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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but this novel is so different. I mean really different. It is a conglomeration of a novel with elements of several genres all rolled into one. It is an alternate history, and it took me a while to realize that; I found myself asking why I'd never heard of... Well, let us just say that Chabon plants you right in the middle of an alternate history (liberally mixed with both actual and fictional facts) and never bothers to look back and see if you might need help interpreting his world or even realize what is going on. It is a mystery and a bit of hard-boiled detective fiction. It is full of references to Jewish culture which ( given the fictional historical facts that threw me off) could be accurate...or not. Lots of Yiddish terms that must be figured out by context. Or are they terms specific to Sitka, Alaska?

No concessions here, folks. You are along for the ride, or not, and Chabon is going his merry way regardless. I vacillated between pleasure and annoyance, fun and frustration, but I never put it down for long.

There is a murder. There is a divorced and frequently drunken policeman. An Indian Jew. a possible Tzaddik Ha-Dor. An ex-wife. A boundary maven. A sect of black hat ultra-religious gangsters. And more, much more.

I loved Landsman and Berko. What a team. In fact, Chabon's major cast of characters are dynamic - they almost come off the page (and in the case of Rebbe Shpilman, you really don't want that to happen); they are flawed, vulnerable, charming, chilling, and believable. At least, in the alternate history of Sitka, Alaska. One of my favorite characters doesn't come in until the last portion of the book, but he was definitely worth waiting for.

As a finished product - it is perhaps a bit too entangled and it sometimes drags. You want to say, "Enough with the similes, Chabon! Get on with the story!"

While not nearly as good as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon makes you care, he makes you laugh, and if you can get past the confusion, he makes you realize what a feat this novel is. Then again, maybe one just can't compare apples and oranges.

Fiction. Mystery? Alternate history? 2007. 411 pages.

The Whale Road

Low, Robert. The Whale Road. Orm "the Bear Slayer" has little choice when at 15, still recovering from the mauling by a Polar bear that gives him his name and his reputation, he joins his father in a band of oath-sworn Vikings under the leadership of Einar the Black.

Low combines some harsh and graphic historic reality with Norse mythology and legend in this adventure that involves Attila the Hun's lost treasure. The characters are well-drawn, and Low does much to unite historic accuracy with narrative.

One of the first complications is that Orm's slaying of the bear was not quite what it seemed, but when he is discovered unconscious, covered in blood and seriously wounded, assumptions are made, and when Orm finally regains consciousness, though feeling guilty, he decides it is best to leave the story alone. He earns the rest of his reputation himself as he struggles to survive in the savage life that claims him.

The story is told by Orm, as an old man looking back at events, but the elder Orm's narrative voice intrudes rarely.

The year is 965 and the Viking era is coming to an end, but those who have worshiped the Norse Gods and have lived the adventurous life as raiders find it difficult to give up. Nor would they easily find another place in society. Adventure, yes, but a grim, distasteful, brutal life that involves eating what is available, enduring the cold and the wet, suffering illness and wounds that can make one worthless to oath-sworn. Low paints a vivid picture of this band turned mercenary and who take awful risks following a mad girl in hopes of discovering the treasure of Attila.

I chose this books for the title which is a kenning and having taught Beowulf for a number of years, I've long been fascinated with the historic period that used to be called the "dark ages"-- in literature and in history. I'm not sure women would enjoy this book as much as men, a comment I don't remember ever making before. I enjoyed it, although I found some parts in the second half a bit fantastic. Still -- the weaving of fact, legend, and Norse mythology make it acceptable because, as I mentioned, the story is told by Orm, who would have been intimately acquainted with the vagaries of the gods.

This is Low's debut novel and the first in a trilogy, so I will be able to follow the further adventures of Orm Rurrikson.

Fiction. Historical. 2007. 338 pages.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vivaldi's Music

Several days ago I posted a review of Vivaldi's Virgins and the author Barbara Quick left a comment and a link to her website which does a better job of giving information about the Ospedale della Pieta, Anna Maria, and Vivaldi. The best part is that you can download some of the music mentioned in the novel which gives you greater appreciation of the accomplishments of the young women in the Coro. My very favorite is 14 Concerto in re minore, which goes from calm and stately to a marvelously exciting violin section! And the Sonata Op 2 or the Six Violin Sonatas.

She is too fond of books...

My sweet nieces gave me one of Lainie's Ladies with the wonderful Louisa May Alcott quote. I just adore it!

The Wheel of Darkness

Preston, Douglas, and Lincoln Child. The Wheel of Darkness. If you are a fan of these two prolific writers, you will enjoy this one. Every bit as fantastic as previous books with Agent Aloyious Pendergast. A bit of mystery, a bunch of supernatural.

I have evidently missed the last two in this series (Dance of Death and The Book of the Dead) and will have to catch up on them, but didn't feel that the lack really affected reading The Wheel of Darkness.

In many ways, these books are pretty silly, but I find them fun and they read fast. I've been an avid fan since a student - at least 10 years ago - not only suggested that I read Relic, but to be sure, handed me his copy. When I returned the book, he actually quizzed me to be sure I'd read it. I may laugh at my guilty pleasure in such nonsense, but I do so with book in hand.

Any other fans of this series?

Fiction. Mystery/supernatural. 2007. 385 pages.

Tips for Quilters

Pellman, Rachel. Tips for Quilters: A Handbook of Hints, Shortcuts, and Practical Suggestions from Experienced Quilters. I've read through this one from front to back and taken notes of tips that I found beneficial. Not much really new here, but I did enjoy reading it - a little at a time - and flagging pages where I found useful tips and shortcuts.

