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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

Erin
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

Pictures

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:

Disobedience

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,
"LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES MORRISON'S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
LAST SEEN
WANDERING VAGUELY:
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN
TO THE END OF THE TOWN -
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!"

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)
J.J.
M.M.
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:
"You-must-never-go-down-to-the-end-of-the-town-
if-you-don't-go-down-with-ME!"

---------
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.


Drawing...

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
"A LITTLE TOUR THROUGH THE COUNTIES OF EAST ANGLIA,"
Cornhill Magazine, 1862

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