Search This Blog

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Knock Out

Coulter, Catherine.  Knock Out.

An FBI/paranormal adventure that began well, but deteriorated quickly.  FBI agent Dillon Savitch is in his local bank during a bank robbery; the bad guys/gals are really bad, but Savitch manages to save the day.  This story line then becomes a bit superfluous as the novel progresses.  It crops up intermittently and is eventually solved, but has nothing to do with the other story line. 

The paranormal thread was initially intriguing; Autumn, a seven-year-old little girl, begins communicating telepathically with Agent Savitch, but as her Uncles Blessed and Grace enter the scene, the story begins to feel like a parody of evil.  If a family as perverted, powerful, and insane as the Backman's existed, it is doubtful that they would limit themselves to their tiny kingdom of Bricker's Bowl; with their powers, they could have taken over the world.  Of course, they were all crazy, and well, not too bright.

Fiction.  Mystery/Paranormal.  2009.  417 pages.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Out of Nowhere

Mortman, Doris.  Out of Nowhere.

Cynthia Baird discovers a money laundering scheme which results in the murder of her brother by a drug cartel.  Nevertheless, Cynthia agrees to testify at the trial.  The drug cartel is vengeful, however, and both Cynthia and her daughter Ricki must go into the witness protection program, WitSec.  All ties to to family, including those to Cynthia's ex-husband Lionel Baird, Ricki's father, are severed, and Baird believes that his former wife and his daughter were killed in an explosion.

The story picks up again years later with a young forensic photographer, Max (Amanda Maxwell, formerly Ricki Baird).  Max is a very private person in many ways; her life in WitSec has taught her to be less than forthcoming about many things and the threat of violence from the drug cartel keeps her ability to trust at a minimum.

In spite of the possible consequences, Max develops a relationship with her father, a wealthy and powerful man who has mourned the deaths of his former wife and daughter over the years.  She has also developed relationships with two attractive men, and when the money laundering/drug cartel story once again makes the news, Max has a lot to worry about.  And then her father is murdered....

I enjoyed this one.

Fiction.  Mystery/Suspense.  1998.  455 pages.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Killing Kindness

Hill, Reginald.  A Killing Kindness.

Reprinted by Felony and Mayhem Press, this is #5 in the Dalziel & Pascoe series.  As usual, with Hill's earlier novels in this series, I find it most interesting to observe the development of Hill's style and the evolution of his most familiar characters.  Detective Sergeant Edgar Wield, the third wheel in the triple threat of the Yorkshire Constabulary, is both shockingly ugly and surprisingly lovable.  His character development in this fifth novel is noteworthy as we get a little more insight into his love life.  Wieldy is second only to Fat Andy in my book.

A serial killer, nicknamed The Choker, is targeting women.  To Fat Andy's disgust, the case involves a clairvoyant, a psychologist, and a couple of linguists.  Pascoe, on the other hand, the more modern and liberal half of the team, tries to keep an open mind.

Truthfully, the motivation for the murders wasn't convincing to me, but I enjoyed the novel anyway.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  1980/2009.  277 pages.


 Davis, Lindsey.  Alexandria:  A Marcus Didius Falco Novel.

While not one of my favorite Falco mysteries, the information about Alexandria and the great Library was fascinating.

Falco and Helena, along with their children and Falco's brother-in-law, are visiting Falco's uncle in Alexandria, Egypt.  On their first evening, their hosts have a dinner party and Theon, the Head Librarian is an honored guest.  The next morning, Theon is found dead in a locked room at the Library.

While I found the mystery itself adequate, not enthralling, the historical tidbits were fascinating.  The dissection of Theon by the Alexandria Zoo Keeper is particulary interesting because of the historical data included concerning Eristratus of Chios and Herophilus of Chalcedon who were physicians and anatomists at the Alexandria medical school.  They are both considered founders of modern medicine and performed dissections (and possibly vivisections!) that provided significant information about the workings of the human body.

Hero/Heron was a Greek mathematician and engineer who invented the first steam engine, a windwheel to harness wind power, devices for the theater, a force pump widely used by Romans, and more. 

The relationship between Falco and Helena Justinua remains one of the charming aspects of this series, but the plot was sometimes a bit tedious.

The following links show the importance of Alexandria and its scholars:

Erasistratus of Chios
Herophilus of Chalcedon
Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria

Fiction. Mystery/Historical Fiction. 2009.  338 pages.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Alexander Cipher

Adams, Will.  The Alexander Cipher.

Contrived.  Thought I'd like it because it was an archaeological mystery, but didn't find the characters particularly interesting or the plot involving. 

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  336 pages.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”  Ben Okri

Love this quote...

The Blue Last

Grimes, Martha.  The Blue Last.

I picked this one up at the library because I felt like a reunion with Richard Jury, Melrose Plant, and the other eccentric characters that Grimes has created.

Inspector Jury is approached by an old friend and colleague, Micky Haggerty, who is dying of cancer.  Haggerty wants Jury to prove that during the WWII bombing of London, a baby was switched.  Two young mothers, two babies of the same age.  One mother and child killed by a bomb, one young mother and child survive.  The surviving mother was the Nanny, the surviving baby is supposed to be the child of a wealthy family. 

Despite the difficulties of a case this old, Jury wants desperately to help his old friend.  With the help of his friend Melrose Plant, Jury begins the investigation, which involves two charming children and a dog.  Children and dogs always play a part in Grimes' mysteries, and while they may not be absolutely believable,  the children (and dogs) are filled with personality.

Unfortunately, the mystery itself has a number of flaws, not least of which is Jury's age and preoccupation with his past.  By no means is The Blue Last one of Grimes' better novels.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  2001.  415 pages.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Girl on Legare Street

White, Karen.  The Girl on Legare Street.

A sequel to The House on Tradd Street (which I haven't read), this review copy arrived last week. Melanie Middleton is a realtor in Charleston who is busy restoring the historic house she inherited on Tradd Street when the mother who abandoned her when she was 7 appears on the scene.  Both mother and daughter share psychic abilities, but Melanie's resentment and sense of betrayal keeps her from welcoming the mother who left her over 30 years ago.

