Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teaching Yoga by Mark Stephens

Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques is an excellent source for both teachers and students.  

Stephens is well-versed in the history and ethics of yoga, as well as in several yoga styles.  The first few chapters deal with the history of yoga, its philosophy and ethics, subtle energy (the 5 sheaths, prana, nadis, bandhas chakras, etc.), and body structure and movement.

There are also chapters on teaching yoga poses, techniques and tools, teaching pranayama and meditation, and sequencing and planning classes.  He emphasizes the importance of practice, self-discovery, and the role of the breath.  Steeped in the knowledge of classical yoga and modern adaptations, Stephens
manages to make the practice of yoga accessible to experienced teachers, new teachers, and students.

The book also includes appendices on yoga resources, a glossary, a list of asanas, and asana elements (preparation, integration, and exploration).

I will be using this fine book as a resource and re-reading chapters and elements frequently.  It took me quite a while to read through and highlight on my first reading, but it was well worth the effort.

Nonfiction.  Yoga.  2010.  385 pages + extensive notes and bibliographical information.

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell

The Man from Beijing is a stand-alone, not a Kurt Wallander mystery.  I didn't realize that when I checked it out. 

A mass murder almost entirely wipes out a small, isolated farming village populated by mostly elderly people who are related.  There are 19 bodies, and the police assume a mad man had run amuck.

Brigitta Roslin, a district judge, realizes that among the victims are her mother's foster parents, and her curiosity demands  further information.  Using an old diary, she believes that there is a Chinese connection to the murders.  The first of the novel is involving.

However, as the narrative continues, the plot becomes first dull and then pedantic.  The admiration for Chairman Mao bothered me.  The connections between Sweden, America, Africa,and China seemed forced and a bit off-the-wall.

I was hoping for a Kurt Wallander procedural, not political digressions.

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2010.  367 pages.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver

The Burning Wire was certainly suspenseful, especially as the weapon of choice is electricity.  Invisible and deadly.

While the first of this series seem better than the last several novels, Lincoln Rhymes and Amelia Sachs are still a potent team.  Deaver has had an agenda in the last several books relating to Rhymes' medical situation, and he advances it once again in this book.

There is a subplot concerning Rhymes' old adversary The Watchmaker.

Maybe I should go back and read the first several novels to see why I haven't found the latest novels in the series up to par.  I think it is largely because now that the relationships between the recurring characters have been established, Deaver doesn't proceed to deepen them or allow growth.  They have become like a few set pieces with reminders (Amelia has arthritis, repeatedly "walks the grid," and likes cars, Pulaski is young and still uncertain, Thom is skilled and trustworthy, Fred Dellray is great at undercover work).

Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the novel, just that they seem more formulaic.

Fiction.  Police Procedural/ Crime.  2010.  424 pages.

The Price of Revenge by Dennis Vaughn

When I was getting The Price of Revenge, I notice that Amazon has given it 4 1/2 stars!  Let's just say I don't agree. 

This ARC didn't appeal at all, and I'm amazed at the positive comments.  Enough said.  If you want reviews check the Amazon link.

fiction.  mystery? 2010.  289 pages.

Reviews: Caught Up and Scheduled

Ha!  I've reviewed and scheduled 5 more books.  Relief!

Now that I've caught up on reviews, I have to admit that I'm stalled in the midst of 3 novels and will probably abandon one, or even all of them.

I've been playing with my clay figures again, so books that don't really compel me are easily ignored.  

Bellefield Hall by Anna Dean

Bellefield Hall (originally published in England as A Moment of Silence) is a cozy, a Regency mystery, and a debut novel introducing Dido Kent, a maiden aunt.  While Dido is under 30, as an unmarried woman in the early 1800's, she has some Austen-like sensibilities.

I liked Dido;  she is a combination of intrepid sleuth, and at the same time, a product of her cultural era--interesting contradictions.  I found her inability to see certain situations for what they were (a modern reader picks up on them immediately) amusing and realistic.

Plot:  Dido's niece requests her presence at Bellefield, the country estate of the Montague's.  Catherine is engaged to Richard Montague, but on the eve of their engagement announcement, he receives unexpected news, and he suggests that Catherine break the engagement.  Then Richard leaves.  On the day of Dido's arrival, the body of an unidentified woman is discovered, and Dido must resolve Catherine's difficulties as well as solve a murder mystery.

What carries the book is the combination of intelligence and innocence of the protagonist.  Part of the narrative is advanced through Dido's letters to her sister Eliza; in the letters, Dido feels free to allow her satirical bent, her opinions of the other house guests, and her suspicions have free rein.

The book is light and amusing, and I hope the author can let Dido's character grow and expand in future novels.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2008.  300 pages.

Poetic Images

This lovely poem has such wonderful images that echo Songs of Solomon:

by Richard Aldington


Like a gondola of green scented fruits  
Drifting along the dank canals of Venice,  
You, O exquisite one,  
Have entered into my desolate city.  

The blue smoke leaps          
Like swirling clouds of birds vanishing.  
So my love leaps forth toward you,  
Vanishes and is renewed.  

A rose-yellow moon in a pale sky  
When the sunset is faint vermilion   
In the mist among the tree-boughs  
Art thou to me, my beloved.  

A young beech tree on the edge of the forest  
Stands still in the evening,  
Yet shudders through all its leaves in the light air   
And seems to fear the stars—  
So are you still and so tremble.  

