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Friday, November 30, 2007

What Next?

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

Here are some of the other books awaiting my pleasure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Friend of the Devil

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction. Mystery/Suspense. 2008. 372 pages.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Boy Named Shel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction. Biography. 2007. 223 pages.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shel Silverstein biography

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Warrior

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

Book Description from Amazon

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

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

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

Historical Romance. ? 2007. 344 pages.

Monday, November 19, 2007

To Read or Not to Read

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

And read about it here:

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

just one excerpt:

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ghost Walk

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

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

Fiction. Mystery/supernatural. 2007. 284 pages.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Study Guides & Libraries

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

Interesting links:

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

Gaiman's Coraline.

World's Most Beautiful Libraries.


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

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

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

Two new review books :

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 -- Banned?

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

Check out this video about Book Banning. Unbelievable.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Cliff House Strangler

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

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

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

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

Fiction. Historical Mystery. 2007. 320 pages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On Borrowed Wings

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

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

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

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

Fiction. Historical? 2007. 310 pages.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Without a Map

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

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

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

Hall begins her story:

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

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction. Memoir. 2007. 220 pages.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Challenge Complete

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

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

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

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

Great fun once again, Carl! Thanks!