Jack Trenholme from The House on Tradd Street provides the romantic angle, and he and Melanie spar repeatedly as she denies her attraction to him.  There is a protective ghost and a vengeful ghost, some curious paintings from the late 19th century depicting young girls wearing identical lockets, a female reporter who has an odd sense of familiarity and an intense interest in the house on Legare Street and its occupants present and past.

Characterization is either lacking or stereotypical and the supernatural plot requires a great deal of "suspension of disbelief."  The book seems to fall in the chic lit/romance/paranormal realm with plenty of elements from each sub-genre. The author believes in "tell don't show" and is afraid you might miss her intentions, so repeats them frequently.

I did like it better White's The Lost Hours, but once again hoped for more.  On the other hand, it is a fast read and all the other blog reviews I read were highly enthusiastic.

Fiction.  Supernatural/Romance.  2009.  335 pages

Monday, November 23, 2009

All the Colors of Darkness

Robinson, Peter.  All the Colors of Darkness.

Robinson is usually one of my favorites, but this Inspector Banks novel was a disappointment. The entire novel seems a departure from Robinson's usual style.

The MI6 angle grated on me for some reason; the murder-suicide plot was convaluted on its own and didn't need the additional complications.  The Banks/Sophia relationship was uncomfortable from the beginning and becomes more uncomfortable as the story evolves.  The musical references have become stale, and yet there are even more in this novel.

I found this novel darker and somehow less authentic in regard to characters and plot.  There seems to be a personal bitterness involved, but nothing rang true for me.

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  2009.  356 pages.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Price of Butcher's Meat

Hill, Reginald.  The Price of Butcher's Meat.

This is the installment I missed between Death Comes for the Fat Man and Midnight Fugue.

Although I always enjoy Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series, this is one of my favorites so far.  After Superintendent Andy Dalziel has come through his coma and been released from the hospital, he bows to pressure and goes to a convalescent home to continue his recovery.

Fat Andy is such a larger-than-life character, and not only in physical girth.  His crude and politically incorrect observations are often intentionally startling and usually hilarious.  I adore him in literature, even knowing that I would probably be unable to tolerate him in real life.  He is a modern Falstaff, but one less likely to meet the same fate.

The novel is presented in a different format that includes the emails of an amusingly insightful and satiric young woman and the recordings of the big man himself. Franny Roote makes another appearance which certainly surprised me, but Franny has played a part in quite a few of the D & P novels.

Good characterization as usual, interesting plot, and wonderful use of language.  Even more literary allusions than usual.  I'm not sure how Hill manages to do this without sound pedantic, but he does.

As I mentioned, I enjoyed this book even more than usual.  Hill remains one of the best and most literate authors in the genre of crime fiction/police procedural/mystery.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2008.  519 pages.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Watson, Winifred.  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Thoroughly charming, this little book is has the whimsy of a delightful fairy tale.  Miss Pettigrew is sent to interview as a governess, but inadvertently becomes a life-saver when her future employer opens the door and begs for her help.  The lovely Miss LaFosse draws the middle-aged spinster into the glamorous and somewhat dissolute life of the "bright young things" of the 1930's.

Miss Pettigrew puts aside her niggling moral judgments when Miss LaFosse and her friends not only happily include her, but find her wise and clever and capable of helping solve their various difficulties.  Miss Pettigrew receives a make-over in all senses of the phrase.  Surprised and happy to be seen in such a new light, Miss Pettigrew gives herself over to the enjoyment of the day, feeling much like a modern Cinderella.

I've read many positive reviews of this book and join the ranks of its many fans.  Light-hearted and amusing, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is definitely a feel-good read.

A Persephone Classic--I know that Danielle and Iliana are collectors of these "reprints of neglected classic by C20th (mostly women) writers."

Fiction.  1938/2008.  234 pages.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Now & Then

Sheehan, Jacqueline.  Now & Then.

A review copy of a time travel novel.  I love the idea of time travel, but find it a difficult premise to pull off.  The Time Traveler's Wife, which I read right after it was published, kept me interested, but ultimately left me disappointed.   Outlander by Gabaldon enthralled me after a few chapters, mainly because there was a complete story in the past and the characters were much more than a device.  The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers comes highly recommended, and I think I'll look for a library copy.

Back to Now & Then -- nothing really engaged me, and I was put off by the means of time travel and the back stories of the characters... and I suppose, by the characters themselves.  The conclusion may not have been a conclusion, but if there does happen to be a sequel, I don't think I'll bother.

Oh, and the dog on the front?  Could have been a great asset to the story, but Madigan's role was inconsequential and the cover misleading.

Other Reviews:  Booking It and Dear Author

Fiction.  Time Travel/Fantasy.  2009.  384 pages.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Magician's Apprentice

Canavan, Trudi.  The Magician's Apprentice.

This novel is a stand-alone prequel to Canavan's Black Magician trilogy (which I haven't read).  The novel kept me occupied, but not fully engaged.  The world Canavan has created is adequate in some ways, but for some reason fails to create the involvement one hopes for in fantasy.

The characters never quite come off the page and the plot builds tension that isn't sustained.  The "war" and the tactics/strategy are a large portion of the book and  strangely insipid.  However, when your armies consist of 100 or so magicians on either side, it is a bit difficult to muster a sense of two countries at war.

Tessia, daughter of a Healer, discovers that she also has magical abilities.  Lord Dakon takes her on as his second apprentice.  Magicians draw magical abilities from their apprentices in exchange for teaching them.  The "good" guys are conscientious about this magical draw; the "bad" guys are not.   Magical powers seem remarkably dull and frequently useless in this book.

In the last 100 or so pages, there is a definite change in direction as the author (evidently) prepares the ground for the trilogy already published.  I didn't find this switch a comfortable one; it seemed contradictory to original characterization and to previous goals.

