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Friday, February 27, 2009

An Inconvenient Wife

Chance, Megan. An Inconvenient Wife. Through the experiences of Lucy Carlton and her problems with hysteria (remember Freud?), we get a look into the cultural and social strictures of New York society in the 1880's, the role of women, and some of the medical procedures of the time. (The beginning is a little slow, but do stick around!)

Lucy married for love, but has a bit of internal conflict because her domineering father encouraged her courtship with William Carlton; another problem in their marriage involves sexual expectations. The marriage is not entirely happy for either Lucy or William, for many reasons.

Lucy's problems are diagnosed as female hysteria, and after treatments from several doctors (who recommend everything from surgery to a mental institution), she begins treatments with Dr. Victor Seth, a neurologist.

At this point, things get a little strange as Dr. Seth uses "electric therapy" (ahem!) and hypnosis in an attempt to cure Lucy. As her treatments continue, Dr. Seth becomes fascinated with his patient, and through the use of implanted suggestion, begins using Lucy as a means of furthering his research.

The problem for Lucy and her husband is that the cure may be worse than the disease. Twists and turns, manipulation, and scandal all result from Lucy's treatment. She is becoming more of the woman she was intended to be, but how much of her personality is under the control of the good doctor?

You can't help but think a little of Edith Wharton and Henry James (actually, his brother William James is mentioned in the novel), but this novel is definitely written by a 21st century author who brings not only knowledge of the time period, but a modern sensibility the narrative.

Intriguing, disconcerting, and thought-provoking, the novel follows Lucy on her compelling and surprising journey of identity; a journey that uncovers secrets and leads to unexpected consequences.

I don't want to reveal too much!

Another review - by Katherine (A Girl Walks into a Bookstore)

Fiction. Historical. 2004. 416 pages.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fatal Legacy

Corley, Elizabeth. Fatal Legacy. The reader knows from the beginning that Alan Wainwright's death is not a suicide as we accompany him to his clandestine meeting, but by the time the body is discovered, the scene looks like suicide.

When the will is read, there are some unpleasant surprises for the family members, and a surprising couple of heirs in Alan's nephew Alex and wife, Sally. Even as Alex and Sally discover some disturbing business irregularities, Alan's son Graham is beginning to question the suicide of his father.

Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Fenwick is assigned to decide whether or not to re-open the case. Then another murder. Secrets and duplicity abound.

I thought Fenwick a bit cold (except with his children), but Corley's style bears resemblance to some of my favorite authors in this genre -- Peter Robinson and Reginald Hill. The characters have depth and complexity, and the plot is full of complications and twists.

Fiction. Mystery. 2000. 308 pages.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Hellfire Conspiracy

Thomas, Will. The Hellfire Conspiracy.

This is the 4th in the series of Private Inquiry Agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn. Set in London in 1885, Barker's latest client is frantic about the disappearance of his daughter. The topic of white slavery of young women for purposes of prostitution was a hot one in Victorian London, and Devere fears that white slavers are responsible .

Barker, however, isn't sure the disappearance of young Gwendolyn DeVere is related to white slavery and soon discovers that other young girls have disappeared with deadly results. Barker and Llewelyn suspect that the abuse and murders are the work of a serial killer and, indeed, soon receive a letter from the murderer taunting them.

The novel includes several real issues from the era and several real people. The real people include William Stead, a journalist who campaigned against the practice of selling young women into prostitution and to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16. The inclusion of William T. Stead works, but the inclusion of Beatrix Potter doesn't.

The characters are interesting, but not fully rounded. The strength (for me) is the ambiance, history, and culture of Victorian London. Overall, an enjoyable mystery.


Fiction. Mystery. 2007. 311 pages.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Rule Against Murder

Penny, Louise. A Rule Against Murder.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife are on their annual anniversary holiday at Manoir Bellechase. Gamache may have been expecting a relaxing summer retreat, but when one of the guests is murdered, he finds himself involved in the investigation.

This is the first of Louise Penny's novels that I've read and the 4th in this series. It is more complex than a cozy, but still retains some of the characteristics of that genre. Chief Inspector Gamache is a charming man, deeply in love with his wife. With patience and insight, Gamache leads his team as they try to determine motive and murderer.