The only real problem with the book is the repetition. Pellman asked for hints, tips, etc. from quilters across the country and evidently received great response, as a result, many of the tips are repeated, sometimes in almost the same words. Another point to consider is that the book was published in 1993, and quilting has take a number of new directions with the increased interest in art quilts, heavy and unusual embellishment, mixed media approaches, new techniques, and new products.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed and profited from Tips for Quilters, and for a new quilter, the book would be especially useful -- answering any number of questions that arise about templates, marking and cutting fabric, applique, preparation for quilting, needles and thimbles and quilting techniques, etc.

Nonfiction. Quilting/Instructional. 1993. 234 pages.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life

Rodgers, Vimala. Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life. I've read through this twice already, but suppose it will be read again and again. I'm not going to write an actual review; instead, I copied a post that I made on Bayou Quilts about the book and how I came to order it and begin practicing my handwriting.

cross-posted from my other blog:

Yesterday, I mentioned that I was working on my handwriting using the Vimala Rodgers' book
Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life and decided to expand on a bit on that subject.

How did I get here...attempting to change the handwriting that has served me for Lo, These Many Years?

Amelia and Erin (who have young children) have both been curious at different times about Montessori education. I'd also heard about Waldorf Schools, though I knew less about them. Research into the Waldorf system led to Vimala Rodgers, who has worked with school systems across the country and whose handwriting style has been incorporated into many Waldorf schools.

(slight digression, this excellent article compares the two methods, giving a better insight into both Waldorf and Montessori...and, uh, I had to increase the text size on the article)

That is the most recent interest in handwriting, but about 10 years ago, I met a friend of my best friend's family. The woman was a trained graphologist and worked with insurance companies and the occasionally the police, making determinations about individuals based on handwriting. Fascinating stuff.

I was hooked and went to the library, checked out several books on handwriting analysis, and found one I really liked, Handwriting Analysis: Putting It to Work for You by Andrea McNichol, an excellent presentation of material with tons of examples, some from famous people. I didn't want to return it to the library and renewed it a couple of times, but eventually I gave in and bought a copy. Handwriting analysis is truly an intriguing, surprising, and fascinating subject.

This past spring, my sister-in-law attended a workshop that dealt in part with the importance of handwriting and a bit about analysis. We often discuss developments in education, and she attends some great workshops (she is an adaptive P.E. teacher who works mostly with children with serious physical problems). Anyway, I ordered a copy of McNichol's book for her because I couldn't find mine...which is here somewhere...unless I loaned it to someone. Another search for the book is in order, and if I can't find it, I'm ordering another one.

So my interest in handwriting , graphology, and graphotherapy is not new. Rodgers' book, however, concentrates on teaching the Vimala Alphabet, which is very different from the old Palmer Style. The Vimala Alphabet has simplified letter formation and is sometimes called print-script, as many letters are formed without the connection to the next letter.

I am continue to practice, and I hope to be able to read my own journal entries at some point, instead of wondering what the heck this or that word is. The practice itself is - for me - a very calming activity. Now that I think about it, it is very similar to the feeling of hand quilting, knitting, or crocheting. If my improved handwriting results in an improved quality of life, that is a bonus that I'm more than willing to accept.

Nonfiction. Instructional. 2000. 167 pages.

Christmas pics

I'm catching up, slowly, with reviews. I only have 4 more reviews to go at present, but I have a number of books in progress, so ...

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and that like me, you are fat and happy. I am, however, beginning to wonder what to do about those extra pounds that November and December have piled on.

Christmas pictures...

Amelia, the new mom, and baby Bryce
Amelia and Chris

Eric and Max
The most fun was delivered by the latex gloves I keep in the kitchen for washing dishes or doing dirty chores. Mila thought they were wonderful and the kids played with them for the longest time.

Cousins - Mila, Matthew, Maggie, and down in the corner, Max (Baby Bryce stopped the run of "M's" that had been going established)
Hopefully, I'll get one more review done this afternoon, but now I'm off on errands, etc. for the next few hours.

Vivaldi's Virgins

Quick, Barbara. Vivaldi's Virgins. This novel was interesting, but very low-key. It is the fictional story of Anna Maria dal Violin who lived in 18th c. Venice and for whom Vivaldi wrote 37 Violin Concertos, his most difficult violin pieces. Little is known of the real Anna Maria, but Quick has taken that little bit of information and created a quiet and well-researched novel set in Anna Maria's confined world of the Ospedale della Pieta with frequent venturing into the larger setting of the creative, musical world of Venice in the early years of the 1700's.

Anna Maria was left at the Ospedale della Pieta, an institution that cared for abandoned infants. She was placed in the Scaffeta, a niche in the wall for the specific purpose of receiving those unwanted babies. The babies were cleaned, their clothing - often rags - removed, then the baby was registered in a book known as the Libro della Scafetta by one of the two Scrivane. A Scrivana then recorded the available information which would include a detailed description of the clothing and any items left with the child, a note of any abnormalities, the time the baby was discovered, etc. The Scrivana who received the infant also assigned it a number that was often referred to later in the child's life.

There is good deal of information about the Ospedale della Pieta and the way the institution worked, how the children were separated by gender, how they were trained, etc. in this link. More interesting articles about the Ospedale, some with references to Anna Maria dal Violin are here and here. Just one more note, though, the last names of the children in the Coro were given according to their most dominant instrument. There were many "dal Violins" over the years, as well as "dalla Violas," "dal Organistas," and for the singers, "dal Contralto" or "dal Sopran." Thus, Anna Maria dalla Violin and Clementia dalla Viola and Oliva dal Sopran.

