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Friday, December 30, 2011

Mind's Eye by Hakan Nesser

Mind's Eye , translated by Laurie Thompsonis the first  in the Inspector Van Veeteren series by Nesser; so now I've read three novels in this series.

When Janek Mitter awakens one morning with a serious hangover, he finds the bathroom door locked from the inside.  His wife doesn't answer, so Mitter uses a screwdriver to open the door and finds his wife drowned, face down, in the bathtub.

Although he vehemently denies having murdered his wife, Mitter has no memories after a certain point in the previous evening.  Van Veeteren thinks it is likely that Janek Mitter is guilty, but he admits that he isn't completely convinced.  Van Veeteren attends Mitter's trial, still vaguely bothered about the crime, and although Mitter is convicted and sentenced to a mental institution, Van Veeteren remains uneasy about the man's guilt.

When someone stays after visiting hours at the mental institution and murders Mitter, Van Veeteren enters the investigation with renewed determination.

Why was Eva Mitter murdered and what prompted the killer to wait so long to murder Janek Mitter, when he could have done so at the same time he killed Eva?  The answers lie in the past and Van Veeteren's only clue is a letter Janek Mitter wrote shortly before his death.

In order of their original publication (although not in order of English translations):

Mind's Eye
Borkman's Point
The Return
Woman with a Birthmark
The Inspector and Silence

I've read the titles in italics and look forward to reading Borkman's Point and The Inspector and Silence which have also been translated.

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery/Police Procedural.  orig. publ. 1993.  Eng. trans.  2008.  277 pages.

The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson

The Hand that Trembles is translated by Ebba Segerberg and features Swedish Inspector Ann Lindell.  I've read one other novel by Eriksson that features Lindell, The Princess of Burundi and didn't have any strong feelings one way or the other about it  (I read it in 2006).  I liked this one better.

The Hand that Trembles begins in 1956 with the relationship between the boy Sven-Arne Persson and his Uncle Ante who fought the fascists in Spain.  The relationship is unusually strong, but not always easy.

 As a middle-aged adult, Sven-Arne has become a county commissioner with the reputation of a man to watch for further political achievement.  Then one day, he walks out of a meeting and disappears.  The case remains unsolved, but no reason for suicide, kidnapping, or just abandoning his wife is uncovered.  Twelve years later, the son of a neighbor recognizes Sven-Arne in Bangladore, India.

Back in Sweden, Ann Lindell is disturbed that her mentor in the police department has become old and discouraged after surgery for a brain tumor.  She tries to interest him in the Sven-Arne case when the reports of his sighting in India become known.  Berglund remembers the case, but isn't terribly interested.  He decides to delve into one his own unsolved cases involving the murder of an old man in a wheel chair, a cold case that has continued to haunt him.

In the meantime, Lindell is assigned to an investigation involving the discovery of a severed foot in a lonely rural area where the few inhabitants know each other well, yet remain somewhat isolated from each other.  Her investigation meets a lack of response from the inhabitants, who deny knowing of any missing woman in the area.  The foot definitely belonged to a small woman, but how did it end up in this small rural community, who was she, and who killed her?

In the midst of the different investigations, Ann Lindell attempts to come to grips with her own life as a single mother, with her sense of abandonment by her mentor who is not recovering emotionally as quickly as she would like, and with some differences in views among her colleagues.

The various strands and investigations are eventually tied together or resolved separately according to the situation.  There are a quite a few threads to this novel, many involving the sense of separation and aloneness that the characters are experiencing.  Whether or not they are physically isolated, many of the characters are emotionally isolated in some way.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural/Crime.  2011.  310 pages.

I have one more Scandinavian author to review (Hakan Nesser's Mind's Eye), a mystery set in Iceland by an English author (Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath),  a historical English mystery (The Cuckoo's Child by Marjorie Eccles), and an ARC that I'm not sure how to classify (Me Before You by JoJo Moyes).  Then I'll be finished with this year's reviews!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson

Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson; translator: Laurie Thompson, who has translated Henning Mankell, Hakan Nesser, and Ake Edwardson.  Another Rebecka Martinsson mystery, Until Thy Wrath Be Past begins with seventeen-year-old Wilma describing the day she and Simon died.

Wilma's voice is so charming that I couldn't help but form an attachment to her character immediately.  Although the supernatural element could have presented a problem, Larsson manages to weave it into the story effortlessly, making it feel entirely appropriate and necessary.

Rebecka Martinsson, who has recovered from her last awful outing, has left her old firm and become District Prosecutor for Kiruna, the rural area where Martinsson grew up.   In a period of transition in both her work and her personal life, Martinsson finds herself resisting the pleas of her lover to return to Stockholm.  She knows she has choices to make, but she isn't ready to make them.

When Wilma's body is discovered, Wilma has the strength to move about and is no longer confined under the ice of the river in which she was found.  In keeping with her character, Wilma has plans for solving her murder.  This is never stated implicitly, but Wilma's behavior is obvious. She visits Martinsson in a dream and tells her that she didn't die in the river where she was found.

The next day when Martinsson is informed about the discovery of Wilma's body,  she visits the pathologist and "wonders" if Wilma actually died in the river.  A test of the water in the girl's lungs determines that Wilma died elsewhere and was moved to the river.

The characters are all three-dimensional and the novel has a psychological aspect that works easily in tandem with the supernatural element.  Familiar characters from previous novels appear and gain substance, and Larsson's portrayal of one of the bad guys creates a surprisingly well-developed character.