The red deer are high on the mountain,  
They are beyond the last pine trees.  
And my desires have run with them.   

The flower which the wind has shaken  
Is soon filled again with rain;  
So does my heart fill slowly with tears,  
O Foam-Driver, Wind-of-the-Vineyards,  
Until you return.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Around the Corner

It isn't here yet, but fall IS coming.  With fall, comes renewed interest in fairy tales, gothic tales, Halloween, and thoughts of cooler days and nights.  Although it will be quite a while before it is time for the falling leaves and logs in the fire in our area, I think those of us in the South long for them much more than other parts of the country.  We have no long, freezing winter to anticipate so our fall (though slow to arrive) is mostly pleasure.

We are having a cool snap here (our highs have been in the low 90's for several days--with low humidity), and I find myself mentally preparing for autumn.  Soon we will have Carl's annual RIP Challenge to help us into the mood.  Here are some of his latest Gothic/Horror reviews.

I love Swanbone's art; the visual fairy tales she creates have not necessarily been written, but I know she has recorded episodes in her head, that there must be a before and after to her gothic fairy tale art. 
From SwanBones Etsy Shop.
Books to review:  Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing, Anna Dean's Bellefield Hall, Jeffery Deaver's The Burning Wire, Mark Stephen's Teaching Yoga, Dennis Vaughn's The Price of Revenge.  Can't seem to get back to The Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell, despite the excellent reviews.

What I want to read right now are gothic tales.  Good RIP Challenge books.  Some of my favorites in this category:  The Thirteenth Tale, The Woman in White, The Turn of the Screw, The Historian, Seance, Rebecca....

 Stories about haunted houses, ghosts, witches--supernatural and suspenseful stuff.  I'm a fan of Charlaine Harris' Harper Connelly series, and she has a new one Grave Secret that I'll look for.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I really enjoyed Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden.  An abandoned four-year-old girl arrives in Australia in 1913; oh, doesn't that grab you from the start.  She's been told not to tell anyone her name, and so when Hugh, the dock master, attempts to discover who has lost the child and where she belongs, he finds himself stymied.  He takes her home and both he and his wife fall in love with the child, naming her Nell and raising her with love.

Eventually, on the eve of her engagement party, Hugh tells Nell the truth, and it changes her life.  All she knew as truth is proven false.  The mystery of her beginnings and her real family haunt her.

Moving to the present, Nell's granddaughter Cassandra discovers that Nell has left her a cottage in England.   Cassandra realizes that, late in life, Nell had begun an attempt to discover her history and decides to go to England to see the cottage.  Trying to unravel the mystery of Nell's parentage, she follows the diary Nell had kept during her own search.

This really is a fairy tale, and fairy tales are clues to the mystery of how the four-year-old Nell  found herself alone on a long voyage to Australia.  The characters are also like fairy tale characters, not fully developed, metaphorical, symbolic--you know them through intuition and archetypal memory.  Your favorite fairy tales are incorporated and interwoven in many ways, and there are new fairy tales to consider.  The book of fairy tales that crossed the ocean with Nell, tucked into her tiny suitcase, provides clues, both through the stories and the illustrations.

There are many secrets to uncover, and while the story isn't quite realistic-- like most fairy tales, there are kernels of truth hidden in the fantasy.  You will realize much of the mystery before the characters do, and sometimes, you may feel like shaking them, but like Sleeping Beauty, characters past and present aren't always fully conscious.  I loved all of the obvious and subtle fairy tale tropes.

One thing that bothered me, however, was the abruptness of the past, distant past, and present switches.  I often like this technique of switching point of view and time and location, but these sections are not as smooth as they could have been.  Another item that bothered me is the change that occurred in Nell on learning that she was "adopted" (although, informally) and letting that interfere with her relationships with a loving family.

Becoming lost in this fairy tale, if you accept the premise that the book itself is a fairy tale, is easy to do, however, and I have to admit that I found the overall idea enchanting.

Fairy tales, mystery, deception, betrayal, secret gardens, wicked stepmother figure, lost child, an homage to Victorian writers and illustrators and to several children's books...

I must re-read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a childhood favorite, that I've not read in years.

If you've read Morton's The Forgotten Garden, what did you think?  If you've reviewed it, let me know, and I'll add a link:  Kailana at The Written World 

Fiction.  Fairy tale/Mystery/Historical.  2008.  549 pages.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"A bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader.  It provides the necessary roughage in the literary diet."  --Phyllis McGinley

It is one of those serendipitous coincidences that after having read the above quote in the new Reading Woman Engagement Calendar that Debby sent me, I read this post over at Annie Joy's Letters about one of her favorite fairy tales as a child, The Plain Princess by Phyllis McGinley. 

Have to admit that I agree with Annie Joy about the recent phenomenon that elevates self-absorption to entertainment-- celebrating the rudeness and egotism of individuals most of us would never want to to know.

It is disturbing that many parents begin this kind of training almost as soon as a kid can walk and talk.  Instead of teaching kindness, generosity, patience, and self-control, some parents seem to delight in a kid's misbehavior and label them, as Annie Joy mentions, divas.  Good luck with that!  It will definitely come back to haunt them.

All kids behave badly at times and often the bad behavior is hilariously funny.  That doesn't mean that you want to encourage bad behavior, even if you are chuckling inside as you correct it.

