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Sunday, August 31, 2008
General impression: Not up to Bannister's best. Characterization weak, tempo off, plot untidy, motivation confused. Quite short.
Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 201 pages.
Friday, August 29, 2008
I liked this one a lot, too. How in the world Weber keeps up with all of the characters and details in his many long and complicated books is beyond me. How he manages to turn so many characters into real personalities is another difficult task that leaves me marveling at such a phenomenal memory.
His novels are full of political, social, and military discussions. I like them (who'd a thunk that military tactics & politics would hold such fascination for me?) --but some of Weber's fan have begun to get restless as his novels increase in length and expository material. I know whereof they speak, as I've noticed it, too, even in the later Honor Harrington novels, but I enjoy it. I enjoy the hints Merlin (Nimue Alban) gives as he tries to encourage this society to advance its technological abilities but not give them the answers and the religious discussions that result as a corrupt few in the church seek to impose their will on others.
I enjoy the political aspect because Weber tries to put himself into the logical thinking of both the good guys and the bad guys. Although the "Group of Four" in the Church of God Awaiting are corrupt individuals, Weber develops them into real men, flawed and corrupt, and in one case, certainly wicked, but they are not cardboard monsters.
Hate having to wait for the next one.
Fiction. Science fiction/fantasy. 494 pages.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Add a gardener with psychic abilities, a rather finicky retired schoolmaster named Arthur Prufrock (well, I couldn't help but love him, now could I? ...and I've no doubt but that the mermaids do sing to him), a lovely assistant, and the owner of the paper who is missing a foot from his time in the service... and eclectic mix even before adding in the missing person and the villain.
It was a bit slow in the beginning, but rather a fun read. Not as good as Bannister's Brodie Farrell series, but quite entertaining.
Fiction. Mystery. 1997. 267 pages.
I've finished a couple more books that need to be reviewed, fiction, of course. The nonfiction moves as slowly as ever, shunted aside like a stepchild. We all know about reading moods, and I'm definitely into fiction right now, though it shames me to neglect some of the books that await my return.
Received an ARC copy of The Map Thief by Heather Terrell which I hope to enjoy. Not too long ago, I saw a special on The Discovery Channel (?) about Admiral Zheng He and his remarkable naval exploits during the Ming Dynasty. I'm always interested in missing maps and manuscripts, so the combination of good historical facts with the present day search for a missing map sounds appealing.
Hill's first novel in the series is A Clubbable Woman, which I've recently ordered. The second in the series is An Advancement of Learning, the book I reviewed in the previous post. In 2002, I found Dialogues of the Dead and went back to find any other novels in the series that the library had to offer. I had read a D & P novel earlier and recognized the characters, but Dialogues of the Dead was much longer and much more involved; it provided the deep hook.
I checked out all of the series that the library had ( Pictures of Perfection, Recalled to Life, The Wood Beyond, On Beulah Height, Arms and the Women) and read and enjoyed them all, but now I'd like to fill in the gaps among the older novels. Some are being re-published, but others I can get through Alibris.
Even as I made my way through the above novels, I awaited Hill's new novels and kept up with all of them - Death's Jest-Book, Good Morning Midnight, and Death Comes for the Fat Man. Have not yet read the most recent, A Cure for All Diseases, but look forward to it. The only ones I've read since beginning this blog are Death Comes for the Fat Man and An Advancement of Learning, so they are the only 2 I've reviewed.
Hill's inclusion of allusions, and there are plenty of them in the later works, range from historic to literary to contemporary topics and works. I especially love these allusions, many I recognize at a glance (which is always fun), but sometimes I only know that it is an echo of something I've read or heard and must do some research to pin it down (also fun).
The combination of humor and the horrific is also well done. The relationship between Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe is often testy, full of irony and tongue in cheek satire that makes me smile, and occasionally, laugh out loud. Pascoe is a strong character in his own right, but is an excellent foil for the often crude and always curmudgeonly Dalziel. The minor characters are also well-developed and interesting in their own right, never cardboard totems - and in some novels, Hill gives them the lead. Edgar Wield the gay sergeant whose appearance is always commented on (unattractive, to put it mildly) is by far the most lovable and interesting.
Hill is one of the best crime/mystery/detective fiction authors around. If you haven't given him a try, now might be the time.