Another engrossing thematic thread is one that appears over and over again in Swedish crime fiction--the Swedish collaboration with the Germans during the war.  It appears in the work of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Asa Larsson, and others.  Sweden's conflicted/ambiguous position during the war appears to be an unresolved and pervasive issue in Swedish society.

The novel provides some unexpected turns.  Not surprising plot twists that leave you with your mouth open, but rather interesting developments that digress from a straight-line plot sequence.  I did have a quibble about a segment of the resolution, but found it easy to overlook.

Larsson's debut work Sun Storm (original title, The Savage Altar) received the Swedish Crime Writer's Association's prize for best debut novel.  The sequel, The Blood Spilt was chosen as Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004.  As with all Scandinavian crime fiction that I've read, there is a particular darkness to Larsson's work, but I enjoy them.

Originally, I had titled this post "Three Scandinavian Mysteries," but the review of Until Thy Wrath... became longer than intended (and still just skims the surface), so I'll review the others separately, too.

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery/Police procedural.  2011.  256 pages.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Revenger by Rory Clements

 Revenger  is a historical mystery set in the Elizabethan period.  The novel casts John Shakespeare (Will's older brother) as an "intelligencer" for Sir Francis Walsingham, the great spymaster who gathered intelligence both at home and abroad that might help protect and strengthen Queen Elizabeth's reign.  Walsingham's intelligencers provided information that helped prevent several domestic plots against the queen and also proved extremely useful in foreign diplomacy.

After the death of Walsingham, John Shakespeare retired from the game and now runs a school for boys.  Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex, recruits John to  locate a young woman who may be Elizabeth Dare from the vanished Roanoke Colony.  If it is Elizabeth, how did she survive the fate of the rest of the colonists and return to England?

Robert Cecil, who replaced Walsingham as Elizabeth's Secretary of State, then approaches John and requests that John keep a close eye on the Earl of Essex, who may have some dangerous plans of his own.  Cecil and Essex have a personal rivalry, but Cecil has specific suspicions regarding Essex's current activities.

The Catholic/Protestant divisions have a great deal to do with the uncertainty of the times, and Clements addresses the danger of being a Catholic or even having Catholic sympathies during Elizabeth's reign.  Clements also covers many other unpleasant elements of the period:  the double-dealing and intrigue, the use of torture, the violence, the poverty, and the political machinations.  While many of the situations are purely fiction, they give insight into Elizabethan political and social conventions.

Although the explanation about what happened to the Roanoke Colony and about the Earl of Essex's marriage plans are speculative fiction, the novel includes plenty of actual events.

Fiction.  Historical Fiction/Mystery.  2011.  448 pages.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

The Rose Garden  is both a time travel novel and chic lit.  As much as I love the idea of time travel, I find a lot of fantastical things --magic, fairies, and colonies in outer space-- much easier to accept.  For some reason, I always quibble with time travel.  Not when I read about the possibilities that quantum mechanics hypothesizes; I'm ready to entertain the real possibility, but I find fictional accounts impossible to reconcile.

I liked the setting and liked the characters (almost too many characters were very likable).  If the Cornish smugglers felt a little gentlemanly for their trade, that was OK, too.  And if so many romances worked out well, I can enjoy a few happy endings once in a while.

However, likable as some of the characters are, they felt like placeholders, and the romances were a bit conveniently coincidental. The time travel simply had too many discrepancies--or too few "logical" explanations.

Go ahead and make up a "logical" explanation for what causes the slippage, for the differences in the amount of time spent in past and present, for the arrival in a particular period or location--something more than the house being built on ley lines--and maybe I could suspend my disbelief.

I had no problem reading it, no place that I wanted to walk away without finishing, but neither was it a particularly memorable experience.

Fiction.  Chic Lit.  2011.  430 pages.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3 Mystery/Police Procedurals

A Restless Evil - Ann Granger - from Library Journal: "About 20 years ago, the woods at Lower Story were frequented by a still uncaught serial rapist. Now, shortly after a hiker discovers skeletal remains in the woods, a female churchwarden meets her untimely end in the local church: could the two events be connected? Supt. Alan Markby (Shades of Murder) thinks so, especially since he failed to find a perpetrator in the earlier case. With assistance from lover Meredith, he delves into the rumors and facts surrounding both cases, hoping for a break. This is a rock-solid British village procedural, complete with detailed setting, slightly degenerate denizens, and ongoing personal conflicts. "

Not bad.  I enjoyed it enough to be interested in other Mitchell & Markby mysteries, especially since other reviewers indicate that this is not the best in the series.  If A Restless Evil kept me interested and it wasn't the best, then maybe I'll enjoy others in the series, too.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  300 pages.  2002.

Among the Departed - Vicki Delany.  A constable Molly Smith novel.  When bones are discovered in a wilderness hiking area, an old missing persons case comes back into play.  As it turns out, the bones belong to the father of one Molly's childhood friends.  Brian Nowak's  disappearance fifteen years earlier has left the Nowak family weird and dysfunctional.  Many had written Brian's disappearance off as an escape from his wife, but the bones prove otherwise.

 Nicky Nowak returns home for the funeral, and the small town of Trafalgar, BC must look again at a disappearance that is now classified as a murder.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  277 pages.  2011.

Woman with a Birthmark - Hakan Nesser.  This is the second Inspector Van Veeteren mystery that I've read; only four of his 20 Van Veeteren novels have been translated into English.  I read The Return earlier this year and plan to read all English translations in the series.  

Hmmm.  Just discovered that there are several films based on Nesser's books.  Will be adding to Netflix que.

