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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Girl with No Shadow

Harris, Joanne. The Girl with No Shadow. Did you enjoy Chocolat? This novel is the sequel and carries on with the lives of Vianne and Anouk. Chocolat is one of the rare instances in which I preferred the film to the novel, but I very much enjoyed The Girl with No Shadow which, admittedly, has some serious differences from its predecessor.

The story is told from multiple points of view and is, therefore, a bit confusing each time the narrator switches because the voices are not much different and the commentary is usually about the same events, regardless of narrator. I found it a minor inconvenience and, perhaps, a deliberate one as there are certain elements in common with each narrator that Harris might have wanted to emphasize. One of the elements, of course, is magic. Vianne is not currently indulging in magic, Anouk isn't sure if magic is real or if certain events are "accidents," and Zozie uses magic with the selfish abandon.

Fairy tale elements are obvious throughout, but not in the same way as in Chocolat -- this story is magic vs magic.

This ARC was a surprise, as I was unaware that Harris was working on a sequel.

Fiction. Magic & Mystery. 2008.

Another review: Les' Book Nook

The Fault Tree

Ure, Louise. The Fault Tree.

6 words synopsis: Can blind mechanic save the day?

Blinded in an auto accident 8 years ago, Cadence Moran has succeeded as an auto mechanic by means of touch and engine sound. Walking home one evening, she hears a cry and then is almost run down by a car. The bad guys, unaware that Cadence is blind, are afraid she will be able to identify them and proceed accordingly. I went along quite willingly until the end, at which point, things went a bit overboard. I believe in both the realm of possibility and in the realm of probability, but wish the author had stayed in the second realm for the conclusion.


Fiction. Mystery. 2007. 336 pages.

The Pandora Prescription

Sheridan, James. The Pandora Prescription.

6 word synopsis: Paranoid conspiracy theories. Science mumbo-jumbo.

Lots of misdirection and sudden changes in direction. The chase would have been better if the premise had been more realistic. Interesting comments about the Kennedy assassination. Goofy/bright/vulnerable protagonist, but even he never quite materializes as an integrated personality, more like a composite of parts.

Fiction. Suspense/mystery/thriller. 2007. 414 pages.

Assassins at Osprey

Raichev, R.T. Assassins at Osprey.

6 word synopsis: Two by two; pairings and murder.

This is the third "country house" mystery by Raichev. I enjoyed the fast reading, complicated plot and will look for the previous mysteries involving mystery writer Antonia Darcy and her husband Major Hugh Payne. There is a murder, but "assassins" is a bit of a misnomer. Light, but fun.


Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 222 pages.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Books and Gardens

Some garden pictures on a rainy day.


I've been trying to spend some time reading blogs, and I'm gradually getting around, but it is slow going since I've not had as much computer time lately. And everywhere I visit, I have to stop and add new books to the TBR list.

Last week I ended up in Baton Rouge for a visit to my daughter and to keep a feverish grandchild. He wasn't down long! Bounced right back. In the end I had a nice visit with both grandkids and with my daughter, a trip to Lowe's and some storage cabinet assembly, and a trip to Whole Foods- supermarket of dreams!

Then on Saturday, Amelia and Chris brought Bryce Eleanor for me to keep. She is so much fun - she laughs and waves her arms or sleeps. Sunday, I took her down to the country, and Chris took her home late Sunday afternoon after he worked all day putting in a stereo system in the cabin. Amelia didn't plan on him being gone that long and kept texting: Where is my baby? And my fried chicken? And I still have the stroller in the trunk of my car!

I've not been doing a very good job keeping up with either of my own blogs lately. If I make a post to Bayou Quilts, then I don't find time to post here. Maybe because I'm behind on reviews again.

Need to review: Assassins at Osprey, The Fault Tree, The Pandora Prescription (library books), and The Girl with No Shadow (many thanks to Anna at FSB for this ARC that I really enjoyed).

In progress a bunch of ARC's: The Mindful Woman (still), The Forgery of Venus, The Philosopher's Apprentice, and Moving Forward.

Monday, April 21, 2008

American Bloomsbury

Cheever, Susan. American Bloomsbury.

6 word synopsis: Concord encouraged literary genius. Entangled lives.

B-

Interesting material about Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, Melville, friends, and associates. The writing, however, was disjointed and often without pronoun antecedents. Emerson was largely responsible for the fostering of literary geniuses in Concord and the book did give a great deal of information about their lives. It make me much more curious about these individuals whose home base was such a very small town, and I will be looking for some biographies from the extensive bibliography Cheever included.

Nonfiction. Biographical. 2006. 200 pages.

A Flaw in the Blood

Barron, Stephanie. A Flaw in the Blood.

6 word synopsis: What did Victoria know? Poor Albert!