Monday, August 25, 2008
A first-rate mystery, although not as full of literary references as some of the later books, An Advancement of Learning introduces Ellie Soper and Franny Roote. If you are a fan of the series, you know that Ellie and Pascoe are married in later novels and that Franny, that strange (sociopath?) young man, features in several of Hill's best novels.
In this second novel of the series, the characters of Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Ellie Soper, and Franny Roote are in their incipient stages of characterization, and that alone makes the novel worth reading. Hill has created the basics of each one, but knows they will be worth the trouble he takes to develop them in succeeding novels - they are clay (interesting clay) waiting for the breath of life at this point.
A good mystery this, but especially interesting in seeing the way Hill's characters and style originated. Although chapters all have epigraphs from Sir Frances Bacon, the multi-layered allusions that are such fun in later novels are not yet present.
I did miss Sergeant Wield, whose lovable personality transcends his appearance, but I thoroughly enjoyed meeting some of Hill's characters in their infancy.
Fiction. Mystery/detective fiction. 2008 re-edition (UK original, 1971). 288 pages.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The novel's plot was all over the place and the characters weren't all that appealing either. I can recommend Jance's Joanna Brady mysteries, I don't feel strongly enough about this one to say much of anything.
Any fans of J.A. Jance out there? If so, how do you feel about this series?
Fiction. Mystery/thriller. 2007. 384 pages.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Vanilla Joy also has some excellent ideas about reading with children.
I think The Invention of Hugo Cabret (reviewed in yesterday's post) would offer a ton of creative activities - and that would be such fun.
Still have a couple of reviews left -- the J.A. Jance and a Reginald Hill (you know I love the Pascoe & Dalziel seried) that I had not read. Hill is tops in the genre, and one of my favorite writers period.
A couple of new ARC's: One More Year: Stories by Sana Krasikov and When the White House Was Ours by Porter Shreve (a novel loosely based on his own family and the alternative school they founded in Washington, D.C.)
I've started the one by Porter Shreve (have to wonder about his family background since Shreveport, named after Henry Miller Shreve, is where I grew up and is still just across the river). I'm not quite half-way through, but do want to share one quote from the mother whose son says he didn't lie, he just didn't tell what he knew: "Secrets and lies are two sides of the same coin. Only, one is hidden and the other is face up."
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Hugo Cabret is an orphan living in a train station in Paris. That information alone has its own fascination. Written for children, the book includes page after page of beautiful drawings -- an interesting combination of narrative and picture book.
My favorite parts have to do with Selznick's symbolic emphasis on eyes and the way he connects those elements in his drawings to plot elements in a subtle manner. The story is a mixture of fact and fiction, and I liked that as well. I liked the play on words in the title. Automatons , early movies, and clocks all fascinate me....
I was not, however, as captivated as many readers have been and thought the narrative much less artistic than the drawings. All the elements of mystery are here, but the textual characterization and the plot never have the effect of other great children's novels. The writing and dialogue seem stilted.
This does not mean that I didn't enjoy this book. I did. Actually, quite a lot. There were many elements that I appreciated, but for several reasons, it did not quite live up to what I hoped for when I first heard about it on NPR a year or so ago.
Last summer, I read The Chess Machine which I reviewed here, another mixture of fact and fiction that dealt with magicians and automata. A nice companion book, but written for adults.
A peek at an automaton:
Other reviews: Becky's review ; Maggie's review; Carl's review;
Fiction. Juvenile/Children's Lit. 2007. 533 pages.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Cordery, Stacy A. Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, often referred to as Princess Alice, was a fascinating Washington icon for decades, but was not a totally likable individual. Cordery certainly admires her, but even she leaves several episodes open, unable to comment in a genuinely positive manner.
What is obviously true about Alice is that she had an intellect to contend with and a sly wit with a tendency toward malevolence. This biography reads in many ways like the biography of Eudora Welty I read a couple of years ago - much of the book is a list of who Alice saw, where she went, what she did in that "date book" manner. Cordery was privy to much private correspondence that had not previously been published, and yet much of this resource material gives little insight into the woman Alice became and of her personal relations.
