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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.