The story is about Anna Maria and her life in the Coro (those with musical talent were eventually part of the Coro). Anna Maria's gift is recognized early and Vivaldi, the Red Priest who teaches at the Ospedale, writes his most difficult pieces specifically for her. Anna Maria, like many of the children, has no clue about who her parents were (some children knew and visited their parents who were so poverty-stricken they could not afford to keep them) and her desire to know her mother becomes almost an obsession. Sister Laura suggests that she write letters to her mother, and Anna Maria does, although there is never a reply and she is not certain that the letters are even delivered.

Details of life in the Ospedale in the Coro, tidbits about Vivaldi and other musicians who were in Venice at the time, information about the Jewish Quarter, about Carnivale and the rhythm of life and activities in the early 18th c. Venice...all are fascinating to me.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the narrative itself is low-key; while there are some sub-plots involving the escapades of Anna Maria's friends, her own life is mostly confined to the Ospedale and her quest to discover something about her parentage.

There is further interesting information in the Acknowledgments and a Discography of CDs that contain much of the music Quick references in her novel.

Fiction. Historical. 2007. 278 pages.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Shadows & Lies

Eccles, Marjorie. Shadows & Lies. This mystery begins with an entry in an "exercise book" by a young woman who has lost 9 years of her life following an accident. If this were not trauma enough, there appears to be no one who really knows who she is, and although she wears a wedding ring and owns a house in St. John's Wood, there are no clues to the past 9 years. She knows that her name is Hannah and that the year is 1910, and her doctor has encouraged her to write what she does remember about her life before the memory gap. The hope is that the writing will act as a stimulus that might lead to a recovery of the lost memories.

Then in Chapter One, we are introduced to new characters, Sebastian Chetwynd and Louisa Fox. Sebastian drops Louisa off at her father's house and proceeds to the Chetwynd estate. His mother, father, and grandmother all have their own agendas, some secretive, some openly discussed. Sebastian is the reluctant heir since the death of his older brother, and the family wants him to marry. Preferably to money.

The following morning, a woman is found murdered on the estate grounds. How the Chetwynds, the murdered woman, and Louisa are connected to Hannah of the lost years requires a detour to South Africa in the late 1990's and the violence before and during the Boer War.

I enjoyed this mystery. Eccles brings a good bit about the early suffragette and women's rights movement into the story, as well as some interesting parts about life in South Africa during the troubled years at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fiction. Historical mystery. 2005. 333 pages.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

I've certainly been a sloppy blogger lately. I've got several reviews I need to write and will find time to manage them soon.

But today, I really want to take time to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays regardless of which ones you celebrate. We've celebrated the Solstice and now have the pleasure of the lengthening of the days once again to look forward to.

In visiting my friend Kim's blog this morning, I discovered a post from a few days back in which she shared a gift she received. It is a wonderful video and appropriate for any celebration during these December days. Many thanks, Kim, for sharing!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Catching Up

Bryce Eleanor was released into her parents' custody on Saturday. She is quite happily making her presence known in her new household where she is observed by her parents and the three doggy friends who are eager to know her.
Doesn't she look as if she is from another century in her little mob cap?

I'm still trying to catch up on blogs and comments and emails and reviews and wrapping presents and Fee's Solstice gifts ... and so on and on. Thanks again to all of you who have sent your kind comments and well-wishes!

One review down and another in process. Three other books started.

I've been having a fine (and sometimes hectic) time preparing the gifts for Fee's birthday/Solstice. His birthday is December 22 and always coincides closely with the Solstice. I've managed a gift every day through the past 17 days; each is accompanied by a quote. We are fast approaching the 22nd--Whew! Here and here are some of the gifts which I've been posting on Bayou Quilts.

The Indian Bride

Fossum, Karin. The Indian Bride. Gunder Joman decides that he wants to marry and goes to India where he falls in love with Poona, a waitress in a restaurant near his hotel. They marry and Gunder returns to Norway to prepare for his bride. However, when his sister Marie is injured in an automobile accident, Gunder is unable to meet his bride at the airport. He sends a friend, a mini cab driver, to meet her, but Poona is not there.

Later, the terribly battered body of an Indian woman is discovered. At first, Gunder refuses to acknowledge the possibility that this is Poona. Inspector Sejer investigates, determines that the victim is, indeed, Poon Bai Joman, and eventually, Gunder must face the facts. He spends most of the time at the hospital talking to the unconscious Marie, working through his grief.

A young man whose alibi proves unsubstantiated is arrested, but there are other possible suspects. Just when the reader believes the murderer is rightfully in custody, Fossum reverses the flow and leaves the reader curious about the outcome. A sequel?

The characters are perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this novel. More than one storyline develops and there is no sense of closure for either of the important story lines. I followed events with interest and enjoyed the way Fossum brought all of the characters to life, but really hope there is a follow-up to bring things to a conclusion. While I agree that real mysteries are often open-ended, the intent of this novel seems to imply that there will be more in the future before things are wrapped up.

Fossum is a talented author who creates characters complete with all of their foibles , failings, and vulnerabilities.

Fiction. Mystery. English translation 2005. 297 pages.

The Chinese Alchemist

Hamilton, Lyn. The Chinese Alchemist. Lara McClintoch is an antiques dealer who becomes involved in a complicated series of events when a friend asks her to purchase a silver nesting box. Lara ends up in China when the box ,withdrawn from a New York auction, then appears for sale at a Beijing auction.

The contemporary story of the box is alternated with the story of the T'ang Dynasty Chinese alchemist and the eunuch who serves her. Lara's attempts to solve the theft of the box and the murder of a museum curator leave her curious about the woman to whom the boxes originally belonged.

I enjoyed this mystery and will look into the 10 or so others in this series of "archaeological mysteries."

Fiction. Mystery. 2007. 257 pages.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I know, I know. The proud grandparent syndrome. Can't help myself. Here are some pictures of the new parents with baby Bryce. Thanks again to all of you for your comments and congratulations! I really appreciate all the good wishes and kind thoughts and will spare you the necessity of commenting on another baby post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

She's Here!