The facts are all there, her mother's death a few days after her birth, her father's distance until she was a political asset, her friends, her marriage to an older man, her political views and associates. In many ways, the biography is an excellent, if somewhat biased view, of the Republican Party and the political events of the early 20th century. I found it a bit patchwork, however. Situations remarked upon, abandoned, mentioned again and again abandoned, and eventually expanded upon. Especially in the early chapters, there is a patchwork quality.
Writing a biography must be among the most difficult tasks of any writer. Using the abundant source material in a cohesive way (if such is available), filling in gaps without too much speculation (if source material is unavailable); creating a real human being of a legend; controlling one's personal sentiments; interviewing and evaluating the accounts of friends and enemies; avoiding mere lists of names, dates, and activities while still giving a reliable examination of the individual's friends and significantly influential events-- must be a tremendously complex job.
One of the first national (& international) celebrities, Alice received as much or more attention than even her father during his White House years, and she worked at keeping her name at the front of events her entire life. She was not bound by tradition, and dismissed (to the joy of many women) many of the social traditions of the time. She was not afraid of voicing her opinion or using her political clout, and she cultivated politicians and famous people who often adored her even into her 90's. She made many fast friends, charmed almost everyone she met, made devastatingly cutting remarks that were often personally hurtful as well as politically influential.
Her husband, Nick Longworth, was a womanizer and a drinker. When he died, one of his mistresses, Laura Curtis, was present (Laura was later a close friend of Alice's). Alice herself had a child by Senator William Borah, and it is not clear whether Nick knew and chose not to acknowledge it - after all, he had for decades carried on widely with his women friends - or simply didn't realize that Paulina was not his child. At any rate, Nick adored "his daughter," and Alice seems to have managed quite easily with the arrangement.
Interesting that all of her romantic interests were with much older men, especially given her desire for her father's attention and affection.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a force to be reckoned with for over 80 years and despite some of the less pleasant public aspects of her personality, she was both powerful and popular, admired for her courage and commitment and feared for her waspish tongue. She was intelligent and extremely well-read, sometimes jealous, sometimes petty, yet stylish and charming, and had most people eating out of her hand at will.
Earlier, I mentioned the difficulty of writing biography and just want to add that two of the best biographies I've read in the last couple of years are Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father and Voltaire Almighty . I also enjoyed Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee . All of these have been reviewed here on my blog, along with other biographies and memoirs that I've enjoyed, but weren't quite as good.
Nonfiction. Biography. 2007. 483 pages + extensive bibliography & notes with additional detail.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Kate Atkinson, Peter Robinson, and Gillian Flynn all contributed to the jacket blurbs. (See Sam's post Blurbs and Back Scratching.) Inger Ash Wolfe is a pseudonym for Russell Smith, a Canadian author, according to one source.
I liked the idea of the 61-year-old female detective inspector and her 87-year-old mother, but Hazel is no Miss Marple. In a small Canadian village, Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef is confronted with the gruesome murder of a terminally ill woman, and apparently, the killer was expected and invited into the home.
Then, within a few days and a short distance away, another murder -- very different appearance -- but with many commonalities for those who, like Hazel and her staff, have looked a little deeper. Now this small town police force that has never dealt with anything close to this kind of horror finds itself on the trail of a serial killer whose victims are terminally ill and...eager.
The characters are well-drawn, flawed, and dealing with difficulties in their personal lives as well as with the pursuit of the killer; the plot is intriguing, and while it did not hang together as logically as I would have liked, kept me involved and puzzling over the strange character of Simon, the mercy-killer with a bizarre agenda.
One thing that bothered me was the dialogue-- the speaker was not always clear, especially at the police station, where the conversation shifted frequently.
My favorite characters were minor: Hazel's mother Emily was a joy; Detective Constable James Wingate and Detective Sergeant Adjutor Sevigny (recent additions to the Port Dundas force) have great possibilities for development and the author managed a great deal with their smaller parts.
Fiction. Mystery/Crime. 2008. 371 pages.
Hmmph. I know I've failed in my attempt to get through all of my "in progress" nonfiction before getting back to fiction. "And so it goes..."
I have, however, finished one more in the nonfiction category: Alice Roosevelt Longworth: From White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery.
And several more fiction: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance, and The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe.