Fiction.  Fantasy.  2009.  588 pages.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Midnight Fugue

Hill, Reginald.  Midnight Fugue.

  Midnight Fugue is Fat Andy's journey to regain his rightful place in the police hierarchy after his injury and coma in Death Comes for Fat AndyDalziel has cut his convalescence a little short, and even he has some questions about his abilities, but he is determined to re-establish his prominence in the Mid-Yorkshire Constabulary.

In an attempt to do a favor for an old acquaintance, Andy sees a way to provide aid to another policeman and to get back in the game unofficially.  Events, however, take some unpleasant twists when Shirley Novello is seriously injured and a young journalist murdered.  Andy discovers that the roots lead back into the past as the branches reach toward future political ramifications.

As usual, Hill can be counted on for great characterization and a tight plot (with some satisfying subplots) as well as his customary literate and literary allusions.  I had to check on the allusion to Vicar Bray as I'd never heard of him before, but a couple of allusions to Hamlet, one to Joseph Conrad, one to a character in a nursery rhyme (one of my favorites for some odd reason, Dr. Fell), one to William Blake, more than one to Edwin Muir, and who knows how many I may have missed.  All allusions are perfectly incorporated, an addition to your pleasure if you catch them, no loss to the story if not.  There is also a musical motif running through the chapters headings -- from the prelude to con fuoco poi smorzando.

Andy takes the lead in this novel with Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldie, Novello, and Hat just along for the ride, but that is as it should be as the Fat Man returns after his long coma and recovery.  The novel is shorter than many of Hill's more recent Dalziel & Pascoe novels, but in my admittedly prejudiced opinion, another good'un!

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime/Police Procedural.  2009.  361 pages.

Monday, November 09, 2009

By Heresies Distressed

Weber, David.  By Heresies Distressed.

The third in Weber's Safehold series, By Heresies Distressed allowed me to return to that world  I first visited in Armageddon Reef.  I loved it, but I am a huge Weber fan.

I don't advise reading this series out of order.  I've reviewed Armageddon Reef here and By Schism Rent Asunder here, and they give a bit of the background, but this just isn't a series that would work well without a chronological reading.

This installment deals with several battles as Caleb moves against the enemies who attacked his kingdom, and as usual, Weber is a dab hand at making battle strategy and tactics fascinating.  Sharleyan is busy trying to manage the kingdom of Charis in Caleb's absence.

The Church and State political component continues to interest me as well, but Weber's ability to bring each character (and their are so many) to life is the major factor in making his newest world a real one.

I couldn't decide whether to be disappointed that the story is still not complete or delighted that there is at least one more novel to look forward to.

Fiction.  Science Fiction.  2009.  475 pages.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dante's Numbers

Hewson, David.  Dante's Numbers.

Nic Costa, Leo Falcone, Gianni Peroni, and Teresa Lupo return in this novel, to the delight of many fans of the series.  Hewson seems to have a little difficulty in the opening of the novel (I had a similar feeling in The Lizard's Bite), but once he settles in, the story becomes involving and intriguing.

Falcone's team, originally designated to guard artifacts on the set of a movie about Dante's Inferno, come into conflict with the Carabinierre, who have been assigned protection for the actors.   When the first death occurs right before the movie's premiere, Falcone is frustrated by his team's exclusion from the investigation.  Official exclusion, actually, because his team is making their own inquiries.

Then, when the actor who plays Dante is murdered in a gruesome and voyeuristic manner, the Roman Premiere is canceled and re-scheduled to appear in Los Angeles.  In the meantime, Maggie Flavier who plays Beatrice (evidently there was some license in the movie because it is Virgil who guides Dante through the Inferno, not Beatrice) and Nic Costa have become friends.  When Falcone's team travels to L.A. with the artifacts, Nic and Maggie's relationship continues to develop, and Maggie herself may be the next target.

My favorite parts were not those with Nic and Maggie, however, but with Teresa Lupo and her friendship with twins Hank and Frank, retired firemen.

Lots of cinematic allusions particularly to Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  386 pages

Saturday, November 07, 2009

WWI Reading

Trench Literature -- Reading in WWI from ABE Books.  What were the ordinary soldiers reading during the first World War?  Trench Literature is an interesting article that gives some of the titles that the men in the trenches read.

How to Buy a Love of Reading

Gibson, Tanya Egan.  How to Buy a Love of Reading.

 From Publishers Weekly: 
Egan's debut, an odd blend of young adult melodrama and unsuccessful metafiction, winds itself into knots of empty story lines. Recognizing that their dullard daughter, Carley, needs an academic boost, Gretchen and Francis Wells hire author Bree McEnroy to write a book to Carley's specifications. Though Carley's love for reality television and Bree's fondness for self-conscious literary tropes should, in theory, unite to make a delightful story-within-a-story, it is often neglected or underwritten. Meanwhile, the cardboard secondary cast floats around Bree and Carley: there's Hunter, Carley's crush, whose alcoholic rakishness, we are assured, masks a poet's interior; Carley's social-climbing mother and philandering father; and Justin, Bree's college chum, who has become, on dubious merit, a literary star. Carley and Hunter's friendship is jeopardized by both his addictions and her unrequited adoration, and Bree and Justin reconcile. Plagued by thin, when not wildly inconsistent, characterization from the start, the narrative's tendency to flit from character to character without revealing anything memorable or insightful further blurs the point. Unfortunately, there isn't enough heart to redeem the dopiness.

I do agree with the above excerpt and didn't really want to bother with thinking about how to review this long indulgence myself.

I read it all...with my inner-critic on high volume the entire time.  Rich people are all shallow and/or mean-spirited?  May be...I don't know anyone who is the category of rich that these characters dwell in.  I hope there are those who live in that world who retain some common sense and a remnant of humanity.

The book is too, too clever and pretty empty.

Fiction. ? 2009.  389 pages.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Haunting Bombay

Agarwal, Shilpa.  Haunting Bombay.