Bryce Eleanor Chandler arrived a little after 5:30 Tuesday evening. She is, of course, lovely--10 fingers, 10 toes, tiny little ears, soft, cuddly, lots of dark hair. She weighed 6 lbs. and 14 oz. on delivery and has been the center of everyone's attention.

Thanks to all who have sent congratulations and good wishes!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Book Is in the Mail

Dark Orpheus, the book is now on its way to Singapore!

Finished Kept on Dec. 4 and waited to review it because it needed a bit of time to settle in.
Now, I've zipped through two more mysteries: The Chinese Alchemist by Lyn Hamilton and The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum. Enjoyed them both and will review them soon. Sam at Bookchase has enjoyed several of Fossum's inspector Sejer mysteries, and I can understand why.

Sent Season Two of Rosemary & Thyme back to Netflix, and Season Three will be here by Wednesday. So much fun.

Tomorrow morning, we will be grandparents for the third time when Bryce enters the world. I've finished her quilt and several little onesie outfits. Amelia and Chris will get to the hospital at 5:30, and they will start the drip around 8:30. Ready or not, here she comes! I have books to take for the waiting, but from past experience, it is hard to read when waiting for a new baby.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Kept: A Victorian Mystery

Taylor, D. J. Kept: A Victorian Mystery. I loved this book. The writing, the characters, the plot all kept me completely involved all the way through. I've written so much about it here and here, that I really don't want to say much more, but from start to finish Kept held my interest. When it was finished, I felt a bit bereft.

Appendix I is titled Lost, or Stolen, or Strayed: On a Vanished Young Lady. Well, of course, I knew the first phrase from a poem by A. A. Milne that I loved to read to my children:


James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he;
"You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

James James
Morrison's Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison's Mother
Drove to the end of the town.
James James Morrison's Mother
Said to herself, said she:
"I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea."

King John
Put up a notice,

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me."

James James
Morrison's mother
Hasn't been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?"

(Now then, very softly)
W.G.Du P.
Took great
C/0 his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
"M*****," he said, said he:

Back to D. J. Taylor -- he has written 6 other works of fiction and 6 works of nonfiction. I will be sure to check on some of these.

Fiction. Historical mystery. 2007. 451 pages.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

And the winner is....

Names ready to go in the jar.


The winner!Dark Orpheus, I'll need your snail mail address! I'll get it to the post office on Monday!
Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Busy and a Book to Share --

I've continued to work on my Complaint-Free Challenge and although I do slip up, I'm still doing pretty well and feel that I may be getting close to establishing the habit.

Projects, projects, projects! Those are just a few of the things I've been working for the last 5-6 weeks. And the birthday/Winter Solstice/Advent gifts for Fee, one gift for each day until his birthday on December 22. And the baby quilt for our new grand baby who should arrive next week. Bayou Quilts has been busy lately.

Finished (and what a pleasure to finish something considering all the works I have in progress) D.J. Taylor's Kept last night. I didn't want to have it end, but I had delayed and savored until there was nothing left to do but read those final pages, and now at least, there is a feeling of satisfaction in completion. Will review it later.

Since Amy was generous enough to send me Peter Robinson's Friend of the Devil (reviewed here), I would be happy to send it on to someone else. If you are interested, just leave a comment and on Friday, I'll draw a name and send it on!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another post on Kept

I have been reading Kept in small increments and alternately wishing I had time to sit down and dash through the entire book and being grateful that I'm forced to take it in smaller doses because it allows time for the passage or pages to sink in and gives me time to ruminate.

Here is another lengthy post, but I have given nothing away because I know nothing. And I'm quite content to know nothing. Certainty is not a factor in this novel. Possibilities arise and then the next passage opens a new possibility that does not necessarily exclude the previous one.

I love picking up the clues, often a chapter or two later, when a remark is made or a seemingly trivial circumstance begins developing in an unexpected way or when a previously unobtrusive detail is followed up with more information. Taylor is quite the master of this technique.

The allusions are also a pleasure, both to authors and novels and to the wryly humorous inclusion of incidents that occurred in other 19th century novels which have been transformed to fit Taylor's story. And again the cleverly funny remarks or descriptions tucked into the staid Victorian language or the oppressive Gothic atmosphere.

I want to discuss something I've read each time I pick it up, and since there is no one around, I have conversations in my head.

I'll share just one quote today.

Jemima is defending her sister's need for money to Mr. Pardew:

"It may be as you say"--Jemima's voice as she said this was studiously respectful--"but would you have me sit by and have my own flesh and blood starve?"

Mr. Pardew shrugged his shoulders and jingled his money in his pockets. This was not a question that he could decently answer, and he knew it. In fact it would not have disturbed him in the least to learn that Mrs. Robey--this was the name of Jemima's sister--had starved to death, but gentlemen are generally shy of saying such things.

This is one of several points in the novel in which Taylor appears to be using Maria Edgeworth's The Noble Art of Self-Justification (a link to the essay is the last post). Jemima has "respectfully" responded in such a way as to leave Mr. Pardew little wiggle room. Sort of "When did you stop beating your wife?" Some ladies-- with little influence or power-- learned how to get their way by round-about means. Jemima has done so in an amusing way, maintaining her obedient and respectful attitude. At the same time, the characters have revealed much about themselves.

I am quite snowed under with sewing and various projects so there isn't much time to indulge in a long reading session, but I'd love to have an audio version that I could listen to while doing other things.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Oh, Yes, I Am Enjoying This...