Good children's books promote some insight into the feeling's of others, prompting empathy.  The books don't have to be Pollyanna-ish (although, frankly, I loved Pollyanna;  in recent years, that is a confession that one doesn't always want made public).  I did, though.  Not that I could have ever been that patient or that kind, but I wanted to be.

Why is Anne of Green Gables still popular after all of these years?  Another little do-gooder, Anne.  Another child with a positive outlook and determined kindness.  How passe'.  Yet we former readers continue to return to Anne and her friends with regularity and find peace, comfort, and inspiration.  Of course, Anne has a bit of a temper on occasion that we can also appreciate.

Bad girls can also be inspiring. My girls LOVED Kay Thompson's Eloise.  I even read it to my AP English students, and they loved it, too;  I've read that book aloud more times than I can count.  (Notice the similarity of covers with The Plain Princess.)  Eloise, however, had an absent mother;  as entertaining as her behavior is, most kids realize the reason for it.  Eloise isn't mean-spirited, and she and Nanny have a loving relationship.  In many ways, I suppose, it is a cautionary tale, but such a thoroughly delightful look at mischief and imagination.

 I'll mention one more great children's book about mischief and a mother who both understands and guides.  Olivia by Ian Falconer also draws on Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight (illustrator) for this charming series for pre-readers.

But I digress.  Back to the quote.

"A bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader.  It provides the necessary roughage in the literary diet."  --Phyllis McGinley

I've been reading a lot of trash lately. It makes reviewing even harder when you have mostly negative points to make.  Sometimes trips to the library yield mostly treasures, and sometimes, trash.  Lately, my selections have included more of the latter than I'd like.

Some I've returned unread, some I bulldoze through regardless. This what what I intended to post about, reading trash, but I found the connection with Phyllis McGinley's quote and Annie Joy's post much more interesting, and I so love good children's books.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Reading Woman

Wonderful surprise in the mail from Debby of These Are Pieces, Too-- the 2011 Reading Woman Engagement Calendar!

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

THE READING WOMAN is a celebration of all women who love to read. Whether it's at the close of day or just at the close of a door. Whether it's reading aloud to friends around the fire or suspended, mind and body, in a hammock.  Poems or potboilers, fact or fancy, it's the pleasure women find in reading that is presented here.
 It is full of lovely paintings of women reading and quotes about reading like this one (one of my all time favorites) by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

  "No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting."

Thank you, thank you, Debby, for thinking of me when you saw this and for sending me such a lovely gift that can be appreciated in so many ways!  (cross posted from Bayou Quilts)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poems to Music

Last night Fee brought home the new Natalie Merchant CD, Leaving Sleep--a lovely compilation of children's poems that she put to music.  It is full of fun, delightful songs from (mostly) little known poems for children.  There is also a little book that accompanies the CD with a short biography of each poet and the poems themselves.  Take a listen to The King of China's Daughter or Bleezer's Ice Cream!  Such fun!  Thanks, Fee! (cross post on Bayou Quilts)

Bookstore Cafe via Inhabitat.
Another Inhabitat article shows using discarded books for potted plants.

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

The 12th novel in Reich's Temperance Brennan series, 206 Bones was an enjoyable, quick read.

Someone makes an anonymous phone call questioning Brennan's work on the autopsy of Rose Jurmain.  When the body of another elderly woman is discovered, some of the bones go missing.  The mystery is two-fold:  who is killing elderly women and who is sabotaging Brennan's work and reputation?  Not her best work, but still fun.

Reichs' also has another agenda.  In most of her books, she has a secondary theme taken from current events, historical data, favorite causes, etc.
In this one, Reichs takes a more heavy-handed approach concerning the importance of board qualified forensic pathologists/anthropologists. Hard to disagree with that idea, but the note at the end in which she quotes her character to prove her point was a little annoying.

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery.  2009.  308 pages.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

I'm still reading Teaching Yoga by Mark Stephens, and still enjoying it.  It is slow reading, though, because I often have to stop and ponder certain philosophical statements and what they mean to me,  or in the section on asanas,  actually get on the mat and experiment. 

I've just finished the section of pranayama.  Finished reading it, that is.  I will go over this several times before moving on.  It isn't that what Stephens says is much different from other books, but that the way he says it makes me want to experiment with his instructional methods.

I'm also reading A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell, a recently arrived ARC.  Have just finished the section in which Sammelsohn falls in love with Emma Eckstein, one of Freud's patients.  I've never liked Freudian theories much, mainly because of his views about female hysteria, but a little research into Emma Eckstein and Freud's friend Dr. Fleiss  makes Freud seem more like an egotistical fraud than a scientist. 

I'm just beginning the section where Sammelsohn falls in love with another young woman and becomes involved with Esperanto and its originator L.L. Zamenhoff.  Of course, there is also the dybbuk that I assume will be entering again soon.

Stress Fracture by D.P. Lyle

I checked Stress Fracture out because Lyle has been a consultant to writers on CSI: Miami, Law and Order, and House.  However, consulting and creating a novel are two different skill sets, and I deplore the need to try to make each crime novel more about the horrific elements of a crime than about the characters.  Needless violence and little character development. 

Fiction.  Crime. 2010.  394 pages (but unusually large print).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Larsson, Steig.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

This is the last of Larsson's trilogy featuring Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth Salander, and Erica Berger.  All three characters appear in each of the 3 books, but Blomkvist dominates the first, Salander, the second, and Berger gets a little more time in the third than she did in the previous two.