The story of the Mittal family is a ghost story, but not a Western ghost story.  Thoroughly grounded in the atmosphere of Bombay (now Mumbai) and Hindu myth and religion, the ghost is both a supernatural and psychological phenomenon.

I found myself intrigued for a while, but as the story began to spin wider, I was less enchanted.  I've tried to figure out why that was so, but haven't successfully determined just what went wrong for me.

Essentially, it may be that my idea of a ghost story and of myth are so Westernized that the differences made it difficult to suspend disbelief.  As I've mentioned before, I'm not a great fan of magical realism and some of that quality is present in the book.

The writing and characterization are quite good, but the consequences of the original death spread so wide, with so many ripples, that Pinky's story is drastically diminished.  She becomes a device rather than a character.  Maji, the grandmother, has a role that rises and falls and ultimately offers the explanation.  She might deserve a book of her own.

I did enjoy the novel, and there was no way that I'd have abandoned it, but in the end, I didn't love it.

Fiction.  Supernatural/Psychological.  2009.  359 pages.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

To Serve Them All My Days

Delderfield, R. F.  To Serve Them All My Days.

OK -- I loved this one.  I liked it much better than God Is an Englishman because this is about a teacher, and I have some experience in this area.

David Powlett-Jones is invalided out of WWI, injured and suffering from shell-shock.  Despairing over the cost of the war in human lives, unable to control his shaking hands, he nevertheless accepts a job teaching history at Bamfylde School.  At Bamfylde, Davy eventually finds the healing his wounded spirit needs and a sense of being useful and of belonging to something important.  He also discovers that he is a born teacher.

The novel, with all of its wonderful detail, begins at the tag-end of the first World War and continues through the second.  Delderfield manages to involve the reader with all of his wonderful characters and give an overview of those years that includes the very personal effects on individuals and a wider historical and political perspective.

The book is comforting with its view of human nature--flawed, but with hope for improvement.  Delderfield doesn't avoid all of the tragedies of life, and there are many in the novel, but he has an optimism, a faith in mankind that buoys the reader.

I loved it.  Repeating myself, I know, but it's true.  I will re-visit Bamfylde, Davy, Algy, Howarth, and all of the men, women, and boys that populate these pages.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me this review copy!

Fiction.  Historical.  First publ. 1972.  Republ. 2008.  594 pages.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reviews Done and Scheduled

:) I've finished all my reviews and have 5 scheduled for the next several days.  By then, of course, I will have finished more books.  Well, I will if I stay in this reading mode. 

Still in post-tornado clean up, but it gets dark early, and I'm reading for hours every night. 

More on University Presses

As both a student and a former teacher, I relied on the University Press for research in any number of areas. No matter how specialized the topic, somewhere a UP had books on the subject. When I was in Austin this summer to get my yoga teacher training, one of my classmates was an editor for the University of Texas Press.

Naturally, we discussed books! Everything from our interest in Reginald Hill mysteries, to the more scholarly publications she was responsible for editing, to the future of books in general. We talked about E books and Kindle--of course, both of us want the feel of the book in hand and find it difficult to believe that "actual" books will ever disappear.

One thing she mentioned, however, made an impression on me. University Presses are having many of the difficulties of small book stores--competition. Amazon and B & N provide such easy access and low prices, which is wonderful in a way; but they have also contributed to the demise of many small, locally owned book stores. According to Allison, they are a bit of a threat to the UP system as well. I wish we had discussed this more fully, but we could only talk during our short breaks and often picked up on a new conversational thread after interruption.

Publishing books for specialized interests is not a profitable enterprise. For example, including all those lovely photographs for art books that are not going to be best sellers is an expensive undertaking, but publishing books on lit crit is also expensive and the audience is relatively small.

After my last post about University Presses, I did a little research on the topic. Here is a little information from the Association of American University Presses:

University presses are publishers. At the most basic level that means they perform the same tasks as any other publisher -- university presses acquire, develop, design, produce, market and sell books and journals, just like Random House or Condé Nast. But while commercial publishers focus on making money by publishing for popular audiences, the university press's mission is to publish work of scholarly, intellectual, or creative merit, often for a small audience of specialists.

University presses also differ from commercial publishers because of their place in the academic landscape. A university press is an extension of its parent institution, and it's also a key player in a more general network -- including learned societies, scholarly associations, and research libraries -- that makes scholarly endeavor possible. Like the other nodes in this network, university presses are charged with serving the public good by generating and disseminating knowledge. That's why the government has recognized our common interest in the work of university presses by granting them not-for-profit status.
Many of the books university presses publish, then, are meant primarily for scholars or other people interested in certain concentrated fields of research. Thousands of these books (generally termed monographs) have been published, on topics ranging from the meaning of gambling in nineteenth-century America to the changing nature of Balinese gamelan music. Monographs are generally sold in hardcover editions to libraries, and increasingly in paperback editions so that they may be used as supplemental reading in college courses.
Though scholarship is central to the mission of university presses, most also publish books of more general interest. That might mean narrative history, or poetry, or fiction translated from other languages. As commercial publishers increasingly turn away from books that are deemed unlikely to make a lot of money, university presses have found new fields to publish in -- and new audiences for their books. Because university presses are located all over the country, they also specialize in publishing books about the culture and history of different parts of America that attract less attention from commercial houses. You'll find general interest titles from university presses alongside the bestsellers at your local bookstore.
If you are interested in what your local UP might offer, check this link to the AAUP, and click on your closest UP.

Previous posts: In Support of University Presses and Sky Train (from the University of Washington Press)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Baker Street Letters

Robertson, Michael.  The Baker Street Letters.

I've enjoyed a lot of Sherlock Holme's take-offs, so the title interested me.  Reggie Heath, a London solicitor, leases office space at 221B Baker Street only to discover that written into the lease is the obligation to manage and respond (by form letter) to all correspondence addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

Reggie's brother Nigel, in charge of this chore,  comes across some recent letters relating to a letter written 20 years earlier from an eight-year-old girl.  A theft, a murder, and Nigel's unplanned flight to Los Angeles, all lead to Reggie's following his brother to find out what is going on.