If you enjoy Scandanavian crime fiction, do give this series a try.  Woman with a Birthmark finds Van Veeteren and his crew confronted with a strange murder and no indication of a motive.  Then another similar murder, and Van Veeteren, Reinhart, and the other detectives begin searching for any connection between the two men.  And then another murder....

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  1996.  Trans. 2009.  336 pages.

Two to Skip

Brainrush - Richard Bard - a 99 cent Kindle read.  Product description:  "When terminally ill combat pilot Jake Bronson emerges from an MRI with extraordinary cognitive powers, everyone wants a piece of his talent--including Battista, one of the world's most dangerous terrorists.  To save his love and her autistic child, Jake is thrust into a deadly chase that leads from the canals of Venice through Monte Carlo and finally to an ancient cavern in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan--where Jake discovers that his newfound talents carry a hidden price that threatens the entire human race.

An original weave of current events bound by colorful locations and cutting-edge technology, Bard's novel is a must-read for fans of Michael Crichton, James Rollins, Clive Cussler, and Brad Thor. A dynamic mix of fast-paced action and thought provoking soul, this book challenges the reader to keep pace with every sharp turn and shocking twist. Acclaimed by fans of action, sci-fi, and political thrillers alike, Brainrush is one of the most innovative and entertaining books of the year."

Started out fine, but quickly went downhill.  It has gotten great reviews and was OK for the price (almost free), but the characters had no depth and were sterotypical, the plot was too fantastic and too wide-ranging--from newly discovered brain capabilities to international terrorists to love story.  Oh, yeah, a deeply moving love story based on a few hours acquaintance.  And by the way, the product review mentions the love interest's autistic child, but she has no children.  There are autistic children being experimented on, however, to turn them into terrorists.  blah.

A Dozen Deadly Roses -- Kathy Bennett.  Another 99 cent Kindle.  Oh, when will I learn!  Another superficial and silly disappointment.  Product Description: "Los Angeles Police Officer Jade Donovan is being hunted. There’s the lieutenant who’s out to get her, the psycho who’s stalking her and leaving dead roses at her door, but most frightening of all, she’s been assigned to partner with her son’s father, Mac Stryker. Mac doesn’t know he’s Donnie’s dad, and Jade will stop at nothing to prevent him from finding out and possibly taking away her son. She will protect and defend him at all costs."

Although, once again, the majority of the reviews are positive, read the 2 star reviews to get a better idea of content.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia's Convict Women by Deborah J. Swiss

The Tin Ticket is an enthralling examination of the lives of women convicts who were sentenced to deportation to Van Dieman's Land (modern Tasmania) and who, along with the many male convicts, became part of the founding generations of Australia.

The book focuses on four women convicted of minor crimes and sentenced first to the horrors of Newgate prison (Ludlow Tetter's young daughter accompanied her to prison and to Van Dieman's Land), then to the four month sea journey in disgusting conditions, to arrive in Van Dieman's land and be incarcerated in the House of Corrections where they endured hard labor and shocking abuses.

The treatment of the poor in general and poor women and children in particular, the ways in which they were exploited and mistreated may come as a surprise even to Australians who are well aware of the convict past that helped populate the land.  What passed for justice in the UK was often a way to remove the poor from their doorstep and deposit them where slave labor was needed.  "Under the Transportation Act of 1718, 162,000 women, men and children were exiled to Australia from 1788 to 1868."  At least 25,000 exiles were women.

The sentences were generally for seven years.  Seven years of hard labour, mistreatment, sexual abuse, separation from their children, and more, for crimes of petty theft or forgery.  Stealing a loaf of bread to feed one's children could easily mean not only imprisonment, but exile.

My only complaint is the way the author tries to "novelize" certain segments, but her research is thorough and well-documented, the book is informative and fascinating, and the ultimate triumph that many of these women achieved is amazing given the circumstances.

The following video shows some interviews with descendants of some of the women.

This book is another book that I read during October/November and am just now getting around to reviewing.

The Tin Ticket was an ARC from Jocelyn Kelley of Kelley and Hall.  Thank you very much for the opportunity to read this book.  

Nonfiction.  History.  2011. 352 pages.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Affair by Lee Child

The Affair is the latest in Child's Jack Reacher series.  I read this back in October or November, and as anyone who reads this blog knows, Jack Reacher is one of my favorite characters.  Lee Child writes great action-packed adventure and never fails to keep me wanting more Jack Reacher.

The Affair flashes back to Reacher's days as an elite MP and gives insight into the reasons Reacher leaves the military and begins his Paladin-like career as a wanderer.  Sent undercover to find out who murdered a young woman and to do damage control if necessary, Reacher ends up in a small Mississippi town near an army base.  Looking into the current murder, he discovers that it wasn't actually the first by this killer  (how the authorities  fail to connect murders of young women in a fairly short period of time in a small town seems a leetle bit incompetent, but there you go).  Yes, there are certainly elements that recur from book to book and no, the plots aren't always plausible, and yet Lee Child continues to captivate his audience.

This was not my favorite by any means, but it was still a page-turner.

Fiction.  Action/Adventure/Mystery/Suspense.  2011.  416 pages.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hey girl.

I fell in love with the Handmade Ryan Gosling site only to discover that there is also a Literary Ryan Gosling site and a Librarian Ryan Gosling site!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Veil of Lies by Jerry Westerson (Merely Mystery Challenge)

Veil of Lies is a medieval mystery set in the same period as Cassandra Clark's Sister Hildegard series (The Red Velvet Turnshoe, Hangman Blind, The Law of Angels).  In 1383, Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight, stripped of rank, lands, and possessions after being implicated in a plot against Richard II.  His mentor, John of Gaunt, managed to save his life, but for political reasons abandons Guest to his fate.