I liked Gamache, but found the dysfunctional Finney's a bit hard to take. Held together by a twisted thread, their contempt for each other is pervasive. Something about these relationships didn't hold together for me and the concluding pages concerning the siblings didn't resolve my problems.

Nevertheless, something about Gamache and his team and about Penny's writing style helped me overcome my distaste for the mean-spirited Finney family (I did like Bert and Bean), and I enjoyed the mystery, the setting, and all of the other characters. The first three novels in the series will eventually make it to my stacks.

Other reviews of this series: My Random Acts of Reading and Framed.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 322 pages.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Progress & In the Stacks

My reading has slowed down. Way down.

I still have one book to review, a couple of books in progress, and a stack of books to read, but I'm working on a small quilt right, playing with several embroidery projects, AND the temperatures are supposed to reach the 70's today, so gardening (well, cleaning up the garden) is also a distraction.

However, the following is the Book Agenda.

In progress:
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin (via Of Books and Bicycles)
Yoga as Medicine by Timothy McCall (this one may take a year! )
The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will Thomas (can't remember which blog recommended Will Thomas and the Barker & Llewellyn series)









Library Haul from yesterday (click book for link to Amazon):










I was obviously in the mood for fiction; hope these turn out better than the ones I returned unfinished.

Yesterday's Mail:

Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah arrived yesterday as an ARC. Love the cover and the title; I'm excited about this one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Parade!

I posted a bunch of pictures of the annual Barkus & Meow Mardi Gras Parade over at Bayou Quilts, but I wanted to share this one here. (click on picture to enlarge)This parade of dogs, cats, miniature horses, guinea pigs, and this year, one pot-bellied pig is sponsored by Pet Savers. Many of the dogs in the parade were adopted in previous years, and there was a section of kennels of dogs that needed homes, so the legacy of pet adoption continues.

It is tremendous fun and serves such a good purpose.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Musings

I'm almost caught up on reviews. My reading, however, has slowed down. I've begun several fiction books that are not very good, and I'm trying to stay with my resolution to abandon books that invite me to make fun of them sotto voce. They will go back to the library unfinished.

On the other hand, I've got a couple of good nonfiction books in progress and an ever-growing list of "want to reads" garnered from miscellaneous blog reviews.

Two more good documentaries to report:

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama is full of lovely scenes from Tibet, some good background on the Dalai Lama's childhood, terrible scenes of the Chinese occupation and the destruction of 6,000 monasteries. Over a million Tibetans have been killed as a result of Chinese policy...pretty stunning. The documentary presents actual footage of the 1949 occupation. The history is only a part of the documentary, but it is fascinating.


The other excellent documentary is The Cats of Mirikitani. Interesting on many levels, this film captures Mirikitani as a homeless street artist, his friendship with Linda Hattendorf (the filmmaker), the effect the events of 9-11 had on Jimmy and other street people, and the transformative power that results from his friendship with Linda. The film documents his life over a five year period.

It is really a marvelous film about homelessness and the available resources; about frustration and pride and dedication to art; about the camps and the residual effects of the Japanese interned in them (Jimmy was born in the U.S., an American citizen); and about friendship and kindness and reunions.

An excellent synopsis of the film here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Creative Habit

Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.

Loved it! Practical, useful, highly entertaining. Twyla Tharp is certainly an individual with a Vigorous (and Renaissance) Mind--one of America's greatest choreographers; extremely well-read and knowledgeable in so many areas; curious and determined; and a perpetual student of art, music, literature, philosophy, and film. When something "exceeds her grasp," Tharp just keeps reaching.

I read The Artist's Way and The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron seven or eight years ago and (forgive me those of you who adore these books) found them neither helpful nor entertaining. Not that there was nothing good there, but that the good parts could fit in a few paragraphs. Maybe Cameron's "Way" simply did not appeal to my personality. Tharp, on the other hand, had me hooked immediately.

Twyla Tharp's sharp insight and dedication to hard work; her love of good literature, art, and music and her investigations in these areas; and her examples of historical and current creative individuals...make fascinating reading.