Kept by D. J. Taylor. It begins with two excerpts from newspapers concerning the death of two men, the first dated 1863, and the second, 1866. The novel then retreats to a time before the deaths. The language and syntax are very Dickens with long, involved sentences and slightly archaic words. Taylor doesn't let you slip quickly into the narrative, but presents little episodes that have no immediate bearing on the story because you don't yet have enough information. The clues are there, but you can't yet recognize them; only later will you return to certain passages and nod.

In addition to the Dickensian style, there are loads of allusions to historical personages such as George Eliot, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Gissing.

I loved this sentence, "The two bouncing daughters have retired to their boudoir, the elder to ponder a volume of the Reverend Rantaway's brimstone sermons, and the younger to read one of Miss Edgeworth's novels."

Maria Edgeworth wrote parodies of gothic novels that were very popular (although many did not recognize them as satire), which often contained a message on the plight of women at the time, so Taylor manages in one short sentence to illustrate the great differences between the sisters. Edgeworth was also an essayist, and I adore "An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification," which makes me laugh each time I read it--such perfectly tongue-in-cheek satire!

Early on there is an excerpt from George Eliot's Journal (March 1862) in which some of the characters are mentioned. This, of course, adds to the verisimilitude of the story.

At this point, I began some research -- did the any of the characters (aside from the literary names easily recognized) actually exist? Indeed, some of the characters are based on real individuals of the same name. Dunbar, for example: there were two brothers, Lewis & William, who were largely responsible for the extermination of the Highland ospreys by stealing the eggs for naturalists of the time.

While the main characters appear to be fiction (I could find none of them when Googling for information), many of the minor characters did exist. At some point, I noticed a footnote that referred to the Appendix and discovered easy access to a great deal of historical detail.

Here is a sentence I liked: "There was a little tuft of grey hair on the point of his chin, which, whether left there by chance or design, enhanced this singularity, and Dewar became instantly fascinated by it, watched it as its owner rose to his feet (he did this cautiously but in a manner that suggested much steadfastness of purpose) and marked it as it moved up and down in response to the opening and closing of his lips."

The story doesn't really begin to take shape until Esther appears. Esther is the housemaid to James Dixey, and her observations of the house and its inhabitants begin the first cohesive portion of the story by making connections to what has been previously unassociated. She is the first character to be developed, to have the human touch. From this point, things become much more exciting.

New characters are introduced in semi-isolation, but by now we have enough information to continue recognizing relationships and to connect what appear to be unimportant to details to what has gone before.

Echoes of Jane Eyre appear, a mad woman "in the attic," an excerpt from "Mr. Thackeray's Tour," and, finally, I'm to Isabel's portion!

Another funny quote; this one is from "Thackeray's Journal":

And so at length to Watton, a wide old marketplace with ostlers attending to their beasts at the rails and the George inn, with its fragrant beds and the liveliest parlourmaid I ever saw, and an imperious old housekeeper to whom I would only say, "Madam, my chop would have been sweeter still had the serving girl's thumbprint not stared up at me from the plate."
--W. M. Thackeray
Cornhill Magazine, 1862

This novel is slyly funny and fun, fun, fun!

Friday, November 30, 2007

What Next?

I'm currently reading Kept by D.J. Taylor. From the inside jacket flap: "Madness, Greed, Love, Obsession, Machiavellian Plotting, And a Great Train Robbery, In a Captivating Victorian Mystery About the Extreme and Curious Things Men Do to Get --and Keep--What They Want." I know a lot of you have read it, but I'm just now getting around to it.

Here are some of the other books awaiting my pleasure:

A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedomby David W. Blight and sent to me by the kind and thoughtful Anna Suknov with FSB Associates.

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes by Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne. Another Advanced Reader's Copy from the lovely Anna. I loved The Tipping Point and expect to enjoy this as well. From the jacket flap: "Mark Penn, the man who identified 'Soccer Moms' as a crucial constituency in President Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign, is known for his ability to detect relatively small patterns of behavior in our culture--microtrends that are wielding great influence on business, politics, and our personal lives."

Little, Big
by John Crowley. Recommended by James Hynes in his article Genre Trouble via Maud Newton.

Darkness Falls by Kyle Mills. Another ARC from Lauren at Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. Sam at Book Chase has reviewed this one and I was interested at the time, so when Lauren suggested it, I was all smiles. The novel is described as a page-turner, a "what-if" tale, and a compelling read about murder, terrorism, and a world-wide threat-- you can go to Sam's blog to read his review.

I'm also reading about 3 books on quilting...well, looking at the pictures and reading bits and pieces.

That doesn't cover the stack that awaits me, but that is certainly enough for tonight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Friend of the Devil

Robinson, Peter. Friend of the Devil. Rayna Gilman got me started on these novels, and I really enjoy the suspense as Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and Detective Inspector Annie Cabot pursue the bad guys. Amy at The Sleepy Reader received this one as an ARC and when she finished, was kind enough to offer to send it to me.

Two murders in different locations become entangled. DI Annie Cabot, on loan to another force, is covering the murder of a quadriplegic woman whose throat was slit. In Eastvale, DCI Alan Banks is faced with the murder of a young girl. Two different murderers and two different methods. Yet, there is a hidden link, although not through the murderers.

One thing I enjoy about these novels is that they allude to past novels. The title of this novel refers to a previous novel, Aftermath, and the Chameleon murders. It doesn't matter if you haven't read the novel, but it strikes a familiar note if you have. The plot has several twists and a couple of surprises, as Banks and Cabot working on two different murders discover the connecting thread.

Robinson's characters are complex and well-developed. Cabot and Banks, the major characters, have had layer after layer added to their characters through the series, but even minor characters have a sense of being well-rounded, with strengths and weaknesses, and they, too, have been developing gradually from novel to novel.