Guest has established himself as a man who finds things and has earned the title "The Tracker," but his skills just barely keep him in food and lodging.  In this debut novel, Guest has been hired by a wealthy merchant, but before he could report back, the merchant is found murdered in a locked room.

For various reasons, Guest pursues this new conundrum and finds puzzle after puzzle to pursue.  Crispin Guest is full of flaws and is having serious difficulties connecting with individuals who are so far below his previous rank.  His previous friends (including John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and Geoffrey Chaucer) are no longer available to him because of his connection to the treasonous plot against the king.  Associating with them would put them in danger.

Chaucer is actually a mere mention, but I have hopes that his character will become more important in the next two novels in this series.

I enjoyed the mystery, and even if I have some criticisms, I look forward to the next one in the series.

First in the Merely Mystery Challenge.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2009.  288 pages.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Merely Mystery

A mystery challenge at Musings of a Bookish Kitty  is right up my alley.  Find out more about the Merely Mystery Reading Challenge 2012.  Check it out and join in!

I love all kinds of mysteries, and this challenge will be a great excuse to indulge myself.  Not that I wouldn't be reading mysteries anyway, but it sounds better if there is a reading challenge to give it gravitas.

Monday, December 05, 2011

5 More Catch-up Reviews

I have gotten so far behind on reviews that using product descriptions, etc. and grouping them together seems the only way to get back on track.

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen was a Kindle bargain buy.

from Booklist:  When Olivia Keene arrives home to find her father strangling her mother, she picks up the nearest blunt object and bashes him on the head. Fearing that she will be charged with murder, Olivia, with her mother’s help, flees. While en route to a potential position with an old friend of her mother’s, Olivia finds herself caught up in a series of dangerous adventures culminating in her arrival at Brightwell Court, where she accidentally eavesdrops on a conversation between Lord Edward Stanton Bradley and his father, the Earl. Realizing that the information the now speechless Olivia unknowingly possesses could ruin him, Edward insists that she accept a position in his family’s nursery, never expecting that the silent new governess might be his one hope of salvation. Klassen expertly infuses her Regency-set inspirational tale with a gothic atmosphere, resulting in a sweetly intriguing romance worthy of Victoria Holt. --John Charles

My opinon:  :)  I have to say that I enjoyed this romance.  It was a fun read.

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch was another Kindle bargain read.

from Publisher's Weekly:  Set in England in 1865, Finch's impressive debut introduces an appealing gentleman sleuth, Charles Lenox. When Lady Jane Grey's former servant, Prue Smith, dies in an apparent suicide-by-poisoning, Lady Jane asks Lenox, her closest friend, to investigate. The attractive young maid had been working in the London house of George Barnard, the current director of the Royal Mint. Lenox quickly determines that Smith's death was a homicide, but both Barnard and Scotland Yard resist that conclusion, forcing him to work discreetly. Aided by his Bunter-like butler and friend, Graham, the detective soon identifies a main suspect, only to have that theory shattered by that man's murder. Finch laces his writing with some Wodehousian touches and devises a solution intricate enough to fool most readers. Lovers of quality historical whodunits will hope this is the first in a series. (June) 

My opinion: Yep!  I liked this one, too. I will look for more in this series.  Light, but entertaining.

The Sunday Philosophy Club  -Alexander McCall Smith-

Amazon description:  Introducing Isabel Dalhousie the heroine of the latest bestselling series from the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Isabel, the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and an occasional detective, has been accused of getting involved in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business. In this first installment, Isabel is attending a concert in the Usher Hall when she witnesses a man fall from the upper balcony. Isabel can’t help wondering whether it was the result of mischance or mischief. Against the best advice of her no-nonsense housekeeper Grace, her bassoon playing friend Jamie, and even her romantically challenged niece Cat, she is morally bound to solve this case. Complete with wonderful Edinburgh atmosphere and characters straight out of a Robert Burns poem, The Sunday Philosophy Club is a delightful treat from one of our most beloved authors.

My opinion:  I did NOT find it a delightful treat. I found it annoying and am surprised it didn't go into the DNF file, but I hung in there until the bitter end.

No Trace  by Barry Maitland-- a  Brock and Kolla mystery.

Amazon description:    Cited as one of the top ten crime novels of 2006 (Kirkus Reviews), No Trace is the finest novel yet by one of best crime novelists of our time.
In a London neighborhood known for its artists and bohemian style, six year old Tracey Rudd is abducted from her home without any warning, or sign of violence. She is the third child abucted under similar circumstances in recent weeks. But this case is different. She is the daughter of notorious contemporary artist Gabriel Rudd, best known for the grotesque "Dead Puppies," a work centered around his wife's suicide five years earlier. While Rudd exploits Tracey's abduction as an inspiration for a major new work in his upcoming exhibit, D.C.I. David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla hunt for the missing girls' kidnapper, who is suspiciously connected to the eccentric community of artists, dealers, and collectors in the neighborhood.

My opinion:  Some very tense moments in this one.  I'll be giving another one in the series a try.

Silent Mercy by Linda Fairstein is an Alexandra Cooper novel.