Although some feel the concluding book in the trilogy fell a bit short,  I I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Not because of the plot, which did tie together some elements from the first two novels, but because of the characters.  Larsson's writing in each of his three books kept me engrossed with his characters.  In the world he created, the main characters had a complexity and an ability to surprise that kept me committed to them.

Salander's character reminds me of Kathy Mallory in Carol O'Connell's Mallory series; Salander is not an imitation, but  she has  similar characteristics: social ineptitude, psychological damage, and an instinctive brilliance with machines.  Both Salander and Mallory have difficulty relating to people, even feeling sympathy, but both have friends who support them (regardless of how difficult).

I was sad when I finished the series, and like so many others, I hate to say goodbye to Blomkvist and Salander.

Fiction.  Crime/ Suspense.  2010.  576 pages.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Traffickers by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth

The Traffickers is not worth wasting much time on.  One of the librarians was shelving it on the new book shelf and mentioned that Griffin's books were really popular, but she had not read any.  I decided to try it.

I can't think of anything positive to say about it.  The worst thing was the cartoonish aspect of what was supposed to be a serious book about the effects of drug trafficking.  The hero is 27 and during his brief stay on the police force has had 3 or 4 "righeous" shootings.  Since most policeman can retire without having killed a single suspect, one must wonder how the hell, this one kid manages to be in the wrong place at the right time so frequently.  And the email texts to his "love at first sight" new girlfriend of about 24 hours are truly gag-worthy. 

Enough said.

Fiction.  Crime.  2009. 352 pages.

Some Bookish Ideas:

Want to turn paperback books into hardbacks?  Ohdeeddoh has a tutorial.  Good idea for favorite children's or YA books that are frequently reread.
 Click on the link for some "book shelves with character" from Family Economics via Just Something I Made.

  How about bookish posters?  Alice in Wonderland  "uses the entire text of the book."  From Postertext.  They are offering new book posters each week. 
We are heading for B.R. this morning, but I have a couple of posts scheduled.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

 This Body of Death is George's most recent Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, who has recently returned from Cornwall.  I wasn't that pleased with the last two in this series, but this one I did enjoy. 

Lynley is back and so is Barbara Havers.  Although I did think Havers was unusually acquiescent in (new character and Acting Superintendent) Isabelle Ardery's demand that she dress more professionally, I enjoyed Haver's attempts to do so with the help of another favorite character, nine-year-old Hadiyyah.  Despite the fact that Haddiyah is unusually precocious for her years, I love their interaction.

George intersperses pages from a paper on juvenile justice throughout the novel.  In the beginning, one wonders when and how these pages will be drawn into the plot (especially as I remembered an actual case that was in the news years ago).  Eventually, it becomes clear.

I wasn't crazy about the Isabelle Ardery character; Lynley seemed to ignore things he should have acted on.  Her character in a role of such importance bothered me.  I did like Yolanda the psychic and wouldn't mind hearing from her again.  I also liked the information about the New Forest ponies and about the Agisters.

After two books in the series that I didn't care much for, it was really nice to settle down and into the complexity of an Elizabeth George mystery.  It is long, but completely involving. 

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery/Police Procedural.  2010.  689 pages.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson

Larsson, Stieg.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I realize that almost everyone has already read this one, but I started with the second book and had to go back and pick this one up.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in the riveting trilogy that enmeshes the reader in the lives of Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth Salander, and Erica Berger.  Blomkvist and Berger are partners in the magazine Millennium.  Blomkvist writes an expose on the powerful Wennerstrom corporation, but is convicted of libel and must pay a fine and serve a 3 month prison sentence.  Disgraced and depressed, Blomkvist ponders his next step.

Approached by Henrik Vanger, he is offered a huge salary to (ostensibly) write a family history, but actually to see if he can discover who murdered Harriet Vanger, Vanger's great-niece who disappeared 40 years ago.  Blomkvist is promised information about the Wennerstrom affair if he completes the year long contract.  He doesn't have to solve the case, but he has to try.  Vanger is in his eighties and has spent the last 40 years spending money and time searching for answers and regards this attempt as a last-ditch effort.

Enter Lisbeth Salander who, despite a horrific childhood and antisocial personality, is a brilliant researcher and computer hacker.  Lisbeth is the girl with the dragon tattoo, many other tattoos, piercings, and other Goth paraphernalia.  She's a fascinating character and has a digressive story-line of her own, but eventually teams up with Blomkvist.

Swedish sexual mores are differ drastically from those of the U.S.  Any reading of Swedish novels gives a taste of these differences.  The casual approach to sex and the inclusion of sexual violence can be quite off-putting.  I cannot, however, think of a Swedish mystery that has not included some aspect of the abuse of women and/or the sex trade.  There is almost always a dark underside to Swedish novels; I think this is why there is usually a love/hate (and little in-between) attitude toward Larsson's novels.

I didn't want The Girl Who Played With Fire to end; I didn't want The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to end either.  I would have preferred to read them in order, but even out of order, I found them both entirely gripping works.  The first novel, despite the title, is more about Blomkvist, but the second lets Salander take the lead.

Once again, I find myself regretting Larsson's death so soon after delivering his 3 manuscripts.

Fiction.  Mystery/Suspense.   2008.  480 pages.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

Bradley, Alan.  The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.

Flavia de Luce, the precocious  11-year-old protagonist of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, returns for her second outing in the small village of Bishop's Lacey.