Robinson does not write cozy mysteries. His novels are definitely darker. Not quite as dark as Val Diarmid or Ian Rankin, perhaps, but certainly not "toast and tea" in Yorkshire.

Fiction. Mystery/Suspense. 2008. 372 pages.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Boy Named Shel

Rogak, Lisa. A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein. First, let me say I enjoyed the book, but the writing wasn't spectacular. I was interested in learning more about the man behind the children's books and the songs and I found out a great deal, but the writing never flowed and was sometimes disjointed. A lot of facts--who, what, where, when-- were revealed and that alone was fascinating. Yet (and we must remember that he was a very private man) somehow the inner Shel never quite appeared.

Shel Silverstein was a fascinating and very odd man who excelled in a number of genres: cartoons, children's books, plays, song writing. He led an interesting life, traveling from place to place at the drop of a hat, keeping several homes across the country, and staying frequently at the Playboy Mansion. He was a womanizer, never married, had a daughter by one woman and a son by another. He wrote poems for children and risque songs for adults.

I'm going to digress a bit and say that I love Dylan Thomas' work. Love it. But I'm quite sure I would not have been able to tolerate the man. I love Shel Silverstein's work, but wonder if I would have the patience the man himself must have required. In many ways, Rogak makes his eccentricities and behavior seem lovable, and yet...

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I like having a peek into the life of talented and creative people, but there were several things that bothered me: there is no mention of his sister other than she was born; his mother supported his desire to be a cartoonist, but she is a vague and infrequent force in the biography; the mother of his daughter died-- just died--no hint of how or why; he bought the mother of his son a house, that's it, no more mention of her.

Part of the problem may be that many of Silverstein's friends refused to talk about him, feeling that since the man refused to give interview (as of 1976) and was intensely private, it would be wrong to reveal further information, but while Rogak did a great deal of research and published an informative biography, in many ways, the man himself slipped through.

Yet, I found the book fascinating. Despite the flaws, I was engrossed and fascinated by the man's accomplishments, his work ethic, his odd behavior, his womanizing, his ability to collaborate with others. A psychologist could probably put labels on several of his behaviors, but I will refrain.

Nonfiction. Biography. 2007. 223 pages.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


A Boy Named Shel and will review later, but I did enjoy it!

Right now, when I can stay awake, I'm reading the latest Peter Robinson ARC that Amy at The Sleepy Reader generously offered to send me as I am a serious fan of the series. Keeping up with Banks and Annie is an absolute must. Many thanks for sharing, Amy!

I'm not sure what is wrong, but I'm so darned tired. I just can't stay awake.

I love poems that are parodies of familiar works. So... here is Green Eggs and Hamlet.

If you were to become a vampire, how would you behave? Here is a list of Things I Will Never Do If I Become a Vampire.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shel Silverstein biography

I started the biography of Shel Silverstein (A Boy Named Shel) that author Lisa Rogak sent me. Quickly discovered that there was little the man couldn't do if it involved the written word : cartoons, books, essays, plays, songs, poems.

I knew he wrote A Boy Named Sue, but didn't realize that he had also written The Unicorn, the Irish Rovers hit. Or that in addition to writing for Johnny Cash, he also wrote hits for Loretta Lynn, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, Bobby Bare, Marianne Faithful, and Emmylou Harris. Did you know he wrote Marie Laveau and Queen of the Silver Dollar? He also composed original music for several films and was nominated for an Oscar for the score of Postcards from the Edge.

Of course, the children's books will be the most long lasting of his accomplishments because they will never grow old. A Light in the Attic has actually been banned from some libraries for the very reason that children love it. I can pick up any one of Uncle Shelby's children's books and enjoy the silliness and the truth with fresh pleasure. Well, except for The Giving Tree, which I avoid because it makes me cry. Each and every time.

NPR has some audio clips from The Best of Shel Silverstein. And the link to his official site that I posted some time back -- great animation and Shel reciting poems. Another good link, Shel Silverstein Remembered.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Warrior

MacGregor, Kinley. The Warrior. Another review book. Classified as historical romance. Not my thing. I'm not having much luck lately. No wonder I'm reading less.

Book Description from Amazon

Lochlan MacAllister was born to lead. Ruthlessly groomed to take control of his clan, he has given his life to his people. But when he learns that the brother he thought was dead might still be alive, he embarks on a quest to find the truth.

Catarina wants a life of freedom. But now Catarina's royal father wants to use her as a pawn to ensure a treaty between conflicting lands. So much so that he's willing to kidnap his daughter to force the issue. But when she escapes, fate throws her into the path of a man she loathes.

Lochlan is stunned to find the shrewish Cat being hauled away by unknown men. Unwilling to see even her suffer, he frees her only to learn that she has her own demons to fight. When their fates intertwine, two people who know nothing of trust must rely on each other, and two enemies who have vowed their eternal hatred must find common ground, or see their very lives shattered.

Historical Romance. ? 2007. 344 pages.

Monday, November 19, 2007

To Read or Not to Read

You can listen to this short article at All Things Considered on NPR: Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.

And read about it here:

To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence

just one excerpt:

All of the data suggest how powerfully reading transforms the lives of individuals— whatever their social circumstances. Regular reading not only boosts the likelihood of an individual’s academic and economic success—facts that are not especially surprising—but it also seems to awaken a person’s social and civic sense. Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed. It is reassuring, though hardly amazing, that readers attend more concerts and theater than non-readers, but it is surprising that they exercise more and play more sports—no matter what their educational level. These cold statistics confirm something that most readers know but have mostly been reluctant to declare as fact— books change lives for the better.

Whether or not the study is flawed (as some have suggested), it covers such an important aspect of a culture that it deserves attention.