Publishers Weekly:

In Fairstein's exciting 13th novel to feature New York ADA Alexandra Cooper (after Hell Gate), a middle of the night call brings Alex and NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace to Harlem, where the decapitated body of a young woman has been burning on the steps of the Mount Neboh Baptist Church, originally a synagogue until the neighborhood changed. Initially, the authorities suspect a hate crime until another dead woman turns up at a cathedral in Little Italy a few days later. A religious motive emerges, especially since both victims were considered "outcasts" because of their uncompromising demands about the role of women in organized religion. Meanwhile, Alex is prosecuting a defrocked Catholic priest accused of molesting boys, a high-profile trial that a politically connected bishop wants stopped. Fairstein excels at describing New York's complicated religious history as well as the vagaries of the city's legal and religious politics. 12-city author tour. 

My opinion:  I usually enjoy Fairstein's novels and this one was no exception.  I always like the historical information about New York that she includes.

OK, I'm making headway on reviews.  Trying to catch up on some blog reading, too.  

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sewing, Dyeing, Surface Design

For the last month, I've done a lot less reading of fiction because I've been busy with the following books and with dyeing fabric, embroidering, and doll-making.

I've still got several fiction books to review, but I'm grouping all of these non-fiction books together as they easily fit into one broad category.  Many of them I read in August and September.

Sew Wild - Alisa Burke - Various techniques of painting, stamping, stenciling, and other surface design techniques for fabric.  Not exactly my style and nothing really new, but informative, and I can adapt some of the techniques for some projects.

Create with Transfer Artist Paper - Lesley Riley - I still haven't tried this, but am eager to.  I have some of Riley's transfer paper and plan to use it in some of my projects, but have been too busy with the eco dyeing and eco printing.

Stitch Alchemy - Kelly Perkins - More surface design techniques.  As with the previous two, I've read them and intend to use them, but haven't yet.

Plaster Studio - Stephanie Lee, Judy Wise - Using plaster in mixed media projects.  I really like this book, and it will be useful when I get around to actually trying the techniques.

The Art of Manipulating Fabric - Colette Wolf - I didn't find this one particularly useful, but it will be a good reference.

Three-Dimensional Embroidery - Janet Edmonds - not exactly what I wanted.  Not useful for me, although certainly might be for others.

Hand Dyeing Yarn & Fleece - Gail Callahan - a good dyeing reference, although right now I'm interesting in eco dyeing, rather than synthetic dyes.

The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing - J.N. Niles - haven't actually finished this one, but the dyes in this one call for some mordants that are toxic, and I don't want to fool with disposal.  Some dye recipes might be useful, though, if I use other mordants.

And My Favorites:

**Eco Colour - India Flint - I've had this since the summer, have read it twice all the way through, and consult it frequently.  India Flint is an inspiring resource for eco dyeing and printing.

**The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes - Sasha Duerr - Another inspiring book on natural or eco dyeing.  Very useful.

Some dyed with acorn dye, some with a leaf mixture dye, and some with cranberry.  Also some leaf prints from bundling and steaming.  Fabrics:  some habotai silk, some muslin, some flour sacking.

Habotai silk embroidered, gathered, twisted.

Several dolls in progress.

More progress.

Friday, November 04, 2011

As a Mystery Lover

I am interested in this book:

The First DetectiveJames Morton
The First Detective: The Life and Revolutionary Times of Vidocq: Criminal, Spy, and Private Eye (2004; Overlook Press 2011) is an entertaining biography of the inspiration for both Gaboriau's Lecoq and Poe's Dupin. Eugene-François Vidocq (1775-1857) led an amazingly complicated life. His adventurous "career" began with ripping off his parents and going on the lam, although his mother repeatedly bailed him out and followed him around France. Vidocq enlisted in the French army at an early age, where he engaged in many a fencing duel before deserting. His military career was typified by repeated enlistments and desertions. Frequently imprisoned, he demonstrated his innate abilities by quickly adapting to the prison power structure, while also acting as a snitch. Vidocq was also a talented escape artist; when the authorities managed to catch him, they had a difficult time holding onto him. When Vidocq tried to go straight, he had to fend off his former associates, but also found jobs for many of them as police or private detectives. Ultimately, his fame rests on his dual role as founder of the Brigade de Sûreté (undercover police detective force) in 1811 and as creator of the first private detective agency (Bureau des Renseignements) in 1833, as well as inspiring Poe, Gaboriau, and other authors. His 1827 ghost-written autobiography and other memoirs are unreliable, but Morton has sorted through the historical records and provides a densely detailed account, with interesting asides reminding us of the wild and crazy criminality and chaos of Vidocq's time. Footnotes abound in this relatively brief and highly readable biography.  (via SYKM newsletter)

And as a Historical Mystery lover, I was saddened to learn that there will be no more in The Mistress of the Art of Death series featuring Adelia Aguilar.

Ariana Franklin's (Diana Norman)  obituary.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Law of Angels by Cassandra Clark

The Law of Angels  is the third book I've read in this medieval mystery series, and Cassandra Clark has created another vivid view of the events of 1385.  Tying together the strands of her story with the historical events, Clark manages to involve the reader in the life of Sister Hildegaard as she attempts to protect two young charges from the danger that threatens them , and at the same time, give insight into the political issues of the time.

Historical novels always intrigue me because I love reading about what might have happened to individuals in the midst of another historical era. Cassandra Clark's Sister Hildegaard series provides interesting mysteries and characters that continue to develop as they  face the difficulties of the 14th century--the personal (even if fictitious) touch.  Some elements  that interested me concerned the Miracle or Mystery Plays of the time, Wycliff's Bible, the papal schism, and of course, there are still the after-effects of Wat Tyler's murder and the John of Gaunt/ Richard II political turmoil.