Her two sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, still torment her.  Or is it the other way around?  Her fascination with chemistry and poisons continue.  Her stringently wicked observations about her life, her family, and her neighbors are also in good form once again.

The novel opens with Flavia lying in the cemetery imagining her own funeral.  It is the old childhood drama of "You'll be sorry when I'm dead."  How many of us as children played the sad scene of our own demise and its effects on friends and family?

Flavia is quickly distracted when she meets Nialla, the assistant to a famous puppeteer.  Without delay, she involves herself in the plans for a couple of puppet shows, but is quite observant of both Nialla and Rupert, the puppet master. When an "accident" occurs during the second performance, Flavia determines to solve the case.

 I think you have to enjoy Flavia to enjoy these mysteries.  Her rather outrageous personality and precocity carry the day; the mysteries are almost a sidebar.  Since I do like Flavia (and find her deliciously entertaining), I enjoyed this quick return to Bishop's Lacey--renewing my acquaintance with old friends and meeting some new ones.

Fiction.  Mystery/YA.  2010.  364 pages.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New books that are on my Must Read List:

Reginald Hill's The Woodcutter.  Not part of the Dalziel and Pascoe series (which is probably my favorite series of all time), this is a stand-alone about Wolf Hadda who was thrown in prison for a crime he didn't commit.  When a psychiatrist helps Hadda win parole, Hadda plans revenge.  Although I've never liked his stand-alones as well as the Fat Man and Pascoe novels, Hill is always, always good.

Tana French's Faithful Place.  Frank Mackey, mentioned in French's second book The Likeness, is the protagonist in French's new novel.  Mackey returns to Dublin when the remains of his girlfriend are discovered 25 years after she disappeared.  I liked The Likeness even better than In the Woods, her first novel-- so I hope this will be at least as intriguing as her first two.

Martin Edward's The Serpent Pool.  DCI Hannah Scarlett is investigating the death of an aspiring writer seven years previously when she becomes involved with the murders of rare book dealers.  Yeah, the rare book dealer theme always draws me in.

I guess the weather has me in a reading mode; so darn hot!  Rather than do anything on my list of chores, I find myself curled up with a book in hand. I'm really getting tired of summer.  Stinker has the right idea--sprawl out, blink a few times, and go to sleep.

Even knowing that cooler weather in our neck of the woods is a long way off, everyone is yearning for fall.  We yearn for fall for much of the summer, actually.

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

Walker, Martin.  The Dark Vineyard: A Mystery of the French Countryside.

This is a new author and new series for me, and one that I really enjoyed.  The setting, a small French village, the well-drawn characters of the inhabitants, and the obvious love of the author for the area and its people are all engaging.

It is the third in the series, the first is Bruno, Chief of Police and the second is The Caves of Perigord.  All three have beautiful covers evocative of the region and/or the mystery.
Bruno Courreges is the chief of police of the fictional village of St. Denis in the Dordogne region of France.  Bruno loves hunting, rugby, and wine, and he deeply loves his village and the surrounding countryside.  In his 10 years in the area, Bruno has become completely integrated into the local society and has no desire to be elsewhere.

The story opens with an arson that destroys a research building and fields of genetically modified crops.  The novel develops gradually as the characters and atmosphere are developed.  When two deaths occur, the novel takes a more serious turn.

Walker explores modern themes of environmentalism and commercialism by weaving them seamlessly into the plot--or perhaps, the other way around.

I suppose this is a cozy, but perhaps an edgier cozy with better character development than usual.  At any rate, Walker was so good at evoking atmosphere that I wanted to move to St. Denis and visit with the characters, sharing wine and camaraderie.

You might see a resemblance to Louise Penny's  Inspector Gamache series, but somehow this novel was warmer than the Inspector Gamache novels I've read so far.

If you have read any of Martin Walker's Bruno series, let me know, and I'll include a link to your review.

Fiction.  Police procedural/Mystery.  2010.  320 pages.

Monday, August 09, 2010

7 Things

Iliana passed on this award, and I am to list 7 things about myself.

  1. My mother wanted me to be a librarian because of my love of books.  I decided to be an English teacher instead.  It was great fun mixing a little Tolkein with Flaubert.
  2. When I was young I loved dance and gymnastics.  MUCH later, I fell in love with Tai Chi and Yoga. 
  3. Three cats (The Triad) came into our lives as kittens after their mother was run over.  They are entertaining and comforting, and it is difficult to remember life without them.  They are also a great deal of trouble and can leap flat-footed to the top of the refrigerator and on to the top of the cabinets.  I've had to take all decorative items down as a result.
  4. I love process in creative endeavors more than the final product. Art quilts and embroidery are two favorite activities.  I find it hard to watch television without some kind of handwork.
  5. Dolls and little figures are my latest creative outlet.
  6. Although I love people, I'm most comfortable alone--reading, quilting, making dolls.
  7. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because I love the decorations.
    Passing the award on to Jenny, Sam, Christina, Kay, Nan, Jem, Framed, Wendy, Kate, SuzieQ.  You are supposed to pass it on to 15, but I'm just going to leave it here.  No need to feel required to participate.
      Here are some of the Halloween figures I've made this summer:
      click to enlarge--little witch at tea
      click to enlarge - cat with mouse wand candy box
      click to enlarge- Fred A-Stare with a cat poppet and a mouse on his top hat

      61 Hours by Lee Child

      Child, Lee.  61 Hours.