Reviews on these soon.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Here's what Amy says about it:
Book Bloggers: You work hard. You read books, you write reviews, you maintain relationships with your readers, publicists, and authors. You are constantly running to the post office to mail your giveaways and participating in carnivals to help boost traffic. You sometimes want to faint when you see the size of your TBR pile, but faithfully you read. And you do it because you love it. Book blogging is for most a hobby. But it’s a hobby that takes a lot of work and time. It’s a labor of love.
The Readers: We love you! You don’t have a blog, but you read our reviews and share your thoughts with us. You enter our giveaways and click on our Amazon associates link. We do this for you and appreciate your readership. We hope you’ll join in the fun and festivities of BBAW! (we’ll have a special contest just for you!)
Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Acknowledging the hard work of book bloggers and their growing impact on book marketing and their essential contribution to book buzz in general, I am excited to announce the first Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Think of it as a retreat for book bloggers and a chance for us to totally nerd out over books together. And of course, shower each other with love and appreciation.
Register: In order to experience the maximum impact of the week, register your participation (just like a retreat)! To register, just send an email to bookbloggerappreciationweekATgmailDOTcom with your blog URL and what you consider your niche…i.e, general book blog, classics blog, personal blog with a healthy dose of books, YA books blog, etc. Then, add one of the two buttons at the bottom of this post to your sidebar. If you are a reader (no blog) just send an email announcing your plans to follow along.
Why bother? If you register, you will be added to a book blog directory which will exist long after this week is over. Additionally, you will receive one raffle entry into the daily giveaways during BBAW at My Friend Amy.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Perhaps my favorite book this year. Dear Reader, I loved this book. I loved the characters, I loved the epistolary style, I loved the history, I loved the plot. I loved the literary references and the importance of books. The only thing that I didn't love was finishing this delightful novel.
Don't let the title fool you. Whimsical as it is (and I don't believe I mentioned that I loved the title AND the cover), the novel is not all whimsy and good humor. The subject matter - the occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII - is serious, well-researched, and detailed.
Did I mention the influence of Charles Lamb? Charles Lamb, my favorite essayist, is influential in establishing the initial contact between Juliet Ashton and the Guernsey Literary Society, and Mr. Lamb makes his presence felt throughout if only in a minor way.
I don't want to tell too much. This is a book that should be personally discovered by every lover of books and literature; the wit, the charm, and the literary delight are ever present, and ever balanced by the serious consequences of German Occupation.
Lesley's review first caught my interest, so when I saw it at the library, I couldn't resist. This, however, is a book that I'd like to own and return to whenever the need for it might arise.
Other reviews: Marg, Kay, and Katherine
Fiction. Historical novel and much more. 2008. 274 pages.
Oh, I don't know. I agree with the statement, "...the lives we live are the lives we make" (the bold and italics are part of the original quote).
The book, however, seems another example of a self-help book that can be capsulized in one sentence and the rest becomes a bit monotonous. Pelzer was subjected to horrible abuse as a child and has evidently overcome many of the obstacles in his path, and yet ...
How strange that I don't quibble with the premise, and yet I quibble with the book itself. There was a reason that it took me so long to finish.
Pelzer has written at least 9 books, has a radio show, and is a popular public speaker.
This one is an ARC.
Nonfiction. Self-help. 2008. 192 pages.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Moving Forward: Taking the Lead in Your Life by Dave Pelzer. Pelzer is the author of the memoir A Child Called "It" - which was on the NY Times best-seller list for 6 years. He opens the book with the statement, "I believe the lives we live are the lives we make." I was almost exactly half way through this one before putting it down. I agree that it is easy to blame others or circumstances for the bad stuff in our lives and that ultimately we are responsible for our own choices. Have a few questions about the way Pelzer has parlayed his experiences into a profitable business, but can't disagree with the basic premise.Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg. I loved Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and used many of her practices with great success in the classroom. This book is a series of associative and meditative exercises to help you "discover and open forgotten doors of memory." Most of the exercises are 1-2 pages, so the book is easy to pick up and put down. Goldberg studied with Allen Ginsberg, and Ginsberg remain a figure of great importance to her long after his death.The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart. McTaggert is "an award-winning science journalist and leading figure in the human consciousness studies commmunity."
