotted woman-height circle floating through the town, like a baby UFO trying to get off the ground. I could put tinsel on the ribs and it would look like a jellyfish! Pretty.

I am looking forward to getting the brace off my right arm (I broke two small bones in my wrist, one under the thumb -cracked it-and one just over the pointy wrist bone -chipped it). It isn't so much that it's a hindrance -it is- but that I have so much I want to do! I want to weed the pathways, I really want to clean the windows in here, I want to use both hands to hold a book (carpal tunnel problems in my left hand have accelerated greatly), I want to finish the quilt I was in the middle of when I got sick but before I fell in the snow. I want to get back to body equality: my left side is killing me! I have to use that side for everything and it hurts! It feels like the nerves are all exposed and being dragged along sharp bones. January 11! More X-rays and FREEDOM! I am actually looking forward to having a hot flash just to cool that arm off! Finally!

I am in the middle of Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. It is a beautifully written book about a woman and her lifelong affair with alcohol. It's hard to read all at once so I come to it a chapter at a time. I was introduced to this book when I read Let's Take the Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell.

Started Corvus: A Life with Birds, by Esther Woolfson, and I just so enjoy it. It is the true story of a woman and her crow. Very nice and makes my blood pressure lower just by picking it up. Thanks to Constance P for lending it to me.

Just loved this new book called A Tale Dark and Grimm, a retelling of the Grimm's fairy tales where Hansel and Gretel are the main characters. Very clever, funny, bloody, and could be a really good re-introduction to the original tales most moms are afraid to share with their kids. In this particular retelling, Hansel and Gretel are the children of a king and an queen who are the victims of a dark fate. When they do a horrible thing to the kids to right a wrong, the twins run away from home and into the woods and adventures filled with the Devil, witches, the fates disguised as crows, and quests destined to lead them home again. It is a good addition to the other Grimm tales out there now, like Cornelia Funke's Reckless, Polly Shulman's Grimm Legacy, The Sisters Grimm, by Michael Buckley, and Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce. Tale Dark and Grimm is good for ages 10 and up, available now.

Ahh, Sarah Dessen. Don't you just love her books? I will put everything else down to read her books next. They are such fabulous stories about people, mostly girls, who are in the middle of becoming young adults. They are simple life stories wrapped around girls who are very likable, very much like the rest of us: confused, changeable, sometimes unhappy, just trying to figure out how to grow up. She adds music to the mix and I love that a lot of her characters need or want jobs and that those jobs often take place in restaurants or around food.

Her newest book, What Happened to Goodbye, is about a girl with divorced parents. She lives with her dad, following him from town to town as he works to save failing restaurants, and assumes a new identity in each one. The current town is filled with likable people and a quirky boy next door, and, for the first time in years, she uses her real name. Ooh, it is so good! Unfortunately, you will have to wait until May to buy it (you can order it from Third Place Books, now, if you call us!). Thank you, Colleen, for sharing the ARC and thanks to Rene H for then sharing it with me. Age 12 and up. (Penguin, due May, 2011.)

Hmm. Half the books I've read or been in the middle of reading are grown-up books! Huzzah!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Sunrise today is at 7:55, sunset will be at 4:21, and there is a whole single second's more light today than yesterday and I am going to enjoy every bit of it.

Our house faces mostly north and south. Yesterday, the sun didn't even get above our southern horizon. Shadows abound in our yard, moss grows everywhere, and it was only at the highest point of the sun's trek across the sky that we would have even seen it rather than it's light. At the other end of the year, at the Summer Solstice, the sun is so far north that it sets well behind the cityscape I posted yesterday, the sky between the buildings will be a deep transparent blue at 10 pm and they'll glow at the 5 am hour.

As I get older I find myself noting the subtle changes in everyday things like sunrise and sunset, the beginning leaf buds on the lilacs, the rise and fall of the water in the creek in front of the store... it is easy to feel removed from nature, the very world I move through but am not physically a part of: I am in a car and then in a store and then in a car and then in a house. Too easy to be removed from the very things that connect us not only to the natural world but to those that connect us to each other, the things that we all experience. The sun rises and sets for all of us, the eclipse was seen all over the world, winds blow, water rises, and we should take a moment at some point in the day and notice what's going on around us.