She has worked with Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham, Balanchine, Baryshnikov, and Peter Martins in the dance world. She has collaborated with Milos Foreman on Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus. She's created dances for the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London's Royal Ballet, and American Ballet. She has worked with creative people in the arts and in business. Her close personal friends have included Richard Avedon and Maurice Sendak. Her own creativity aside, Tharp has known and worked with some of the most creative people of her era.

I read avidly, and while I may not be that creative, I enjoyed and appreciated this book tremendously. Tharp gives excellent practical advice for creative people in any genre, but more than that, she provides a intriguing, refreshing, and insightful look at creative people and their creative habits.

My copy is from the library, but this is a book that I want to own.

Nonfiction. Inspiration/Creativity. 243 pages.

Where Memories Lie

Crombie, Deborah. Where Memories Lie.

Another Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery. I've been reading and enjoying this series for years because I like the characters, the detailed and interesting settings, and the tight plots. I also love the end papers which display a map with drawings of important sites in the broader area in which the novel is set.

Laura Hartman Maestro does the maps for each novel, and I love the sense of immediacy they add. Of course, I'm also a great fan of illustrated maps in general, her maps are quite beautiful. The map below is from Crombie's novel Water like a Stone.

This the map from A Finer End.

I could scan the end papers for this novel, but it is a library book and has "jacket interference."

Where Memories Lie begins with an Art Deco brooch showing up for auction and leads to Gemma looking into a cold case involving the murder of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and a connection to current murders. As usual, I enjoyed this mystery by Deborah Crombie.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 295 pages.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More on the Orphan Trains

Thanks to Sam of Book Chase, I found a YouTube version of the song he mentioned about the Orphan Train.


The Orphan Trains

One of my goals in my Renaissance Mind self-challenge was to watch 2 documentaries from Netflix a month. Last month, I watched 3-- two were interesting, the third was not so great.

The other night, I watched this month's first documentary, and it was fascinating! I'd never heard of this particular segment of our American history, and The Orphan Trains was so fascinating that I made Fee watch it with me the second time.

During the 1850's, a young minister named Charles Loring Brace was stunned and saddened by the abandoned street children in New York. I've read about these abandoned children many times, but was totally unaware of Brace's solution to the problem. He formed the Children's Aid Society and began shipping the children to farming communities in the West, hoping that loving Christian families could take the children in and save them from the horrible conditions they faced alone on the streets of New York.

Everything was well-documented. Names of children, where they went, entries in Brace's journals, letters from the children and their new families, etc. From the 1850's until 1929, the Orphan Trains carried over 150,000 children from New York to points west.

Some of these situations didn't work out so well; despite the efforts of the Children's Aid Society, many potential families were no better vetted than foster families are today and the check ups on situations were difficult and spotty because there were so many placements. Some families undoubtedly saved the lives of many children; other situations must have been terrible disasters. Photographs of the children taken by Brace's photographer and by the families that took the children in tell a remarkable story on their own, but the interviews with many elderly individuals who rode the trains to new homes from the early part of the 2oth century are both engrossing and touching.

Brace worked hard to save the children who wandered bare foot and slept in door ways, but he grappled with the dilemma of what to do to help:

"When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go."

The Orphan Trains is a remarkable story and a remarkable documentary. I highly recomment it.

More information can be found here (and these are just a few sites):

Charles Loring Brace

Orphan Trains
The Adoption History Project
The Children's Aid Society
National Orphan Train Complex


Cross-posted at Bayou Quilts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hatha Yoga Illustrated

Kirk, Martin, Brooke, Boone, and Daniel DiTuro. Hatha Yoga Illustrated.

I'm finally going to call this one finished. It isn't, of course, because I keep referring to it and will continue to do so.


What I liked about this one:

  • brief, but informative background information, even if philosophy is not in depth
  • asanas are divided into sections (standing, balancing, inverted, twisting, etc.)
  • excellent photographs
  • postures are shown step by step
  • both English and Sanskrit names for the asanas are included
  • counterposes
  • drishti (where the eyes should focus)
  • physical & mental benefits for each pose
  • contraindications
  • gentle variations & more advanced variations

I've been through all of the poses (although some of the advanced versions are still beyond my ability) and have used this book in conjunction with some of the others books on yoga that I'm reading. When I have a question, I look it up in one of the other books, but the photographs and information in HYI are excellent.