This novel is the first in a planned series, but has a way to go before being able to sufficiently capture faithful readers.  An interesting premise, but ... the mystery has several scenes that feel repetitious and is average in characterization and narrative.

Will I try the next one?  Yes, many series take some time to warm up, and I'm hoping that will be the case here.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  277 pages.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Thanks for all the encouragement!   It is much appreciated.  Clean up is on-going.  Yesterday, I kind of ran out of steam and read most of the day.  Ahh, the escape offered by a good book!  Several reviews to get caught up on, but much more clean-up to do first.

Tree through the bedroom window.

The following pictures were taken Friday morning.  The water had begun to go down, but we were still cut off except for trucks and vehicles with a high wheel base.  Although the tornado tried to lift our roof...3 brick walls leaning one way or another and gaps between roof and wall, you can see that a few houses down, they lost their roof completely.

Friday, October 30, 2009

We Were in the Way

Tornado...Thursday afternoon
Opened the front door to this...

We were very lucky, although there is serious structural damage to the house.  More pictures on Bayou Quilts.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reading and on the Shelf

I'm still working on To Serve Them All Their Days (and loving it) and Haunted Bombay (and half a dozen others, that are on hold), but I have finished The Baker Street Letters and need to review it.

Between sewing and crafting and occasional blogging at Bayou Quilts, yoga classes (I've just begun teaching a class on Mon. & Wed., and I'm taking classes, too), and all the other details of life, keeping up with my reading has become difficult. Since I can't seem to live without books, I continue to persevere. :)

When I returned my last batch of books to the library, I told myself I wouldn't check out any more. Somehow, I still ended up coming home with these.Finished The Baker Street Letters and Haunted Bombay is in progress; the rest are on deck.

Dante's Numbers by David Hewson; a mystery about a film version of Dante's Inferno.

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson; adolescent girl doesn't like to to her parents persuade her to change her attitude...

By Heresies Distressed by David Weber; third book in Weber's Safehold series.

Weather here is awful so it is a perfect day to catch up on blogging and reading.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In Support of University Presses

This link to the University of Washington Press has a list of some wonderful nonfiction books. The following are some that interested me:

Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country by Marsha L. Weisiger

In Love with a Hillside Garden by Ann, Daniel, and Benjamin Streissguth

Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Seattle's Urban Community Gardens by Jeffrey Hou, Julie M. Johnson, and Laura J. Lawson.

They are currently offering 20% or more off on books--through Dec. 31, if you use the discount code mentioned at the bottom of this page.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History

Sam, Canyon. Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History.

The book opens with a foreword by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama which lends a certain gravitas to Ms. Sam's collection of oral histories. One of the Dalai Lama's statements enjoins those concerned with the fate of Tibet "neither to give up nor to give in to destructive emotions like anger and hatred." A difficult concept for most of us, but the four women whose stories are told here found their religion to be a sustaining factor despite the Chinese attempts to obliterate Tibetan Buddhism and severely punish those who practiced it.

In 1986, Canyon Sam, a third-generation Chinese American, decided to spend a year in Asia, concentrating on China. It didn't turn out that way; Ms. Sam did not enjoy China and ended up spending most of her time in Tibet after falling in love with the Tibetan people and landscape.

In 1990, the author returned to Tibet and began gathering oral histories from the women who survived the Chinese take over in 1959. We should all be grateful to Ms. Sam for caring enough to gather these stories and to preserve and publish them before they were lost. They may well be the only real overview of those decades that detail the experiences of women from their own perspectives.

Although the final version of her book has been limited to the stories of only four of the women interviewed, they are broadly representative of the situations of all Tibetan women who endured the horrors of the Chinese invasion and occupation of their country.

In 2007, Ms. Sam returned to Tibet and interviewed some of the women she had met and recorded in 1990. The author's own journeys to Tibet, her reception by the Tibetan people, her first-hand views of the Chinese presence and purpose are woven into this work, although the stories of the women whose stories she relates take precedence.

Moving and informative, Sky Train leaves the reader with much to think about, with new insights, and with new appreciation for the freedoms and privileges people in free countries take for granted. The tragedy of Tibet seems to be an almost hidden part of history.

The last 50 years of Tibetan history is heart-breaking in many ways, but the resilience and courage of the Tibetan people who have survived half a century of oppression is a fantastic and inspirational story in itself.

I read this book because of an email I received from Shaila Abdullah, author of Saffron Dreams, recommending it. The University of Washington Press sent me the book for review; I'm grateful to them for sending me a copy and to Shaila Abdullah for her recommendation and the suggestion that I read Sky Train.

Also of interest are the following documentaries, I watched earlier this year: 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama and Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion.

Nonfiction. Memoir/Oral History. 2009. 246 pages + notes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Little Stranger

Waters, Sarah. The Little Stranger.

Put The Fall of the House of Usher, The Turn of the Screw, and Wuthering Heights into a pot and stir. Add the author's particular point of view and personal intentions, bake at 463 pages and out comes The Little Stranger.

If you've read any of the above, you will immediately feel the connection with Poe, James, and Bronte: a huge old house in decline; a narrator who is both unreliable and somewhat removed--distanced in some way from the other characters; a brother and sister; a ghost and/or curse and/or anthropomorphism and/or psychological disturbances; and definitely ambiguity, doubt, and uncertainty.

Who is "the little stranger"? What caused the fires, noises, and other mysterious and tragic occurrences? Even after finishing the novel, you aren't sure. Waters has carefully avoided a solution, and almost everyone and everything is suspect. Do the events indicate the supernatural, human projection, a combination of both? Echoes of The Turn of the Screw...

Set in rural post-war England, the story also delineates the social changes that have been in play since World Wars I and II. Grand old families and estates are no longer so grand or financially secure and many find themselves struggling to keep things together. The Ayres family is one of these; with insufficient funds to maintain house, grounds, and servants in the manner of pre-war times, they make every effort to save what they can.