Thumbs up.

Other Reviews/opinions:  Genre Go Round, anyone else?

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2011.  368 pages.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Dead Man's Tale by James D. Doss

A Dead Man's Tale is one of the strangest mysteries I've read.  It is part of a series that I'd never heard of, but will investigate again.

Charlie Moon (all seven feet of him) is a Ute rancher whose household includes his eccentric Aunt Daisy Perika (also a Ute Indian, shaman, and possibly, a witch).  On a normal, run-of-the-mill day, "...Daisy would commit a fresh outrage sufficient to shock a deranged Nazi storm trooper."  An outrageous old woman, Daisy insinuates her way into quite a few things she shouldn't.  She also has an occasional visit from a raucous crow who might be the deceased Debra Darkwing, an old friend.

The plot centers on millionaire Samuel Reed's remembering of a future (?) that entails his own murder.  This unusual ability may have a lot to do with his success on Wall Street.  Samuel gives Charlie Moon and Moon's best friend Police Chief Scott Parrish the date and time of his murder and makes a wager that the two can't keep him alive.  It is a bet that Samuel Reed wants to lose.

It takes a little while to adjust to the manner in which the tale is told.  Doss sometimes goes over the top, but overall, I really enjoyed the bizarre and unorthodox story, the quirky characters, and the wisecracking.

Recently, I read Nymeth's post On Ambivalence (something I often feel about a book), and this novel fits that description.  Doss may go a bit too far at times, but there was plenty that kept me involved and amused, and Aunt Daisy is worth disregarding any flaws.

Other Opinions:  The Cataloger's Reading List,  Murder by Type, My Favorite Mystery  

Fiction.  Mystery.   2010.  296 pages.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Graham-Smith (R.I.P)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  is another book that I hoped to like, but instead found tiresome. It isn't that I dislike mash-ups.  I do like them--or some of them.  Last year I read Shakespeare Undead for the R.I.P. challenge and found it great fun.

I love Jane Austen and P & P in particular.  I've re-read the novel many times, and it has never failed to make me chuckle and to marvel at Austen's insight into human nature.

I like zombies.  Serious and scary zombies and zombie parodies, both.   Loved seeing How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse (a zombie boot camp) when we were in Edinburgh.

So...what went wrong (for me) with P & P & Z?

1.  Elizabeth in P & P & Z is NOT the witty Elizabeth Bennett of the original.  E. B. in this pastiche is simply unpleasantly blood-thirsty and offensive.  The humor concerning the zombies is forced and crude compared to Austen's sophisticated satire.

2.  The zombies are a gimmick.  In spite of the frequent zombie attacks, they are not frightening.  Or maybe I just wanted the zombies to go ahead and eat the brains of all of the characters--the entire clans Bennet, Darcy, Collins, Bingley, etc.) --preferably in the first chapter.

3.  I read the whole damn thing.  It took forever, and I probably read 5 or 6 other books during the same period.  Finishing the book is not a feat of which I'm proud.  I kept hoping that it would really engage, and when it didn't, I plowed ahead anyway.  Masochistic.

My last book for the R.I.P. challenge.

Fiction.  Mashup/Pastiche/Parody/Supernatural.  2009.  317 pages.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian (R.I.P.)

The Night Stranger promised to be thrilling and suspenseful, and at times it was.  It really was a good choice for an R.I.P. read; I just wish I'd liked it better.

It draws some characteristics from several hallmark novels of witches, paranormal, and frightening books, but I was mostly reminded of Rosemary's Baby, a genuine classic in paranormal suspense.  The Night Strangers does not come close.

Although the suspense  (that vague, unspecified threat) hangs in the air from the beginning, there are portions that are very slow, especially those dealing with Captain Chip Linton's disastrous final flight.  Aftert the first third of the book, the suspense has lost its impact.

I found the second person voice of Chip Linton annoying.  Not just the use of second person, but the voice itself was annoying.  The family's complete and utter failure to have a normal reaction to their new "friends" in the small town gave me the willies.  The attempt to justify their lack of perception by bringing up Chip's trauma and survivor's guilt (over and over) didn't work for me.  Chip and his wife were almost scarier to me than the "herbalists" (with an unhealthy interest in the couple's twin daughters) that befriend them .

A great deal of time is spent on the old house the couple buys, and its oddities, but truthfully, except for the door in the basement, none of the other oddities have any purpose or genuine connection to the story.  It is as if the author couldn't decide who or what was the real threat in the novel.

I've put off reviewing this because I was so disappointed in it, but one more detail (Spoiler Alert!!!) -- nobody in town noticed that some of the individuals didn't age.  I was OK with this for a while, but when at the end, it was revealed that some of the characters were over 100...I just threw up my hands.

Other Opinions:    Night Light Reviews (loved it), The Bookish Librarian (loved it), Whimpulsive (liked it),
Scott William Foley (finally someone who had similar thoughts!), and Fancy Terrible (again, similar opinion to mine)

I had a hard time finding anyone who shared my opinion.  Most of the reviews were extremely positive.

Fiction.  Supernatural.  2011.  400 pages.

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

The Girl on the Cliff  was an ARC.  It will be available in the Kindle addition on Amazon as of Oct. 27.  (Since I'm just now getting around to posting this, I realize that is today!)  The copy I received is a paper back.