It does not include the pronunciations for the Sanskrit poses, but one of the other books does. Yoga Anatomy and Yoga as Medicine (still in progress) are much more detailed about complicated anatomical aspects and medical benefits of poses, but HYI is the best book for learning over 70 asanas. It is suitable for basic and advanced practitioners, has clear, easy to read info and instructions, and marvelous, helpful photos. Great learning and reference tool.

Nonfiction. Yoga. 2006. 232 pages.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bone by Bone

O'Connell, Carol. Bone by Bone.

I'm a great fan of O'Connell's Mallory novels, but this novel featuring another character, left me cold. In fact, none of the characters seemed to lift from the page and some were so far in the realm of bizarre that I felt completely bewildered about why so much weirdness was packed into one novel. I remember being disappointed by Judas Child (another departure from the Mallory series), but nothing much pleased me about this one.

There are plenty of elements in the novel that would have fascinated me if presented differently, but the over-the-top nature of the novel was simply too much with which to contend without some sense of identification with the characters.

Perhaps I would have liked Hannah Rice if she had had any back-up characters, but poor Hannah's character faded into the overall weirdness. She had no support system. Oren, the lead character, was too flat to really play off the housekeeper's interesting qualities and no real sense of genuine feeling came through.

A great annoyance was being hit with the phrase, "No one every goes to the library." This device was evidently supposed to provide a mysterious and humorous note, but being hit over the head with it so frequently was a problem, and the solution to that vapid mystery was disappointing and (once again) bizarre.

I had been eager to read Bone by Bone because the premise sounded interesting and because I'd seen some positive reviews (not by bloggers, but if you've read it, let me know). Evidently several critics appreciated this book much more than I did, so maybe the problem is simply mine.

The strange, flawed characters in the Mallory novels appeal to me, but even if they seem far-fetched, they are so well-developed that I was always eager for the next installment. Oren is dull as ditch water and his attachment to Isabelle...masochistic and given that he had never spoken to her, peculiar. However, that appears to have been Isabelle's situation as well. Hmm, masochistic describes several relationships in this novel: "You hate me; I love you."

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 340 pages.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Talking to the Dead

Weisberg, Barbara. Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism.

The Fox sisters gained fame in 1848 when eleven-year-old Kate and fourteen-year-old Maggie began communicating with the dead by means of mysterious rappings and knocks that were heard throughout the Fox home. Instant celebrity followed: first locally, among friends and neighbors who came to the Fox home to be amazed and who attempted to uncover the source of the noises. Later, as word spread, the girls gained national and international acclaim.

Attempts to discover how the strange noises were manifested and to discredit the sisters were never completely successful, although many mediums who followed in their footsteps were easily exposed as frauds. The sisters, including older sister Leah, who knew an opportunity when it appeared, underwent many humiliating attempts to debunk their abilities, but the attempts had little effect. The young girls, guided by Leah, initiated a phenomenon that surprised almost everyone with its rapid spread, and soon the number of individuals who could talk to the dead multiplied.

Weisberg does a fine job of examining the Spiritualist movement, the cultural underpinnings of the era, and the lives of Kate and Maggie. What is amazing is the number of intelligent and well-known individuals who believed, who attended seances, and/or who attempted to expose them. Among those who attended their seances were Horace Greeley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and James Fennimore Cooper.

Weisberg's research is extensive and includes many primary documents from the time period, including books, letters, newspaper articles, and pages of secondary sources. Unfortunately, none of the Fox sisters left much in writing, and what there is (mostly in letters to devoted followers) never reveals evidence that is conclusive about their belief in their chosen profession. Maggie gave a lecture much later in life that decried their abilities as fake, but she later recanted.

I was originally drawn to the book by the "prophetic dreams" Captain Crozier experienced in Dan Simmon's novel, The Terror. His dreams included, but did not name, the Fox sisters and Elisha Kent Kane, one of the arctic explorers who searched for the lost Franklin Expedition. Elisha Kent Kane evidently fell for Maggie and pursued her with determination. The book did little to bolster Kane's reputation on a personal level, and his letters to Maggie are a combination of longing and contempt, as he felt Maggie to be beneath him.