I guess I really like the idea that these things will continue long after I'm gone and that my atoms and skin dust will merge with the other motes that make up the pollution that brilliants up a sunset. My only true legacy will be the effect my ashes will have on roots and skies. That's long term, huh?

I sent a facebook note to my sister-in-law about going out and looking at the sky the night of the eclipse and she wrote back, "Couldn't you just hear the phone ring last night..."Make sure you watch the eclipse tonight. Won't be again in your lifetime." Can't help but think of her (my mom) during times like that."

My mom, like most, I'm sure, woke us up every time a rocket was sent into space. We watched as they went up and came back, we went to the moon, we watched for UFOs, we tracked satellites, we talked about what might be out there, and I like to think that she is watching for us to look up (well, I guess I am assuming that she would have gone up after death. Hmmm.).

Some people made popcorn and watched movies, we'd get up in the middle of the night, wrap up in blankets and go out barefoot to look at the sky. I loved the feeling of being among the small cozy group who were doing the same thing at the same time. We were the beginning of the whole flash mob thing stretched wide across the world!

Anyhoo-Mom's birthday was Christmas Eve. We celebrate her birthday, the change in the season, lights on the houses, the glitter that catches every little piece of shine, and the absolute brilliance of the stars when the cold crackles.

Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, go outside without your coat and take a deep breath. I'll be thinking of you.

PS-the eclipse photo at the beginning of the post is from Don Emmert's collection of photos from the Seattle Times yesterday. Amazing pictures from around the world. Interesting to see how different the crescents are from one hemisphere to the other.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Solstice!

It's Solstice! Sunrise just occurred at 7:55, the Seattle skyline is glowing in the sun (yes, no rain and some clear skies). It is the shortest day of the year and sunrise will be at 4:20.

Were you up last night watching the lunar eclipse? So very, very cool.

Check out to see a little video about the eclipse. Well, you should take a look at the site anyway because it is so darned great. Lots of the "naked eye astronomy" videos that play on PBS are on the site, and they are fabulous. D and I have stayed up late most nights since we discovered the show in '94, just to catch the 1-5 minute star and planet lessons on one of our local PBS stations (KBTC). I know the winter constellations and that the brightest light we can see in the sky toward the south is Jupiter.

Our childrens' book staff presented our favorite books of the season at a little store book talk last week and one of mine is Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer.

Nightshade is the story of Calla, a leader of a pack of werewolves who knows that her future is fairly well set. When she graduates from the Mountain School she will be the mate of the other major pack forming a large and very strong pack, ruling together, and guarding all of the sacred sites of the pack. This has been the plan for most of her life and she has been happy with it. It doesn't hurt that her future mate is extremely sexy and strong himself! When Calla saves a human boy and brings him into their lives, she sets into motion a number of things that cause her to question her life and the world she has always known.

Ooh, this was so good! Great romance, great, strong female character, history, it has it all. Oh, and it will be a series- Gotta tell you that the next one will be at the top of my to read pile!

One of the things that is really cool about being a bookseller is that we often get to go to dinner with the authors of new books and talk to them, listen to what they have to say, and catch up with the other booksellers in town. We get to eat some really great food and drink some pretty good drinks and talk to other people who love books. The lists we compile at these events are pretty good ones; someone ought to be writing them down!

Anyway, dinner with Andrea was amazing. Not only does she write really good young adult books (this is her first but she'll write more) but she is a history professor at Macalester College and used her research for writing about sex, violence, religion and power in history to write Nightshade. It's not only a good book, it will make you think!

And the cover is exquisite. Age 14 and up. (Philomel. $17.99. Available now.)

This is Andrea's blog site:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Sunrise is at 7:53, sunset will be at 4:19.