And, Carl, did you realize this? I'm sure you did, and I've just missed it, but it is such a "good thing." More reason for the networks to allow the writers their due and get on with the process because I need more Joss Whedon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ghost Walk

Stott, Rebecca. Ghost Walk. I so wanted to enjoy this novel, but I didn't. Another one that felt cold from the beginning and had no characters that could really reach me. It felt complicated rather than complex; the first person narration, never a favorite, annoyed me; the technique of using second person to address her lover annoyed me; each of the 3 "entangled" story lines felt contrived and all annoyed me. Other than that, the things that bothered me involve spoilers.

I always dislike writing a review of a book that disappoints, but especially when most people seemed to have liked it.

Fiction. Mystery/supernatural. 2007. 284 pages.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Study Guides & Libraries

One of the sad things about my lack of reading activity is that Mac doesn't get enough lap time. He resents this lack, and I'm going to have to do something about it. Soon.

Interesting links:

Video Study Guides
are an interesting idea; introductions, summaries, analysis.

Gaiman's Coraline.

World's Most Beautiful Libraries.


[I]t's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” — Judy Blume

I found this quote on Ms. Jan's blog (she's a quilter and a reader, what a great combo, eh?). She posted it during Banned Book Week, but I just found her blog and the quote goes with my last post so well.

Alas, I'm still not back in a reading mode; I seem to be in the sewing/quilting state of mind. I have several books started, but am just not reading much. Hope that will change soon because
I have so many books to get through...

Two new review books :

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel "explains the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire." Perel is a couples and family therapist. Thanks to Nicole Reardon with Harper Collins for this one.

A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein by Lisa
Rogak. Since Shel Silverstein was a large part of my girls' early reading (and, of course, one never outgrows Shel), when the author offered this one for review, I snapped it up. It fits into my biographical self-challenge and promises to give insight into a favorite author. By the way, did you know he was a song writer? He wrote A Boy Named Sue-- remember Johnny Cash's hit? Quote form the back jacket:

"I didn't think any biography could do justice to one of the few honest-to-goodness geniuses of our time, but Lisa Rogak has done an exemplary job of it." -- Otto Penzler, The Mysterious Bookshop

I have to admit that I used the above quote partly because of the name of Otto's bookshop, so I looked it up and discovered that:

One of the oldest mystery specialist book stores in America, the Mysterious Bookshop is now in its 28th year.... We stock the finest selection of new mystery hardcovers, paperbacks and periodicals. Our shop also features a superb collection of signed Modern First Editions, Rare/Collectible hardcovers and Sherlockiana... I bolded the first edition, rare, Sherlockiana part because I love the idea of rare, collectible stuff, even if I have no interest in collecting myself.

And finally, I received my pre-ordered copy of The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente. I read In the Night Garden and loved it; I hope to save it for Carl's "Once Upon a Time Challenge" in the spring, but we will see.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 -- Banned?

I have so many blogs to catch up on. Have not been reading much; still in a reading slump!

Check out this video about Book Banning. Unbelievable.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Cliff House Strangler

Tallman, Shirley. The Cliff House Strangler. Still trying to get caught up on reviews. This is a Sarah Woolson mystery, the third in this series about Sarah, a 19th century female attorney struggling to establish her own firm in atmospheric San Francisco.

I've enjoyed the previous mysteries in this series, and this one didn't disappoint. Sarah's family contains such varied individuals and social views, that much can be ascertained about San Francisco during this era from the family alone. There is a definite feminist approach in Sarah's determination to become a lawyer in the 1880's and in her feisty attempts to aid her clients.

The Cliff House Strangler begins with a seance at the famous Cliff House on a very dark and stormy night. Sarah and her friend Robert Campbell attend the gathering hosted by Madame Karpova, who has studied with Madame Blavatsky (real life founder of the Theosophical Society and a fascinating and controversial character, medium, clairvoyant), and are therefore present when one of the participants is murdered.

These mysteries are light and fun. I like the accumulation of characters from the first and second novels. Some make actual reappearances, some are just mentioned, but it is fun to have the sense of continuity. I didn't take part in the "cozy mystery" challenge, but think this one might fit into that category. San Francisco is a character in her own unique and slightly eccentric way.

Fiction. Historical Mystery. 2007. 320 pages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On Borrowed Wings

Prasad, Chandra. On Borrowed Wings. I'm finally getting around to catching up on a few reviews. Danielle had recommended this one highly, so when the author offered to send it to me, I gladly accepted. And there was a lovely carved bookmark, tucked in!

Hard for us to imagine in this day and age, but college educations for women were difficult to come by until the 20th century, and even then, many schools were exclusively male. Adele Pietra, who never expected the opportunity to attend college, has the chance to change her life after the death of her brother. Charles Pietra had been accepted to Yale, which in the 1930's was still an all male institution, but shortly after receiving his acceptance, he died in a tragic accident. Adele and her mother decide the opportunity is too valuable to waste.

Adele crops her hair and shows up in Cambridge as Charlie Pietra. Fortunately, she doesn't have a roommate! (There are some difficulties with her relatively easy masquerade.) The friends she makes and her ambivalence in her role provide some of the highlights. A difficult situation at best--trying to conceal one's true identity and gender, form friendships, evade dangerous issues and situations, and deal with a growing romantic interest in one of friends. Also of interest is "Charlie's" role with the DiRisio's, another situation that creates internal conflict, but becomes Charlie/Adele first real source of family warmth and worth.

The book provides an interesting look at the Yale campus of the 1930's and some of the cultural norms and social topics of the time. Some of the topics are to be extrapolated from the time period and Charlie's work study program, some are gender issues, but through Adele's experiences, we get a view of an earlier time with issues unique to the period and issues that remain part of all human and societal experience.