Grade: A

Intriguing hypothesis. Includes a number of nonfiction source materials that I'd like to follow up on. As I told Amelia, Erin, and Holly, I will never look at Victoria in the same light; I know the book is fiction, and yet...

Fiction. Historical Mystery. 286 pages.

Another recent review: My Random Acts of Reading

Cauldron

McDevitt, Jack. Cauldron.

6 word opinion: Simply could not suspend my disbelief.

C-

Don't believe space travel will ever be this casually achieved. This "world" never seemed plausible.

Fiction. Science Fiction. 2007. 373 pages.

Death Walked In

Hart, Carolyn. Death Walked In.

6 word synopsis: Bookstore owner involved in murder - again!

B-

A readable mystery about the owner of Death on Demand mystery bookstore. Annie and Max find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation involving stolen Double Eagle gold coins.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 293 pages.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Absentee

I seem to be having a difficult time deciding on where to put my attention. Lots of family stuff going on (including Bryce Eleanor's baptism this past Saturday), visits from Erin and Max, yard work, doctor appointments, deciding on and purchasing new sewing table (with hydraulic lift!), arrival and assembly of said table, yoga classes and practice, and lots of reading.

But no blog posts. Now, I have to play catch up again. Need to review: A Flaw in the Blood by Stephanie Barron, Cauldron by Jack McDevitt, Death Walked In by Carolyn Hart, and American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever.

Also need to play catch up with blog reading. I've been computer/internet absent for quite a while and have missed lots of stuff. Oh, and emails to catch up on as well! Now, I'm really discouraged.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Book of a Thousand Days

Hale, Shannon. Book of a Thousand Days. This excellent YA novel is based on a little known tale "Maid Maleen" from the Brothers Grimm that I've never read, or have long since forgotten. Lady Saren has refused to marry the man her father has chosen for her and is to be shut in a tower for seven years. Dashti is Saren's new maid and, unaware of the situation, gives her word that she will not leave Saren. The two girls are sealed into the tower with enough food to last for seven years.

Dashti decides to keep a book of thoughts and is initially quite cheerful; Saren is withdrawn and depressed, in spite of Dashti's efforts to cure her with healing songs. It is only through Dashti's efforts and resourcefulness that the two girls survive, but their time in the tower takes a tremendous toll.

This is a story of courage and loyalty, love and magic, evil and adventure. Dashti's character, revealed through her own words as she records events in her book, develops from a girl who is simply cheerful and accepting, to one who decides to survive against all odds and to carry the Lady Saren with her (kicking and screaming if necessary).

Hale manages to tell an exciting tale, develop a charming heroine, and appeal both to youngsters as young as 10 or 12 all the way through to adults.

This is my first book by Hale, but I now understand the high praise she has received from other bloggers. (I first heard about her a couple of years ago when Booklogged read Goose Girl and recommended it, but although I kept Goose Girl and Shannon Hale on my TBR list, I never went any further.) I intend to correct that omission.

Fiction. Fairy Tale/YA. 2007. 305 pages.

Mad Kestrel

Massey, Missy. Mad Kestrel. Pirates and Fantasy - sounds like a good combination. The book started off well, with a girl pirate who has magical powers she must keep secret. If her magical skills are discovered, she could be abducted by the Danisoba, who seek out and take any magical children from their parents to be raised exclusively by the Danisoba. Kestrel managed to escape when the Danisoba killed her parents who refused to surrender her, and grew up in the alleys, a street urchin who managed to survive.

Eventually, a hearty old pirate captain takes Kestrel under his wing and trains her as a pirate. Then things start to go a bit south. Kestrel loses the independent attitude of the daring pirate lass whenever she comes in contact with Phillip McAvery and begins moving back and forth between a simpering, love-struck adolescent and a swashbuckling, take-charge pirate. That's a bit of a stretch.

That little flaw in her character undermines the believability of her exploits. The plot has some problems as well.

Fiction. Fantasy. 2008. 320 pages.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Alphabet of Thorn

McKillip, Patricia A. Alphabet of Thorn. An orphan librarian named Nepenthe and a royal library where she translates books - now, how could I resist that?

Taken in and raised by the librarians, Nepenthe shows a distinct talent for translating foreign languages. When a young mage from the floating school gives her a book in which the text looks like brambles, thorns intertwining and separating, Nepenthe is strangely enthralled and instead of giving it to the librarians, decides to keep it secret and translate it herself. The story she begins translating only continues to draw her in.

As Nepenthe struggles with the translation, things in the kingdom of Raine are not going smoothly. The new queen seems dull and uninterested in governing. Her mage tries to guide her, but Tessera is young, still grieving for her father, and can't seem to muster the the effort. The question of the queen's competence has some of her powerful nobles wondering about their own ability to seize power. The kingdom is in danger from both natural and supernatural threats.