Blue skies today, Rainier and the cradle of mountains surrounding us are out in all their glory, the few clouds I can see are held back by the ranges. I just fed the birds and they discovered it in seconds. We've had hummingbirds in the fountain and the maple tree all morning. The ones in the fountain seemed to be playing with the water (when they weren't trying to impale each other) by ducking in and out of the bubbler and then perching at the top and sliding to the edge, flapping back to the top, sliding back down, over and over. Beautiful, bright red throats, shimmering green backs, quick little flicks back into the trees.

With all the heavy rains and high winds, there've been some real problems and trouble, but beauty, too. I was driving to work on Wednesday, heading north towards the U on I-5, and saw a brilliant rainbow that stretched from the U district, across I-5 and down towards Lake Union in front of Gasworks park ending in the lake-what was so very cool, though, was seeing the houses through the rainbow and they were all shaded in the colors of the rainbow! I have never seen that before! And it was morning! Rainbows are pretty rare in the mornings but there it was! It wasn't long before I was no longer between the sun and the rain and it was gone. So cool.

One of the best books this season, and one that's on my top ten list for winter, is Hold Me Closer Necromancer, by Lish McBride. Took me a while to get to it but I am so glad I did! Funny, funny, funny, set in Seattle in and around U Village and campus, it's the story of a slacker burger flipper, Sam (short for Samhain), who runs afoul of a powerful necromancer who reveals that there is something very wrong with Sam's life, or maybe very right- it kind of depends on whether you really want to raise the dead.

Sam has been protected by an herbal pouch his mom made him when he was born. When it accidentally comes off, just after he dents a fancy car with a potato, the man who owns the car recognizes him for what he truly is. Unfortunately, Sam doesn't have any idea about what that means. Due to the lack of convo between Sam and his mother about why he needs this pouch, many awful things start to happen to the people he loves to convince him to take this change in his life seriously. One of those is the death of his friend, Brooke. Brooke's body is found in her apartment but her head ends up with Sam, still alive, kind of. She can talk, cry, think, and she is not happy! They have to carry her around in a bowling bag.

Did you know that you have to petition the Council and register to live in Seattle if you are Were, a 'mancer of any stripe, or any kind of paranormal "person"?

It's a really fun book, good for either sex, and it shows us a new side to life in Seattle where the underground scene may be much different from what we thought. Great for age 13 and up. (Henry Holt. $16.99. Available now.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Books, Rain, Sun, Rain, Sun, Wind, Sun.......

Sunrise was at 7:45, sunset will be at 4:18.

I just looked ahead to the next few days of sunrises and sunsets and noticed that while the morning times continue to get later, the sunsets read 4:18 for days! Without checking the details it looks like the earth just doesn’t tip any deeper for awhile. The details off to the side of the times show the difference in daylight between one day and the next; tomorrow’s light will be 5 seconds shorter than today’s, Friday’s daylight will be 6 seconds shorter than tomorrow’s…. Solstice is on its way and I can’t wait to watch the distancing between these numbers as we head into February, the single most difficult month to get through.

We had a real emergency broadcast today! Massive thunderstorms in Snohomish county, winds up to 60 miles per hour. In Seattle, we had a little breeziness before the sun came up, pewter gray skies over Beacon Hill, houses and buildings glowing against the dark, and, through a slip of sky in the south, watery sunlight turning the windows on the hill a silvery pale blue.

By the time the first thunder in Seattle hit, we had downpours of rain that actually hurt when it hit. It was much like driving through a carwash, rain bouncing as high as bumpers, the streets became 3 inch deep rivers, nowhere for the rain to go, and I saw a man in a camel colored jacket and no hat at the corner of Boren and Jefferson skipping across the street in the rain.

I grew up where it rains really hard but I was pretty surprised by the intensity of this rainfall. I wish I’d had a rain collector set up today.

Now, half an hour later, big swathes of blue sky, no rain, and the little birds are taking advantage of the break to scavenge for seed in the shelter of the bushes. Wow! We have real sunshine!