      This Reacher novel is set in North Dakota during an unusually fierce winter blizzard.

      I enjoyed the novel, as I almost always enjoy them, but didn't care for the countdown aspect.  The conclusion didn't work especially well for me either.  Really, it would probably be better if I gave Reacher a rest for a while.  (Did I say that in my last review of a Reacher novel?)

      The novels are addictive, and some are very good, some are less so.  My favorite Reacher novels are those that involve some of his old team, and this one provided a bit of a twist as he converses via telephone with the new head of his old elite unit.   Reacher was the first CO of the unit, and Susan Turner is the current head--he needs her help, and the two develop some chemistry in their phone conversations.

      There was a little (a lot?) less action, but that didn't particularly bother me.  The conclusion, however, with the stepped-up action seemed over the top; the cliff-hanger didn't appeal at all.

      What can I say?  I will  register certain criticisms and still eagerly await the next novel featuring Jack Reacher.

      Fiction.  Action, Suspense.  2010.  Kindle.  Print version - 400 pages.

      Sunday, August 08, 2010

      Krishnamacharya by A.G. Mohan

      Mohan, A. G. (with Ganesh Mohan).  Krishnamacharya:  His Life and Teachings.

      Krishnamacharya (1888-1988) is considered the "father of modern yoga."   Some of his famous students included B.K.S. Iyengar, Patabi Jois, Indira Devi, T.K.V Desikachar (his son), and the author, A. G. Mohan.  He is largely responsible for the popularization of yoga through his own influence and through the influence of his students.

      A.G. Mohan began studied with Krishnamacharya for nearly two decades at the end of Krishnamacharya's long life.  He gives an overview of Krishnamacharya's early years and studies, but does not go into his lessons with Iyengar, Patabi Jois, or Indira Devi.  Instead he relates his own personal experiences with his teacher and mentor with great respect and reverence.

      "... A. G. Mohan, a well-respected yoga teacher and yoga therapist, draws on his own memories and Krishnamacharya’s diaries and recorded material, to present a fascinating view of the man and his teachings, and Mohan's own warm and inspiring relationship with the master. This portrait of the great teacher will be a compelling and informative read for yoga teachers and students who truly want to understand the source of their tradition and practice."  Product Description

       The book is quite short with many references to ancient texts with which I am not familiar and only brief information about Krishnamacharya's early years, but I agree with the Product Description -- it is an excellent read for yoga teachers and students interested in learning more about their tradition.

      Nonfiction.  Biographical.  2010.  151 pages.

      Saturday, August 07, 2010

      His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

      Novik, Naomi.  His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, Book I)

      I must have been getting used to the Kindle, because even though we were still on vacation, I loved this one.

      Novik does character, plot, and dialogue so well that I was immediately immersed in this fantasy/alternate history.  In this alternate universe, the Napoleonic Wars have the added dimension of dragons.  All kinds and breeds of dragons and their aviators make up the Aerial Corps, which is entirely different from other branches of service.  The aviators are chosen by their dragons and must commit their lives to them; the commitment entails a good deal of sacrifice regarding hearth and home.

      The bond between aviator and dragon, however, makes up for other losses in most cases.  Thus it is for Will Laurence, Captain of the Reliant.  When his ship captures a French ship carrying a dragon egg near hatching, most of the crew (including Laurence) dread the possibility of being chosen.  When the young dragon does choose Laurence, he deeply regrets the necessity of giving up his naval career and the possibility of marriage to a young woman he cares for.

      Nevertheless, Laurence's sense of duty requires him to give his best, and he and the young dragon begin their partnership when he gives the dragon a name--Temeraire.  Rapidly their bond increases to a remarkable depth, and when the possibility that another aviator might take over, Laurence finds himself bereft.  Temeraire puts paid to that idea, and the two prepare to join the Aerial Corps, leaving for Scotland and their training.

      Temeraire is a wonderful character.  Wise and childlike, loving and fierce, he devotes himself to Laurence and to learning.  Laurence reads to him because the dragon is unable to hold a book, they converse about many things as Temeraire's curiosity is limitless, and they comfort each other when difficulties arise.

      During training, the characters of other dragons and aviators are introduced, and Laurence understands more about the bond between dragon and aviator and why so many are willing to give up careers, property, and polite society to serve in His Majesty's Aerial Corps.

      The book is exciting and touching.  The characters are easy to care about, both human and dragon.  I can't wait to get the next in the series.

      Fiction.  Fantasy/Alternate History.  Kindle.  Print version - 2006.  384 pages.

      Friday, August 06, 2010

      New Books and To Be Reviewed

       In the mail:
      I won the copy of Commuters from Kay at My Random Acts of Reading!  Thanks, Kay! 

       Barnacle Love--"a father and son narrate a revelatory, if disjointed, story spanning two generations of Portuguese-Canadian immigrants."  Publishers Weekly

       Heart of Lies --  "Leo Hoffman was born with a gift for languages. When his dreams for the future are destroyed by World War I, the dashing young Hungarian attempts to use his rare talent to rebuild his life, only to find himself inadvertently embroiled in an international counterfeiting scheme. " Product Description.

      New library books.
       I've finished The Dark Vineyard: a Mystery of the French Countryside by Martin Walker and am excited to have found a new author and a new series that I like.

      Currently reading This Body of Death: An Inspector Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George.  Lynley is returning to work, having finished his walking tour of Cornwall.