The opening chapters are largely concerned with physics and quantum physics (a bit beyond my grasp) and some interesting stories about the scientists engaging in the various experiments. However, when I have a lot of nonfiction - and I'm a slow reader of nonfiction - I tend to seek other activities more frequently, and thus, though I'm really quite interested in this one, it has settled in the "on hold" stacks. Must get back to it.Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery. I do love biographies and Alice Roosevelt was certainly an iconic (flamboyant, witty, vibrant) figure. I'm enjoying this one.We will see how this goes... Can I stick with nonfiction long enough to get through all of them before going back to fiction? The biography won't be a problem because it is the one I've been picking up on the rare occasions I've been reading lately.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
The Absent Ones
The two foals sleep back to back
in the sun like one butterfly.
Their mothers, the mares, have weaned them,
have bitten them loose like button thread.
The beavers have forced their kit
out of the stick house; he waddles
like a hairy beetle across the bottom land
in search of other arrangements.
My mother has begun to grow down,
tucking her head like a turtle.
She is pasting everyone's name
on the undersides of her silver tea service.
Our daughters and sons have burst
from the marionette show
leaving a tangle of strings
and gone into the unlit audience.
Alone I water the puffball patch.
I exhort the mushrooms to put up.
Alone I visit the hayfield.
I fork up last summer's horse-apples
to let the seeds back in the furrow.
Someone comes toward me--a shadow.
Two parts of a butterfly flicker
in false sun and knit together.
A thigh brushes my thigh.
The stones are talking in code.
I will braid up the absent ones like onions.
The missing I will wrap like green tomatoes.
I will split seventy logs for winter,
seven times seven times seven.
This is the life I came with.
It is a poem of loss, immediate and impending. Of change. Of memory. Of acceptance. Children grow up and leave. Parents grow old and die. Some things, however, remain the same: we go on living our lives, doing the practical, the every day chores.
Don't you love the lines:
Our daughters and sons have burst
from the marionette show
leaving a tangle of strings
and gone into the unlit audience.
We did; we moved from the parental sphere out into the world, and our children have done or will do exactly the same. And while we may want that independence for them, there remains the physical absence, the loss of their presence. So Kumin wraps her memories in every day activities and, in a way, keeps the absent ones close to her ...and goes on about her life.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
6 words: Plenty of ideas for organic living.
Beautiful pictures and lots of 'em. An overview of ways in which one can tread more softly on this planet. I enjoyed it, learned a few things, and appreciate the extensive directory of web sites for saving energy, gardening, cooking organically, recycling, etc.
A place to get started, with lots of resources. Very few of us will ever do all of these things, but the book gives good ideas for different areas of living that anyone can try. I'm not going to raise chickens, but I do grow culinary herbs. No cows for me, but I've looked at rain barrels as a means of providing water for my garden.
The library appears to be anxious that I return this one. It has missed its overdue date because I've been so slow to review.
Nonfiction. Ecology. 2007. 347 pages.
Monday, August 04, 2008
6 words: Different from King's usual, but good.
This novel is quite different from her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. It is weightier in both content and style, but I liked it. Set in England shortly before the General Strike of 1926, the plot involves an American Bureau of Investigation agent Harris Stuyvesant who, working on his own, is in pursuit of a terrorist bomber who has struck several times in the U.S. and then retreated to England.
Harris is turned away from most avenues of aid until he meets the unpleasant Alduous Carstairs. Carstairs suggests using Bennet Grey, an unusual casualty of WWI, as a method of getting close to the man Harris suspects of the bombings. In spite of his instinctive dislike of Carstairs, Harris agrees to meet and work with Bennet Grey.
Politics, love, and suspense mix well in this novel. The beginning of the book is a little slow, but the characters have depth-- and for me, the strength of the characters overcame any other problems (length) the novel might have.
Fiction. Historical, Suspense, Mystery. 2008. 548 pages.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Here is a book that I've put on my wish list: A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, & Martin Johnson Head. Sounds Delicious!
I'm still not reading, however, things are pretty stalled on that front. Well, except for this sort of thing... This week I have been busy with all sorts of activities with granddaughter Mila and my niece and nephew, Maggie and Matthew.
I've heard an awful lot of "Jenny Claire! Jenny Claire" and "Excuse me, Jenny Claire, but can I...." We've been having a wonderful time with art and craft and books and Sci Port and fountains. Jenny Claire will need a few days to recover by the time Miss Mila goes home! I'm not used to so much activity and so much fun!