I finished She’s Gone Country, by Jane Porter, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything went the way I wanted it to. Sometimes, I just want to read happy stuff. I listen to the radio too much to want to spend my leisure time feeling bad while doing something I like. If any of you have sisters or friends who like to read a little fluff, books about women who are often like us, women who do stupid things and then have to deal with the repercussions, then Jane Porter is a good choice. And she’s FUNNY! (Hachette. $13.99. Available now.)

I went from She’s Gone Country to Torment, by Lauren Kate, the sequel to Fallen, a teen paranormal romance between an angel and the girl he has found and loved through millennia. Very much a good way to spend some hours. (Delacorte. $17.99. Available now.)

And from Torment I dove right into The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June, by Robin Benway who wrote another one of my favorite books, Audrey, Wait!. I think Robin Benway has an amazing flair for dialogue. Her banter between the sisters, the sarcasm, the humor, she gets it so right. TESofAM&J is the story of three sisters who, all of a sudden, develop powers that they are unsure how to use. There is mind reading, seeing the future and invisibility and no way of learning from anyone how to deal with them. Add to the mix a few boys and new relationships, a newly divorced set of parents and all the stress that comes with those things and you have a pretty good backdrop for a grand story. I laughed out loud a lot during the reading of this book, I remember being taken by surprise and snorting. Once. I just unearthed the book from a forgotten pile of books in the hall and I am so sorry I didn’t read it long ago. Or maybe not-With all the time away from work, the weather, the hectic time of year, this may have been exactly the perfect time for a book that lightened my mood and got the endorphins flowing! (Razorbill. $16.99. Available now.)

I am a quarter of an inch from finishing Rick Riordan’s Lost Hero, a kind of sideways continuation of the Percy Jackson books featuring Roman gods and goddesses. It’s really good but it’s the book I read in bed or pick up between finishing and starting something else.

I have just started reading Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home and it is so beautiful. It’s the memoir of a friendship and I am looking forward to reading more of it. I’ll let you know more when I get farther along than the first couple of chapters.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter's coming!

Sunrise today was at 7:42, sunset will be at 4:18.

It's a sunny Saturday in early December. Pretty and cold, going to be windy later. The Ducks are going to the National Championships. The brilliant sunlight shows just how often Gidget puts her nose on the windows.

The guys across the street just turned their Christmas lights on! Smith Tower's light has turned from blue to green, the Space Needle tip is lit up like a tree, Qwest Field's lights have changed from teal/green to green/red, Amazon's star is lit up, Queen Anne's radio tower lights are on and a lot of the Seattle skyscrapers' top floors are lit in green, white, and red lights.

Wednesday night Lake Union was filled with Christmas ships, yachts and other boats all decorated with lights and decorations. So beautiful! I love driving home in the dark and seeing the ships all decked out, lining up for the run through the Montlake Cut on their way to Lake Washington and the caroling stops. There is something so uplifting about lights pushing back the darkness, bravery against the fading light.

Just imagine the ancients standing together, wondering if the light will ever come back, lighting bonfires to call the sun. We're a long way from those times, but every year I feel an urge to do my part to make sure the sun comes back by lighting candles, turning the Christmas lights on in the living room, making sure the curtains are open so we get the last moments of daylight. The sun is finally almost gone behind Beacon Hill, the last ruddy color over the black Olympics, and all the houses on the street below are lit up. It just turned 5 pm and the light is but a whisper in the west.

Books for this season include The Faraway Lurs, by Harry Behn, a wonderful book about a meeting of a dark ages princess and a newer ages prince, a meeting of stone and bronze, and very romantic. Dear Elizabeth, Winter is Here, by Jean Craighead George, is a great picture book that explains that as soon as the solstice comes, the season changes. The Longest Night, by Marion Dane Bauer, is an amazing fable about all the animals going to fetch the light but only the lowly sparrow is able to do it.

Note the trees attached to the cranes. I read somewhere it was to honor the trees, that because a tree was taken and used, that honor needed to be paid so balance was restored, so bad things wouldn't happen to the people building houses or other things. Like pouring a little wine onto the ground to honor the earth that feeds us. Has anyone else out there heard this?