      Still trying to catch up on reviews.  Blah!  If I would only review the book immediately, it wouldn't become such a chore.

      Left to review:

      His Majesty's Dragon :)
      61 Hours :)
      The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest :)
      The Dark Vineyard :)
      Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings :)

      Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton

      Bolton, S.J.  Blood Harvest.

      This is the second novel I've read by Bolton. Like Sacrifice, Blood Harvest  involves ancient beliefs and practices and malevolent old men.  While the victims in Sacrifice are pregnant women, in this novel the mystery involves the disappearance of little girls, toddlers, over a period of years.

      When the Fletcher family moves to Heptonclough, they certainly feel like outsiders.  The community is tight knit and slow to accept newcomers.

      A gang of boys attempt to bully Tom and Joe (ten and six) at school and at home. When Tom and Joe play in the graveyard behind their home, Tom feels that someone is watching and that the watcher and the bullies are not the same.  When he tells his parents about the strange girl in the shadows, they feel that he letting his imagination run away with him.

      Harry Laycock, the new vicar, befriends the boys and the Fletcher family, but he, too, has feelings of being observed in his own church when no one else is present.

      Psychiatrist Evi Oliver is treating Gillian Royale, a patient whose young daughter died in a fire 3 years previously.  Gillian refuses to believe that her daughter is dead and wanders the moors looking for her.  Just as a romance seems to be budding between Evi and the vicar, Gillian develops a crush on Harry.

      Then Millie is threatened;  Tom suspects the strange girl in the garden and begins keeping a close eye on his little sister.  The tension grows as the strange rituals of the village come to a head near Halloween.

      I found myself less entranced during this novel than when reading Bolton's Sacrifice.  A few possible reasons:  it was my first time using my Kindle, and I was adjusting to not having a book in my hands; I had so recently read Sacrifice that the similarity in themes was more apparent; and I was reading on the plane and on vacation and there were many interruptions.

      The conclusion felt rushed and some of the eery Gothic elements seemed forced and exaggerated (i.e. the actual "blood harvest") to the point that I questioned anyone engaging in or ignoring such practices.  Yet, as I mentioned, there are several reasons I may have been more critical and less able to engage fully with this book.

      Fiction.  Mystery/Supernatural.  2010.  Kindle.  print version - 432 pages.

      Thursday, August 05, 2010

      Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

      Jones, Diana Wynne Jones.  Witchweek

      The other book I read for Jenny's Diana Wynne Jones Week.  Also part of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci and again, a stand-alone story tied to the series by the appearance of Chrestomanci, who once more must find a way to keep magic in balance.

      It begins with students in class 6B writing in their journals.  This is one of the best sections of the book as the students reveal a great deal about themselves as they write.  When their teacher discovers and reads a note, all of the students are aware and curious.  Mr. Crossley, however, looks quite worried...and well he should be as the anonymous accuses someone in the class of being a witch. 

      In this parallel universe, witches exist and are burned at the stake.  In fact, Larwood House is a school for witch orphans.  The threat is serious, but Mr. Crossley doesn't know if it is a genuine accusation or a prank.

      The problems young people have with appearance, cliques, bullies, and popularity are all here in this boarding school, mostly described through the eyes of Charles and Nan.  In addition to all of the above problems, who will be exposed as a witch?

      What will the Inquisitor discover when he arrives at the school?

      More at Jenny's Books.

      Fiction.  Fantasy.  2000.  288 pages.

      The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones

      Jones, Diana.  The Magicians of Caprona.

      I read this for Jenny's Dianna Wynne Jones Week, and I've been so lazy that I have waited until the week is almost over to review it.  It is a YA novel that is part of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci.  However, both of the works I've read have been completely different narratives, so reading them out of order has not mattered.

      The Montannas and the Petrocchis are two families of spell-casters who have been feuding for many years.  There is a Romeo and Juliet element to the story, but it is not the main narrative.  The main story is about how the feud between the two families has caused such a rift that when war threatens Caprona, the feuding families cannot work together in the cities defense, and in fact, cannot even work effectively alone because of the many problems caused by the feud.

      In order to save the city, the original words to the song of the Angel of Caprona must be discovered, yet the two feuding families are so involved with their hatred of each other that neither family is having much success.  Chrestomanci, the powerful magician responsible for keeping balance in order, has informed the families that an evil enchanter is at work.

      When Tonino Montano and Angelica Petrocchi, the youngest members of each family (who each have difficulties in their spell casting) disappear, the two families are even more at odds.  The two children discover the identity of the wicked enchanter and must work together to save themselves and their city.

      A fun read about an unusual world of magic with interesting characters and lots of adventure!  More about those who are participating and their reads at Jenny's Books.

      Fiction.  Fantasy.  1999.  224 pages.

      Monday, August 02, 2010

      What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen

      Cohen, Paula Marantz.  What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper.

      An uncorrected advanced copy, this is a tale of the James' siblings (Henry, William, and Alice) uniting their efforts to discover the identity of Jack the Ripper.  What is entertaining is the idea of Henry James in a novel with his respected brother William, and his "invalid" sister, Alice.  Alice suffers from hysteria which keeps her confined to bed most of the time, but does not keep her mind from ranging widely and effectively.

      The real life Alice was indeed an invalid most of the time and was treated for hysteria.  In the novel, Alice works with her brothers in an attempt to identify and apprehend the man known only as Jack the Ripper.