Fiction. Historical? 2007. 310 pages.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I have two new reviews to write, but darn, it is difficult to find the time. Not that I don't find the time for other things. Right now, I'm staying busy with several things, including making some baby stuff for little Bryce who is due in December-- embellishing little onesies, making burp cloths, baby quilt in progress, hand quilting a WIP, playing with embroidery. Crafting and sewing and cleaning and cooking and laundry and ....

On a personal level, I'm trying to monitor my tendency to complain/whine/criticize. Which I wrote about here after finding the challenge. Complaining is an almost unnoticed habit, but the challenge makes me more aware.

I also want to share this:Found the above via Annica, who found it on Judy's blog, who found it on Keri's. An excerpt from the article "Writers & the War Against Nature, " published in the November Shambala Sun. Nice, huh?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Without a Map

Hall, Meredith. Without a Map: A Memoir. A review book (nonfiction) from Anna, this one sat around for a long time, buried under the various stacks. Hall's story is one of lost and found. All that she lost as a pregnant teenager in the 1960's, and all that she found as she gradually sorted out her life.

Hall writes beautifully and tells a tale that rarely happens in today's society. After getting pregnant at 16, she allowed her baby to be given away, and was cast out by her family. Her story is a series of memories (essays?) and moves not in chronological time, but back and forth through the years as she gathers her strength and her forgiveness.

I remember only two girls who got pregnant when I was in high school (and there were over 800 in my graduating class). I remember because the school allowed them to attend for only a short time before they had to go somewhere else to complete school. Where? I haven't thought about this in years, but remember being stunned that the girls 1) got pregnant and 2) were not allowed to attend school. There were probably a few other girls in the same situation, but at the time, teenage pregnancy was kept secretive. Even if parents were supportive, and Hall's were certainly not, there was a huge stigma and an attempt to keep things quiet.

Hall begins her story:

Even now, I talk too much and too loud, claiming ground, afraid that I will disappear from this life, too, from this time of being mother and teacher and friend. That It--everything I care about, that I believe in, that defines and reassures me-- will be wrenched from me again.

In her community, she says, everyone knew about husbands who cheated on their wives, parents who abused their children, men and women who were lazy and irresponsible and slovenly. All of these individuals were tolerated, but when she was 16, Hall found that family, church, and school all turned their backs on her. All of the people who had embraced her, who had praised and cared for her as a child shunned her.

Hall's family, her parents were divorced and her father had remarried at the time of her pregnancy, was dysfunctional. At the time, however, she didn't realize this, and their treatment came as a shock, a disillusionment, and an isolation almost overwhelming for a teenage girl.

In this memoir, Hall relates the journey through those years and the struggle to become a person in her own right, to regain a sense of worth, to overcome her grief. In her late 30's, Hall decides to go to college, and she graduates from Bowdoin College. She currently teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire.

Her story is one of attempting to understand the events that led from 1965 to the present. Without a Map is beautifully written and introspective. It is full of blame and redemption, penance and, finally, safe harbor. While I found the first half of the book very, very good, I think it went on too long and became repetitive. Her descriptions of the 1960's and 1970's are accurate and interesting, and I admire Hall's persistence in overcoming the damage incurred, but think the book would have been better served with some judicious editing. And frankly, although I can admire Hall's willingness to take in and care for her aged and ill parents (first her mother and later, her father), it is much more than I could have mustered for people who treated her so badly.

Nonfiction. Memoir. 2007. 220 pages.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Challenge Complete

Completed Carl's R.I.P. Challenge with 9 books read. Of course, I still have one in progress, but it will have to be a November book as I'm going to continue with a few more gothic or spooky books.

Here are the books I read for the challenge; some of which were on my original list and some of which were not:

Renfield: Slave of Dracula by Barbara Hambly
Homebody by Orson Scott Card
Rebel Angels by Libba Bray
The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Dissolution by C. J. Sansom

My favorites are highlighted. These three were far and away the most enjoyable reads.

Great fun once again, Carl! Thanks!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stack of TBR

Here are some of the library books I picked up the other day. There are several more - a couple by my bed and a couple by my chair. Currently, I have about 5 books that are in progress. The one that is actually getting my attention is Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stolen Magic

Putney, M.J. Stolen Magic. A book of romantic fantasy in which Guardians, those with magical powers, attempt to prevent rogue mages from misusing their powers. Simon Malmain is a hunter, a Guardian who hunts rogue mages and strips them of their powers. However, Simon underestimates Lord Drayton, who has been stealing magic from others and keeping them in thrall in order to use their magic to augment his power.

Simon's confrontation goes wrong when Drayton channels the power of one of his thralls and transforms Simon into a unicorn. Drayton intends to kill Simon and use the unique power of the unicorn's horn to defeat the Guardian's and change the world. Simon manages to escape, but is recaptured when he is irresistibly drawn to a virgin. Mad Meggie realizes that she has been used and later frees the unicorn and escapes with him. The battle to prevent Drayton's mad plan makes up the majority of the book.

Although the book reads very quickly, there are some areas that don't quite work. In Simon's original confrontation with Drayton, he says he has gathered sufficient evidence to confict him, but when the Guardian Council meets, the evidence is lacking, and Drayton is exonerated. If the evidence was available initially, why wasn't it produced at the trial? Another area that I found intrusive was the "steamy sex" -- not terribly graphic, but seemingly inserted to appeal to a particular audience. In my opinion, these scenes distracted from the story, coming as interruptions rather than integral parts of the story.

It was a light read in the midst of a couple of nonfiction works. An interesting concept, but not entirely satisfying. I enjoyed it as a quick, magical, frivolous relief from nonfiction, but it won't make my list of really great fantasy.

Fiction. Fantasy. 2005. 337 pages.