Product description:  Why has a secret from 1914 caused a century of heartache?Troubled by recent loss, Grania Ryan has returned to Ireland and the arms of her loving family. And it is here, on a cliff edge, that she first meets a young girl, Aurora, who will profoundly change her life. Mysteriously drawn to Aurora, Grania discovers that the histories of their families are strangely and deeply entwined . . .From a bittersweet romance in wartime London to a troubled relationship in contemporary New York, from devotion to a foundling child to forgotten memories of a lost brother, the Ryans and the Lisles, past and present, have been entangled for a century. Ultimately, it will be Aurora whose intuition and remarkable spirit help break the spell and unlock the chains of the past.Haunting, uplifting and deeply moving, Aurora's story tells of the triumph of hope over loss.

It really wasn't my kind of book; although there were many parts that kept me interested,  I had a critical voice in my head throughout.  The secret that goes back to 1914 isn't revealed until almost the end of the book.  

The voice at the beginning was my first problem.  Then each time I felt myself sort of entering into the story, something would throw me off.  The conclusion bothered me as well.

Other Opinions:  The Book Jotter (she loved it), Curtis Brown (loved it),

Just so you know that my opinion is always questionable, the two reviews I found were overwhelmingly positive.  What about you?  Have you read it?

Fiction.  Romance?  2011.  560 pages.

Monday, October 24, 2011

All Hallow's Read

Neil Gaiman promotes a new tradition:  The All Hallow's Read.  Give someone a scary book!

I really must review my recent R.I.P. Reads.

Catching up is hard to do.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neil R.I.P.

Mist Over Pendle was an excellent choice for the R.I.P. Challenge.

Squire Roger Nowell is summoned to investigate a death and takes his new charge, niece Margery,  with him.  A complication arises when it turns out that three women reputed to be witches were involved in a confrontation with the dead man.  Richard Baldwin, a Puritan, believes strongly that the women are witches and must be punished accordingly.  Squire Nowell, however, requires proof and refuses to use torture to elicit a confession.

Because of political and religious alliances, most people have to be careful of what they say.  King James I believed in witches and had been persecuting them even before he became England's king, but there did exist some legal qualifications to be met.  Depending on one's beliefs these qualifications could be easily overcome; Roger Nowell insisted that the qualifications be met.  Catholics were also frequently persecuted and priests, when discovered, executed.  Punishments were often cruel and unjustified; the novel is set in turbulent times.

There are several other curious and threatening situations involving the Demdyke and Device women, and perhaps, a connection to the wife of a well-to-do local man.  Alice Nutter appears charming and good-hearted to most of her neighbors, but she chills Margery.

The first few pages are a bit slow, as they establish the Puritan outlook of so many individuals of the period, but after Margery joins her cousin Roger Nowell in Pendle, the story picks up immediately.

The characters are well-drawn, the relationships between the various characters are interesting, details of the time period are incorporated smoothly, and the dialogue is well done, with enough of the archaic to give atmosphere, yet not difficult to read.  The question of whether or not  real witches at work or simply evil-tempered, bitter old women, who are too vocal, continues to build throughout.  There is no doubt that the women are hateful and that they perhaps believe in their abilities to cause harm, but can they actually do so?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as fiction.  When I discovered that it was based on actual events, it gave me pause.  Taken strictly as fiction, Mist Over Pendle is a fine book and a great read for R.I.P.

The Rivendale Review - some lovely and haunting photographs of Pendle Hill and the surrounding countryside

Other reviews:  What Kate's Reading,

Fiction.  Supernatural/Mystery/Historical Fiction.  re-published 2011.  416 pages.

Midnight Magic and Twilight Magic by Shari Anton

Midnight Magic and Twilight Magic are the first two in a trilogy by Anton.

About Midnight Magic from Booklist:  Gwendolyn de Leon had no choice but to surrender Camelen Castle to Alberic of Chester. Gwendolyn's father and brother, supporters of Queen Maud, had been killed in battle by Alberic, who had been given Camelen as reward by King Stephen. Fortunately, Gwendolyn has one hope for not only reclaiming what her family has lost, but also of ending the bloody civil war that is ruining England. For centuries, one de Leon woman in each generation has held the key to a powerful spell that, if invoked, would recall King Arthur from Avalon. The only problem is that she needs the de Leon ring, which now belongs to Alberic. Gwendolyn will do anything to get the ring back, but she never imagined she would fall in love with the enemy. A sharp-tongued heroine clashes romantically with an honorable warrior in Anton's latest entrancing medieval historical, in which the author expertly adds a hint of magic to a powerfully passionate love story. John Charles

Twilight Magic from Booklist: Lady Emma de Leon simply could not let an innocent man be executed, especially when one of Emma's visions foretold that one day he would be her lover. So, when Darian of Bruges is charged with the murder of Edward de Salis, Emma swears to King Stephen and his court that Darian could not have committed the crime, since he was with her the entire night. As the daughter of a traitor, Emma's reputation is already tattered beyond repair, but she never thought that, as the result of her announcement, King Stephen would force Darian to wed her. The last thing either Emma or Darian wants is to remain married, but the idea of an annulment becomes much less appealing the longer the two remain wed. Anton adds a generous measure of danger and intrigue--along with a sprinkling of magic--to her latest expertly crafted, utterly beguiling medieval romance, the second in her de Leon sisters trilogy. John Charles

I also didn't initially realize that these were romance novels; from the titles,  I was kind of thinking "witchy" --which would have made them good choices for R.I.P.

They really didn't turn out to be good R.I.P. choices, however; not much magic and nothing really witchy going on.

They are nice little historic and romance YA novels.   Quick reads.

Fiction.  Historical Romance/ YA.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This and That

Sam posted  about public bookshelves in Germany and Portugal.  What a great idea.