      Some of the dialogue is interesting and amusing as they discuss or converse with other characters from real life such as John Singer Sergeant, Oscar Wilde, George du Maurier, Mark Twain, Ellen Terry, Whistler, etc.

       A character of interest is Walter Sickert (Patricia Cornwell believes Sickert was Jack the Ripper).   Alice asks Sickert to paint her portrait, and the two find a strange attraction.  Sickert, in real life, had a fascination with the crimes. 

      The first of the novel is more entertaining than the latter part, mainly because William's character becomes a little heavy.  William James was a philosopher, medical doctor, and a psychologist, with interests in religion, education, and mysticism.  In the novel, he is called in by Scotland Yard to see if he can lend any aid to the investigation.

      As the investigation continues, the book has a bit of a sidetrack as William is tempted by a beautiful woman and jealous of his sister's relationship with Walter Sickert.  I've no objections to these digressions as it would be interesting to see how a psychologist explains things to himself, but the treatment becomes a little heavy-handed, and William's character becomes plodding. 

      Henry's character, on the other hand, is quite amusing, and I wish he had played a larger role.  He is presented as quite a likable fellow although certainly and admittedly self-involved.

      I mainly enjoyed the scenes with or about the other historical/literary/artistic characters and  found Walter Sickert worthy of some further research.  As far as The Ripper solution, I didn't find it conclusive or satisfying, although some of the premise was interesting.

      The novel seemed to morph into something quite different from beginning to end.  From a light look at the mystery using interesting, witty, intelligent historical characters, to something more ponderous and less successful.

      From here, I'd like to read  a good biography of Henry James and The Master a novel by Colm Toibin (link is to Stefanie's review).  I've only read two of James's novels The Turn of the Screw (a novella, several times and enjoyed it each time) and The Ambassadors, which seemed to take forever and will never be reread.
      I also would like to read The Diary of Alice James edited by Leon Edel.

      Fiction.  Historical mystery.  due for publication in Sept.  341 pages.

      Citizens of London by Lynne Olson

      Olson, Lynne.  Citizens of London:  The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Its Darkest,   Finest Hour.

      An extremely readable work about the U.S. citizens who joined Britain early in their battle and encouraged the involvement of the United States in the war against Germany.  Those who experienced the hardships along with the British-- the Blitz, the fear, the destruction, and the deprivation --saw the threat of Germany more clearly than anyone in Washington.

      Most of us are familiar with the names of Edward R. Murrow and Averell Harriman even after all these years, but I was not familiar with John Gilbert Winant, and Winant, though almost forgotten in the course of history, deserves the most credit as a man and a diplomat.

      In the early part of the war, as Britain stood alone and the U.S. stood aloof, the courage, resolution, and perseverance of the British people, particularly those in London who endured the Blitz, is inspiring.  The love of the British people for Winant, who made himself accessible to everyone, who wandered the streets during the bombing asking what he could do to help, whose word proved always trustworthy is well-documented.

      Murrow's broadcasts giving first hand accounts of the situation in London were meant to encourage the U.S. to offer help to the British, the last bastion of freedom in Europe.  He was frequently frustrated with the lack of understanding that the American government exhibited about what would happen if Britain failed.

      FDR does not come off particularly well; he seemed incapable of understanding the significance of the threat and unable to make a decision unless it was politically popular.  The help that was eventually offered had strings attached intended to weaken post-war Britain and strengthen the United States in the post-war period.

      The book offers remarkable insight into the war, some of the essential players, and even into the efforts (or lack thereof) of post-war planning.  The United States was not the perfect ally I'd grown up believing--egos and politics and power plays, then as now, often defeat reasonable thinking.

      There is no way for me to give a real overview of the book which covers so much in an interesting manner.  There are plenty of people to admire and plenty to castigate.  There are details that intrigue, details that inspire, and details that sadden.

      Although I read it slowly, pausing at times to revert to my other reading, the book stayed in my thoughts.  It still gives me a lot to think about.   Focusing on the war in Britain, the wider range is presented more briefly.  After Pearl Harbor, the scope widens as the Allies try to agree on appropriate military response.

      Anyone interested in WWII history should include Citizens of London; this history is absorbing, extremely well documented, and entirely readable.  I'd also like to read Olson's other books:  The Murrow Boys and Troublesome Young Men.

      I'm most interested, however, in John Gilbert Winant and would love to read the biography He Walked Alone by Bernard Bellush, but it is out of print and the copies available are way to expensive for me.

      Highly recommended.

      Nonfiction.  History/WWII.  2010.  394 pages + extensive notes and bibliography.

      The Black Cat by Martha Grimes

      Grimes, Martha.  The Black Cat.

      A new Richard Jury mystery.  Reviews are mixed on Amazon, but I enjoyed it.  I like Richard Jury's character and his friends.  I like animals that can communicate with each other and often consider the characters of the animals the most interesting of all.

      When a young woman is murdered at a local pub, no one recognizes her, but many thinks she looks familiar.   It turns out that during the week, the young woman has been a quiet, unassuming librarian, but on weekends she often worked as an escort.  The difference in appearance and dress made identification difficult.  Then another escort is murdered, and Jury must discover the motive that links the murders

      There are a number of digressions that are unnecessary, however.  And perhaps the animal aspect takes up space that could have been devoted to the mystery, but what the heck....  I enjoyed it.

      Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  323 pages.