The changes in social relationships are also difficult. The working classes are still burdened with traditional attitudes toward the upper classes, but are finding themselves less dependent. Attitudes of superiority and inferiority are still there, of course, but there is a burgeoning recognition of the changes that are occurring.

The author avoids letting the reader feel strongly about the characters; the reader becomes an observer, but doesn't necessarily feel attachment to any of the characters. The novel evokes curiosity and suspense, while somehow discouraging personal involvement. The many inconsistencies and uncertainties keep the reader from committing whole-heartedly to Dr. Farraday or any of the Ayres family. Unsure of where things are heading, the reader tends to reserve judgment.

Shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize, the novel is worth the read, but will be enjoyed more by those who can tolerate ambiguity because Waters, like Henry James, leaves things open.

Although I have a feeling about what caused most of the problems, there are a few events that just can't be explained and appear to contradict my opinion. This is a slight difference from The Turn of the Screw where nothing appears to directly contradict and all avenues are of interpretation are possible. Unless our narrator was even more unreliable than I thought...

I enjoyed the novel, but liked Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale more.

Fiction. Supernatural? Mystery? Suspense. 2009. 463 pages.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Reed, Kit. Enclave.

My new method of reviewing books I don't care for: Use someone else's review. Especially if I don't agree with the review. Perverse, I know, but that way you get two sides.

from Publishers Weekly: "In this gripping dystopian satire, ex-marine Sargent Whitmore has a plan to make millions while protecting children from the self-destructing modern world. He turns an old Mediterranean monastery into a combined impenetrable fortress and school, and enrolls 100 filthy-rich children, most of them already well-known for legal troubles, drug problems and paparazzi run-ins. Once there, everyone is cut off from the outside world, fed only canned news stories about wars and natural disasters. When things inevitably go horribly wrong, young hacker "Killer" Stade, physician assistant Cassie, drug and sex-crazed Sylvie and monastery-raised orphan Benny all attempt heroics, but remain deeply flawed. Reed (The Baby Merchant) displays unflinching willingness to explore all the facets of all of the characters, and her refusal to paint anyone as a simple villain makes this far more than a typical disaster novel."

Didn't find it gripping, but kept hoping that I would. The conclusion sealed my disenchantment.

Fiction. Science Fiction/Dystopian. 2009. 366 pages.

Friday, October 16, 2009

God Is an Englishman

Delderfield, R.F. God Is an Englishman.

This is a book that I've heard about for years without ever seeking it out, so I'm grateful to Sourcebooks for sending me a review copy (even if I'm way behind in reading and reviewing this book and others).

It is a classic and deserves to be.

In 1857 Adam Swann leaves the military with a tiny secret or two or three, a handful of rubies from his service in India. He has a dream, and he intends for the rubies to help finance it. Adam Swann is a capitalist with very liberal leanings; he believes in commerce, but not at the expense of his fellow man.

This is the story of how he establishes his business and grows it from the ground up with wonderful enthusiasm and attention to detail. It is also the story of the men and women who, for various reasons, come to believe in Adam Swann and his dream.

From Hamlet Ratcliff (lion tamer extraordinaire) to young Rookwood who rises from an orphaned boy to a gaffer; from the bawdy Falstaffian character of the old coachman Blubb to Edith Wadsworth of the Crescents -- each of the minor characters materializes into a real individual over the course of the novel. And those are just a few of those who are involved in Swann-On-Wheels, hauliers.

This is also the story of Henrietta, the run-away girl who becomes Swann's wife.. Henrietts emerges from a spoiled adolescent to mother, and finally, to genuine partner in the marriage. She blossoms slowly, learning some hard lessons along the way. Delderfield also has Adam Swann learn a few things about himself and his wife during the nine years of the marriage.

Delderfield manages to keep the story of commerce interesting and includes many historical details from the period. One of the more interesting is the episode concerning the Staplehurst train wreck; Charles Dickens was on the train (along with Ellen Ternan and her mother, although they aren't mentioned) and participated in rescuing some of the passengers.

This is a long novel and the first in a trilogy, but it is an epic worth pursuing. When I picked up the novel again after neglecting it, I couldn't put it down. The last 300 pages flew by.

Fiction. Historical. Originally published 1970. Republication 2009. 634 pages.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Played with Fire.

When I found this one on the new book shelf at the library, I immediately looked for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Larsson, but no luck. Disappointed, I nevertheless went ahead and began in the middle of this trilogy, determined to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo eventually.

Liz Salander left Sweden after the events in the first novel and this novel begins with Salander relaxing on the Caribbean island of Grenada. She is busy reading Dimensions in Mathematics and observing the behavior of the couple in the next room of her hotel. The husband is abusive, and Salander is curious enough to do some investigating.

The episode in the Caribbean provides some basic background about events and characters from the first novel and a hint about Salander's values. She's definitely flawed, her values skewed, but abusive men are a red flag to this young woman, and when given the opportunity, she does something about the situation.

The story then moves back to Sweden where the magazine Millenium, under the direction of Mikail Blomkvist, is preparing to run an expose on the sex trade. Soon after Salander returns to Sweden (buying and furnishing a new apartment and attempting to live a "normal" life), she finds herself the main suspect in the murders of the journalist writing the article about the sex trade and his girlfriend, who has written her doctoral thesis on the subject.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is fast-paced and suspenseful, the plot evolves seamlessly, and the characters are well-drawn (all flawed, but many idealistic in spite of it).

Such a shame that Larsson died after delivering his three manuscripts for publication.... At least I have two more to go, the first and the last. Since - d%**it - I started in the middle!

Fiction. Mystery/Suspense. 2009. 503 pages.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In Progress and TBR

I'm back to reading God Is an Englishman by R.F. Delderfield (thanks to Sourcebooks, who sent me this ARC) and to my chagrin, I must apologize because it should have been reviewed in September, and I still haven't finished it. I can blame a lot of factors, but the fact remains -- it wasn't finished and reviewed in the agreed upon time. The sad part is that it an excellent book, and I had plenty of time to read it, but I waited and life interfered.