I enjoyed this book which read very like a fairy tale. There is a twist to this tale that also adds interest.

Fiction. Fantasy. 2004. 314 pages.

City of Bones

Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones. As I was about to write this review, I noticed a website on the back flap of the jacket. Here is the link. Obviously, I am once more off the mark. I don't know if I'm sorry or glad I followed the link and then looked at the reviews, however...

I thought the book was OK, but definitely YA fiction. After reading the reviews, I realized that many of the things they praised were the very things that annoyed me: I didn't find the story that compelling, would never equate this with anything Joss Whedon wrote, didn't find it "refreshingly free of the attitudes that make some YA fiction for non-adults only..."

However, I have to tell you those reviewers who gave glowing reviews are not just book blurbs-- they include Kirkus Reviews, Locus, The Center for Children's Books, and the Endicott Journal for Mythic Arts.

OK. I decided to don my hair shirt and say, "Mea maxima culpa" on reading the review from the Endicott Journal. I must have been in a bad mood when I read the book - I saw it mainly as a kind of Star Wars analog...although no one mentioned that in their reviews. Once I realized that (early on) I knew pretty much the direction of the story and just made comparisons to the original. Unfavorable comparisons.

I could go into a lot of detail about why, but I thought it was just another YA novel. Not terrible, but not really very good either. With at least two more to follow.

Fiction. YA/Supernatural. 2007. 485 pages.

Monday, April 07, 2008

In Progress

Sir Francis Bacon: Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

I've finished a couple more books that need to be reviewed and am currently reading The Mindful Woman by Sue Patton Thoele. I'm reading this one slowly as it is not the kind of book to read whole. I think of Bacon often as I'm reading (not just this book) because so many of the books I read are simply swallowed for entertainment but others, especially nonfiction, require a slower and more thoughtful approach.

I'm about half way through this one and am enjoying it and trying to take the time for the exercises. Thoele places great emphasis on breath and begins many of the exercises with the idea of paying attention to breath. This is a concept with which I entirely agree after nearly 8 years of tai chi & qiqong and a mere 6 weeks in yoga.

Being conscious of your breathing, taking the time to draw deep breaths into your belly, using your breath to calm and center yourself are huge elements in tai chi & qiqong; after tai chi classes I was always so relaxed and so alert ( wonderful combination) as a result of conscious breathing. I'm finding a similar effect in yoga.

When Thoele talks about taking cleansing breaths before beginning her exercises, she is preparing the ground by encouraging the awareness of breath and its calming effects.

This book is tailored to women, but is simply a good guide for finding balance and a sense of calm for anyone who is interested. And mindfulness is something I very much want for myself. On my other blog, I've mentioned my desire for mindfulness several times, so when this book was offered, it seemed like perfect timing--that wonderful sychronicity that life frequently offers.

"Sue Patton Thoele
is a psychotherapist, former hospice chaplain, and bereavement group leader. She is author of eleven other books, including The Courage To Be Yourself, The Woman's Book of Soul, Growing Hope, Freedoms After 50, and The Woman's Book of Courage." Her website is http://suepattonthoele.com

I'm not sure when I'll finish, but even after finishing, I intend to go over these daily practices. They fit nicely into some of the lessons from Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be by Lama Surya Das.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

New Moon

Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. I just realized that in a previous post, I said I'd finished Twilight--which I did, in February of 2006--but I meant New Moon. It took me a long time to get around to the second book in Meyer's series, over two years.

New Moon didn't involve me as much as Twilight did. I did like the further development of Jacob, but Bella still seems so -- unformed. She can't understand what Jacob and Edward see in her and finds it difficult to believe that they care for her. And I do, too; she just doesn't seem capable of inspiring the devotion she does.

Edward is not present during much of the book. He is there at the beginning, then disappears, as does the entire Cullen family. He reappears at the end, but the last section with Edward felt forced and silly.

I can see how this one would continue to attract its target audience of young adults; I had no problem reading it, was not tempted to put it down and go on to something else, but didn't find it much to talk about, either.

Fiction. Supernatural/YA. 2006. 563 pages.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Ghost Brigade

Scalzi, John. The Ghost Brigade. I have not read Old Man's War, the first in this science fiction series, but I very much enjoyed The Ghost Brigade. It took me a little while to get sorted out - which may or may not be a result of not having read OMW - but when the narrative really took off, I was there all the way.

Unlike David Weber, who writes epic-length science fiction that focuses on humans and military technology, Scalzi's novel deals not only with humans, but also with other intelligent life forms and is much more compact. Jared Dirac is a "superhuman hybrid" created as part of the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, known as the Ghost Brigade. He differs from other Special Force soldiers because the consciousness transferred to him is that of the traitor, Charles Boutin, who is busy organizing a war against the CDF.