Still working on the books for the R.I.P. Challenge.  Not as much success this year, but I have finished two more books that I need to review:  The Night Strangers and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Some of this year's Halloween crafting:

Black cat sculpted from air drying clay and standing on an old rusted grater.
Terracotta pot with Mod Podged napkins, a pumpkin poppet made last year, a bat from Michael's, and fall foliage from Michael's.

 Fabric flowers and another black cat head that never got a body.

Bitter and Boo--cloth and clay dolls and fabric and burlap pumpkins.
Rag garland ( just strips torn from Halloween fabrics) with skeletons from Michael's.

I love Halloween!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Murder on Sister's Row by Victoria Thompson

Murder on Sister's Row is a Gaslight Mystery with 13 titles and featuring Sarah Brandt, a midwife, and Sgt. Frank Malloy.  The setting is 19th c. New York.  This is the first one I've read: I pulled it from the new book shelf at the library.

Sarah Brandt has been summoned to deliver a baby at what she first assumes to be a private home, then believes to be a rooming house for young ladies, and finally realizes is an upscale brothel.  The mother manages to confide in Sarah that she wants to leave, but that leaving is dangerous, so she prevails on Sarah to take a message to a wealthy society woman who helps women escape from prostitution.

Sarah does deliver the message and ends up becoming slightly involved with the attempt to rescue the young woman and her baby.  The "slightly" comes back to bite her, and just as the house was not what it originally seemed, many of the characters, including the young mother are not what they seem.

The writing and dialogue at the beginning was simplistic, but did improve.   The characters are a little thin--especially Sgt. Malloy whose role is definitely limited.

About a C in a grading scale.  I didn't  mind reading it, but it wasn't terribly involving.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2011.  289 pages.

www:wonder by Robert J. Sawyer

www: wonder is the final installation in this trilogy about Caitlin Decter, Webmind, and the spontaneous emergence of a consciousness or artificial intelligence.

The U.S. government continues to seek a way to shut down Webmind, but Webmind has his own friends and allies who do their best to prevent this from happening.  

Although I enjoyed this installment, I wasn't as pleased as I was with the first two in the series, www:wake and www:watch.  Some of Caitlin's  choices seem out of character (as presented in the first two volumes) and more for the purpose of getting across some of Sawyer'spersonal opinions.  The usually logical and immensely intelligent Caitlin becomes more of a dodgy teenager more suitable for an entirely different kind of novel.  Sawyer has some issues he wants to discuss, and Caitlin becomes more a tool for bringing those issues to the forefront and less an genuinely evolving, maturing adolescent.

Another part that bothered me was the "Other."  There are some serious and frightening implications here that seem to be brought up and dismissed without consequence.

Nevertheless, although it is difficult to discuss this novel without spoilers, the third and final volume wraps up series pretty effectively.  The trilogy contains a mixture of genuine science and speculative science, real people and fictional characters, and presents quite a few ethical and philosophical dilemmas.  It is at times thought-provoking and at times didactic.

Good science fiction takes scientific advances and imagines what might be a next step and/ or how the advances will affect both individuals and society.  The www series certainly does this.

I do recommend the trilogy in its entirety, despite having a favorite volume.  Aside from the story line, the history of the web and its creators and the sidelines on autism and on primate intelligence and communication are fascinating.

Fiction.    Futuristic/ Science Fiction/ Ya.  2011.  352 pages.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a book for young readers at the upper elementary to middle school levels.  It offers some unusual and endearing characters, suspense, and a criminal mastermind.

Reynie Muldoon lives in an orphanage  when he sees an add in the paper reading, "Are you a gifted child looking for Special Opportunities?"  Reynie has never really fit in at the orphanage and decides to show up for the exams.  The exams are certainly unusual, but finally Reynie and three other children are the only ones who have made it through all of the exams.

Reynie, Kate Weatherhill, Sticky Washington, and Constance Contraire are introduced to the unusual Mr. Benedict who informs them that, if they choose, they may take part in an important and dangerous mission to save the world.  The four all agree to the challenge, form The Mysterious Benedict Society, and prepare to infiltrate The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened.

Our heroes must employ the unique skills they possess and must work together to defeat the insidious Mr. Curtain who plans to take over the world.

An excellent book for the target age group, The Mysterious Benedict Society would be a great read aloud book for both parents and children.  It provides good fun and adventure, and there are more:  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Other Reviews:  Framed and Booked, Remarkable Reads, Madigan Reads

Fiction.  Adventure.  2007.  486 pages.

Murder at Beechlands by Maureen Sarsfield

Murder at Beechlands didn't do too much for me--even though I love the cover.  It took me forever to read it, and I must have read 3 or 4 books in between beginning and finishing this one.

I left it at the table outside where I often sit and read, but it dragged.  And dragged. Still, I wanted to know who did it, so I read other books, but kept going back and spending a little time with this one.

Here is the synopsis form Powell's Books:

Inspector Lane Parry of Scotland Yard finds himself on a busman's holiday when he forced to take refuge from a heavy snowstorm in a country hotel while traveling in Sussex in January 1948. At first, he mistakes the guests for inmates in a lunatic asylum until the body of Wing Commander Lawton (Lawty) Lawrence is found in the snow. First pubished in 1948 in the U.K. as A Party for None and in the U.S. as A Party for Lawty. It is the second book of the Parry duet. The first, Murder at Shots Hall, is also available from TheRue Morgue Press.

Fiction.  Country House Mystery.  Original publ. date, 1948.  187 pages.