Sourcebooks also sent me a copy of To Serve Them All My Days, another Delderfield classic.

Although I don't remember any contact concerning this book, I received Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Rembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. Many of you have read at least one volume of Proust, but not I (slacker that I am); this may be just the thing for me, and I'm looking forward to it. This one is thanks to Random House.

From Pantheon, The Locust and the Bird by Hanan Al-Shayk, the story of her mother, a Lebanese woman who made some unorthodox decisions; the book is called both a tribute and a critique of a woman whose choices were controversial for the time and place. I like the sound of this one even if the cover doesn't appeal.

From Chandra Prasad, Breathe the Sky; Prasad is the author of On Borrowed Wings, which I reviewed some time ago. This novel is inspired by the life of Amelia Earhart, who has always been a bit of an icon in our family. Since my youngest daughter is named Amelia (she of the recent scare with meningitis, and who is now back to normal), we both have an interest in the exploits of Amelia Earhart.

These are on my TBR shelf along with several others. There are also a couple of reviews to finish up.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bare Bones

Reichs, Kathy. Bare Bones.

When the television show Bones began, I wasn't a great fan. The characters were too different from those in Reichs' books. I've totally adjusted to that inconsistency now and rarely miss an episode, but still love connecting with the original characters in the novels.

As usual, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan has to find a way to weave a number of dangling threads into whole cloth, and as usual, she does so handily.

Perhaps there was a wee bit too much going on in this one, though. While all of Reichs' books have complex plots, this one seemed to lack the appropriate focus. Burned baby, missing mother, bear bones, romance with Ryan, concern about daughter's romance, deadly stalker...

Most of the novels in this series have a secondary theme; this one deals with endangered wildlife. I like this aspect of the series and usually learn a little something along the way.

Maybe not the best in the series, but an entertaining evening's read!

Fiction. Mystery. 2003. 380 pages.

Friday, October 09, 2009

In the Shadow of Gotham

Pintoff, Stefanie. In the Shadow of Gotham.

A debut author and a new series! In 1905, Detective Simon Ziele thought he was transferring to a quiet, small-town atmosphere when he left New York's police department. A shocking murder, however, involves him in an investigation that leads back to the big city.

The investigation has barely begun when Ziele is contacted by criminologist Alistair Sinclair, who believes he knows who brutally murdered Sarah Wingate. Sinclair tells the detective that the murder sounds too much like the fantasies of Michael Fromley, the young man Sinclair has been studying, for it to be a coincidence.

But what possible connection could Fromley have had with Sarah Wingate, a brilliant mathematician? And where is Michael Fromley? He appears to have disappeared. Ziele and Sinclair work together to solve this murder, but Simon Ziele has some questions about Alistair Sinclair and his work with potential criminals.

Thoroughly involving, I look forward to the next in this series and hope to see Simon's character (and a few others) a bit better developed. One of the interesting and enjoyable aspects of a new series is seeing the main characters emerge and evolve.

Fiction. Historical Mystery/Crime/Procedural. 2009. 381 pages.

Excess Baggage

Carnes, Tracy Lea. Excess Baggage.

Tracy Carnes takes yoga at Lotus Studio and is a new friend and a fellow yogini. She suffered from ulcerative colitis as a young adult and had an ileostomy the day after her 30th birthday. Her novel is a blending of fiction and fact, detailing the problems experienced by those who live with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

Her fictional character, Kelly Carmichael, is a young woman without direction, who tries to please her father with little success, has managed to attend several colleges without graduating and to hold a number of jobs for brief periods. Commitment and follow-through are not part of her lexicon. The novel follows Kelly through her failures and "almost" successes as she floats through life with little responsibility.

Just when things begin to turn around for her, Kelly is faced with a string of overwhelming troubles including her father's illness and death, her own illness and operation, her relationship with her mother, and her expectations of her boyfriend.

This short book covers several issues including the difficulty of living with any of the forms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), conflicts between marriage and career, taking responsibility for one's own life, and relationships.

I haven't know Tracy Carnes long, but I certainly admire her ability to live her life to the fullest. She is amazingly physically active at everything from yoga to scuba diving and...the flying trapeze!

Fiction. 2008. 185 pages.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Grave Goods

Franklin, Ariana. Grave Goods.

Another in the series of medieval doctor Adelia Aguilar, Henry II's Mistress of Death. Adelia has solved several murders for Henry (this is the third in the series) and is once again offered little choice but to attempt to verify the bones found at Glastonbury. Purported to be the skeletons of Arthur and Guinevere, the skeletons could help Henry lay to rest the myth Arthur's return.

Adelia, Mansur, Gytha, and Allie find themselves in the middle of more than one mystery during their sojourn in Glastonbury. Henry wants Adelia to find definitive proof concerning the skeletons (difficult, indeed), but Lady Emma (from The Serpent's Tale) and her entourage has also disappeared near Glastonbury, and Adelia is much more concerned about her friend's fate.

As usual, Franklin includes excellent historic detail, creates interesting characters, and includes a little hint of romance when Rowley appears once again.

I especially enjoyed the group of men who made up Useless Eustice's Frank Pledge. Although these characters had little time individually, they had definite personalities and added the best dash of spice to the story.

Henry II's reforms had huge impact on the development of English law, and Franklin always includes details in a manner well-integrated with the story. A towering historic figure (remember Eleanor of Aquitaine & Thomas a'Beckett?), Franklin's Henry incorporates much of what has been said about him historically and still makes him fit seamlessly into her mysteries.

Those who have savored the previous books in this series will appreciate this one as well. The first was the best, but I've enjoyed all of them.

Fiction. Historical Mystery. 2009. 331 pages.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Many Thanks

...for all the kind comments! I really appreciate all of the support and the encouraging comments! The book blogging community is such a wonderful and supportive one. Thanks, again. :)

Amelia had her doctor appointment yesterday and was cleared to go back to work for half a day for the rest of this week. She's still easily tired, but things are getting back to normal, and we are all so grateful.