Kane was 3o and Maggie was 19 when they met. He tended to be quite controlling, and believing the seances to be fraudulent, Kane attempted to separate Maggie from Leah (he saw the older sister as manipulative) and to persuade Maggie to give up her activities.

Shortly after "marrying" Maggie--this was not a formally legal marriage--Kane became seriously ill and died. His family denied that he had made any provision for Maggie, and a feud simmered between the evidently heart-broken Maggie and the Kane family for years.

Although their careers as mediums increased their financial status and their celebrity for a time, a serious down-side was that as they were entertained by the rich and famous, both Kate and Maggie developed a taste for alcohol that certainly aided in their fall from grace. Serious alcoholics by the end of their lives, both women died in impoverished circumstances.

Talking to the Dead tells the engrossing story of the rise and influence of Spiritualism, the Fox sisters, and the fears and uncertainties of the age in which they lived.

Update: The Stay At Home Bookworm has posted her review here.

Nonfiction. Biography/History. 2004. 273 pages.

Procrastinating

I've finished several more books, but I'm having trouble making myself write the reviews. The review of Talking to the Dead, which I started to write the other day, just seems to elude me. I write and delete and try again.

The new television show Lie to Me seems to be based on the research about facial expressions that Malcolm Gladwell included in Blink. That particular research was one of the most interesting portions of the book, and it seemed uncanny that right after I'd read the book, the show premiered. You can watch the pilot here. The research of Paul Ekman, the psychologist who has done extensive work in the field, is absorbing and a bit unnerving.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Gauntlet

Aaron, Richard. Gauntlet: A Novel of International Intrigue.

The first few pages of the novel had me worried, and I was about to follow through with my plan to abandon any book that didn't really interest me, when things began to pick up. And when they did, I found myself amazed at the fast pace of this novel.

Aaron is able to keep several stories on the go, uniting them when necessary to futher the overall plot, then separating the strands again to fill in background, motive, history. In this manner, he is able to introduce a substantial number of characters and develop them in depth without ever confusing the reader.

My favorite character, of course, is Hamilton Turbee, a highly functioning autistic mathematician and computer genius. (I'm not sure where the line is drawn in regard to a diagnosis of high-function autism and Asperger's, but Turbee has the typical difficulty of reading expressions and extreme difficulty and discomfort in social interaction.) Poor Richard, who annoyed me so profoundly at the beginning, grew on me until I suddenly realized that I liked him a lot! Indy Singh and Catherine in Vancouver might deserve a book of their own.

Even the villains in this novel are portrayed with enough understanding to keep them from being perceived as evil incarnate and, given the scenario that Aaron develops, this must have required some time and effort.

The story opens with 600 tons of Semtex scheduled to be destroyed in Libya. Some of the Semtex is stolen before reaching its destination, setting off the complex and fast-paced plot as the United States attempts to track the explosives before the terrorists can complete the threatened strike against an unknown American target.

After my first few doubtful pages, I was completely drawn in and found it difficult to put the novel down. There are several places where my heartbeat picked up noticeably. The novel follows different characters in different chapters, but without that awful technique of ending each chapter in a cliff-hanger. The development of the narrative in such a complex plot is remarkably smooth, and there are no instances of wondering which character the new chapter is following. Aaron moves seamlessly from Pakistan to TTIC headquarters to Vancouver, B.C. and from good guys to bad guys.

The drawback? The conclusion. Abrupt. Incomplete. No closure at all.

The ending, upset me a great deal, until I did some research and discovered that Gauntlet is the first novel in a trilogy. Still, while I love trilogies, I resent cliff hangers. I want some resolution, even if I know the story has not been concluded. I want to feel happy to know the characters I enjoy will return, not resentful about being left in the lurch. The feeling of being manipulated annoys me.

So, Mr. Aaron, don't leave us hanging for long and try to make the next book's conclusion a little less abrupt and unsettling.

If you've read this one, let me know, and I'll link to your review.

Fiction. Suspense. 2009. 488 pages.