This is a fascinating novel that deals with the consciousness that develops among the Special Forces soldiers in general, and the differences that eventually arise in Dirac's consciousness. Averting a war that could destroy humanity is Dirac's mission, but there are questions about the Colonial Defense Forces and the Conclave that leave the ethical decisions of both sides of the impending conflict ambiguous.

I must get a copy of Old Man's War. My thanks to Carl who has repeatedly touted John Scalzi.

Scalzi's The Last Colony, is one of the nominations for the 2008 Hugo.

Fiction. Science Fiction. 2006. 314 pages.

Friday, April 04, 2008

This Week's Winner Is...

Paula! If you send me your address, I'll get The Shape-Changer's Wife off to you on Monday. Congratulations!

Give-Away (sticky post)


...is The Shape-Changer's Wife by Sharon Shinn. It will fit in perfectly with the Once Upon a Time Challenge and is an excellent short novel with fairy tale/ folk tale elements. It is easy to see why it won the Locus Best First Fantasy Novel of the Year in 1995. If you are interested in receiving this copy, leave a comment on this post. The drawing will be next Friday (or Saturday). :)

Nymeth is giving away books to celebrate her first year in blogging! Go see.

And the Hugo Nominations are out. The only thing nominated that I've read is The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon...very strange, but I liked it. However, The Last Colony by John Scalzi is there (Scalzi is one of Carl's favorite authors); I really must get around to reading his series.

An Ice Cold Grave

Harris, Charlaine. An Ice Cold Grave. While I am not a fan of Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series (I know, please forgive this lapse in judgement), I have enjoyed the novels in Harris' Harper Connolly series. Struck by lightening as an adolescent, Harper developed the strange and unnerving ability to sense the dead. She and her step-brother Tolliver travel the country locating dead bodies and revealing the causes of death.

This unique talent does not always engender positive feelings, but does solve a lot of puzzling deaths. When called to Doraville, North Carolina, Harper locates the missing young man she was called in to find, but discovers more young men buried in the same area. The horror of this serial killer's burial ground causes greater than usual emotional distress, and then, as Harper and Tolliver are preparing to leave town, she is attacked and injured.

An Ice Cold Grave is full of suspense and a very fast read. The only thing I didn't like was the one graphic sex scene. Even though it was a small part of the novel, I really don't care for this sort of thing and hope the next in the series avoids any more such digressions--because I do like this series.

Fiction. Mystery/supernatural. 2007. 280 pages.

More Books

Some ARC's from Anna at FSB. I can't wait to get into the Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Egypt by Barbara Mertz (who has a Ph. D. in Egyptology) and also writes fiction as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow
and Death Walked In by Carolyn Hart also sound good.

More ARC's from Christine at William Morrow/ Harper Collins. I'm particularly interested in Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season and The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. Library books - several are already finished, reviewed, and returned.

I've received a few more ARC's and checked out more library books since I took these pictures a week or so ago. I'm overwhelmed with choices.

I have 3 more books to review - Twilight, An Ice Cold Grave, and The Ghost Brigade.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In honor of National Poetry Month

Kate has a wonderful idea (do check it out) for celebrating National Poetry Month that requires a little more than just posting a favorite poem:

"The challenge is simply to post about poetry at least once in the month of April. The post could be a review of a collection of poetry, a broader meditation on the work of a favourite poet, or a detailed analysis of a single poem. Simply posting a poem doesn't count unless you go on to say something about that poem. The idea is to dare to be critical (as in analytical, not necessarily negative) and venture an opinion."

I love poetry. I love John Donne and Emily Dickinson; Yeats and Dylan Thomas; Peter Meinke and Stanley Kunitz; Edna St. Vincent Millay and Galway Kinnell; Naomi Shihab Nye, Muriel Rukeyser, Anne Sexton, Denise Levertov; James Stephens, Theodore Roethke, W. H. Auden, Basho...

Here is a poem that will fit into the Once Upon a Time and Twisted Fairy Tale challenges:


How to Change a Frog into a Prince

Anna Denise
 
Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it.

Some poems are difficult to understand and require multiple readings, and I love poems like that, poems that require intuition and effort. But I love poems like this one - poems that are instantly accessible, a bit silly and a bit serious. I love poems that "connect," as this one does to something that I'm reading or thinking about.

An easy poem, "How to Change a Frog into a Prince" is about transformation, and we are all transforming, but it is also about patience and kindness. It is tongue-in-cheek and perceptive - a gentle blend. It seems to say that love of all kinds requires acceptance and that princes, children, friends, lovers, and spouses are all subject to growth, to change, and that we have a role in these transitions. And humor helps. "Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it." Maybe we will, too.