I've been reading. Several books in the last few days--just the kind I needed! I've gone through several mysteries; this weekend was the opening of squirrel season which meant I had the entire weekend to spend indulging myself.

Reviews are in the works.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hot House Flowers and the 9 Plants of Desire

Berwin, Margot. Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire.

I actually finished this over a month ago, but didn't get around to a review. Started well, but went down hill. I'm not a great fan of magical realism, although I do occasionally enjoy some books in the genre.

This was not one that I cared for. Although the initial chapters held my interest, the characters were one-dimensional and the plot, despite its efforts, didn't hold together. The "fantasy" created ended up both wild and unsatisfying.

However, once again, I find myself in the minority:

Review on Amazon from Publishers Weekly: Berwin delivers a bangup debut packed with adventure, betrayal, love and, naturally, rare plants. New York ad woman Lila Nova, increasingly disillusioned with her job and the city, becomes enchanted by David Exley, a handsome guy selling plants at a green market. Soon, she's hooked on him, and her budding fascination with tropical plants leads her to a Laundromat that has a rare fern displayed in the window. Proprietor Armand quickly befriends Lila and gives her a trimming from the fern to take home, telling her if it forms roots, he'll show her the nine special plants he keeps in the back room. When Exley sees the fern trimming, Lila tells him about Armand's special plants, and soon the plants have been stolen and Exley has disappeared. Armand guilts Lila into coming to Mexico with him to find replacement plants, and there's magic, romance, greenery and greed as Lila and Armand venture through the Yucatan, hooking up with potential love-interest Diego and running into the devious Exley. It's a fun page-turner—escapist and wonderfully entertaining.

I found turning the pages an effort and was not entertained.

Fiction. Mystery/ Magical Realism? 2009. 266 pages.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Checking In

I haven't posted in some time and have had very little time lately for reading, commenting, or even cleaning house.

It seems like one thing after another has interfered with all of the above.

The most recent and most serious is that my youngest daughter, Amelia, has been ill. The spinal tap indicated meningitis, and she was hospitalized for five days. She's had a CT scan and an MRI, in addition to the lumbar puncture. Each day was a new series of blood cultures. Finally, the doctors were certain it was not bacterial meningitis (the deadly, scary one). Her headache, stiff neck, and sensitivity to light have been improving. And she finally quit throwing up.

Chris, her husband, and I have switched off staying with her and caring for Bryce Eleanor. Amelia is still sick and weak, but feeling much better than when she went in. Chris had already taken her to the emergency room once. Then I took her back, worried about dehydration, and the ER doctor wasted no time in ordering all the tests as soon as he heard the symptoms.

September hasn't been a great month this year, but things are looking up now. All of the doctors were great and so were the nurses, for which we are truly grateful.

So... reading. I have had several books in progress, but have mostly been reading and re-reading yoga books when time allows. For some reason, neither August nor September saw any where near my normal amount of reading and not just because of the string of difficulties that have filled the last two months. I've been in one of those kind of dry spells regarding reading lately.

Right now, I'm thinking about mysteries and fantasy and adventure. My comfort reads. :) Autumn is a fine month for reading, and I expect to do some catching up in October!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Lenahan, John. Shadowmagic. A fantasy geared to the YA audience, this ARC was a fun little read.

Lenahan is a magician who was "the first person in 85 years to be expelled from the Magic Circle for explaining the Three-card Monte on television." Evidently, that only spurred him on to other adventures, including his own series on the BBC and this fantasy novel for young adults.

Told in the first person by Conor, who believes he is an average teenager (although he realizes that his father, a university professor, is a bit eccentric), the story is full of humor and adventure.

When Conor and his father are kidnapped and transported to the land of Tir Na Nog, specifically to a dungeon where they find themselves chained to the wall, Conor's normal teenage worries take on a decidedly more serious slant and survival becomes a more immediate concern.

In Tir Na Nog, Conor finds out that his father is much more than he seemed and that things that he thought were myth are very real. He encounters various kinds of magic and meets banshees, imps, and a lovely, if unpredictable, princess.

A book full of wry humor and adolescent hubris, Shadowmagic is a fantasy adventure of family, friendship, and courage. I thoroughly enjoyed this short fantasy escape.

You can also listen to the free podiobook, read by Lenahan.

Fiction. Fantasy. 2008. 278 pages.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Circle of Souls

Grandhi, Preetham. A Circle of Souls. Dr. Grandhi is the chief of service for House 5 at Bronx Children's Psychiatric Center and also has a private practice. The book was sent to me by the author, who sent dozens of books to bloggers.

I liked the premise of the story: a young girl's dreams appear to have her in contact with another young girl who had been murdered recently.

The chapters are very short and switch back and forth between FBI Agent Leia Bines, investigating the murder of young Janet Troy, and Dr. Peter Gram, who searches for a way help seven-year-old Naya Hastings recover from her violent nightmares. Eventually, of course, the two story lines merge.

While I frequently enjoy short chapters, I found these chapters choppy, abrupt, and not always productive in either moving the story line forward or in really developing the characters.

The characters never fully materialized for me, seeming one-dimensional for the most part, and the dialogue was often a bit stiff. For a number of reasons, the plot didn't hang together for me either, even though I love the use of the supernatural and dream influence in novels.

All seemed a bit over-simplified, without the requisite layers a novel of psychological suspense requires. I want to be able to enter into the "spirit" of things--and couldn't quite do that with this novel.

It is, however, a debut novel and the author has a rich mine of experience to draw upon as a result of his day job, so maybe practice (and reading something like The Thirteenth Tale) will hone his fiction.

And, uh, once again, I appear to be the only naysayer, so (as usual) take my review with a grain of salt and check the book out for yourself!

Fiction. Mystery/Supernatural/Psychological. 2009. 339 pages.