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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Halloween and Yoga Books

I still have several books to review, but I've been busy playing with Halloween stuff.  A Halloween tree and some small ornaments are in progress.

Since I'm not in the mood to review my recent reads,  I'm going to share some of my yoga books.  I've gathered them all together, but they will soon return to my various reading spots and to the shelves.
I didn't care for Yoga for Anxiety much, or for Breathwalk.
These are excellent.
I was trying to get a better picture of this one, and Stinker got curious.
She does "cat" pose better than this, but she wasn't really trying.
 These are my favorites, pulled from the various stacks; these are the ones I keep out for rereading and research.  You can see the book marks sticking out of some of them, and all of them are well high-lighted.
Click to enlarge.

I have no idea how many times I've read some of these, but on each reading I process a little more of the information or understand something for the first time.  That learning plateau is always in action.

Although these are my favorites, I frequently pull out some of the others when I'm looking for something in particular.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Stranger in the Family by Robert Barnard

A Stranger in the Family: A Novel of Suspense is the second book by Barnard (the other one was The Last Post) that I've read, and I've found both of them enjoyable and a little off-beat.

When Kit Philipson learns from his dying mother that his birth name was Novello, he begins a search for his birth parents, learning along the way that his adoption was a result of an abduction in Sicily in 1989. 

Determined to discover more, Kit locates his biological mother and meets his siblings, but finds more questions than answers.  The suspense is low-key, not edge-of-your seat.

Ficion.  Mystery?  Suspense?  2010.  250 pages.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Veracity by Laura Bynum

Veracity is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel about a totalitarian state that controls the population by "slates" --chips inserted into the neck that monitor the spoken word.

The most interesting element in this novel is the concept that the government has a Red List of words that cannot be spoken without dire consequences.  Many words are so completely unknown by the general populace that only those who have survived the pandemic and remember the "beforetime" have any knowledge of them.  However, since the government continues to add words to the list, even the younger population remains in danger of speaking forbidden words, deliberately or inadvertently.

 What fascinates me about the concept is the fact that the brain allocates space according to the most sensitive parts of the body in understanding and discovering the world.  As a result-- the illustration of the motor/sensory homunculus, the little man in the brain.

Where is most of our sensory information stored?  In our face and hands.  Notice the size of the lips in this version.  Another version in one of my books shows the tongue as large as the lips.

Images of the homunculus (and most books about the brain include versions of this little man in the brain) demonstrate the importance of these motor/sensory elements to our survival.

Consider what would happen to the brain if language were to be severely limited.  The old "use it or lose it" maxim applies to the brain as well.  Orwell introduced the "thought police";  Bynum envisions word or language policing.  Without language, how do we form ideas and thought?  By gradually reducing the number of words in our language, complex thought would also be gradually limited.

What would the end result be?  Silence?  How would the homunculus illustration appear if the tongue and lips were used only for eating and tasting?  Would that area of the brain shrink accordingly?

So...what I really liked about this novel is the way it connected to my "brain books."  The idea of gradually limiting language fascinates me.

  Not only thought, but in many ways, our humanity is facilitated, encouraged, and perpetuated by language.  The removal of words from the spoken language, the destruction of all written literature, the lack of writing materials (other than a stylus and computerized notepad that can be monitored and are used by only government offficials) further hamper mental and emotional development. In this monitored society there is no music, no literature, no art.  These creative endeavors have been destroyed, and few remember even the idea of them.  

 What about the rest of the book?  The author did manage to keep me in suspense, but the narrative itself didn't quite fulfill the potential of the novel's concept. 

Plot:  Harper Adams, a sentient and monitor for the state, has always resented the government's control and after a traumatic event, is recruited by the Resistance.  She prepares for her break and becomes a successful runner.  For some aspects of the novel, it was a little difficult to suspend disbelief, but Bynum does keep the suspense going.  Certain areas lacked sufficient development and explanation, keeping things moving without appropriate depth.

Sometimes writing a review without spoilers is more difficult than others, so I think I'll leave it there. 

Overall, I liked the novel a great deal because it connected to areas that interest me and made me think.  I also liked the respect shown to The Book of Noah, which as the last extant copy, is revered and treasured by the Resistance, feared and reviled by the State.  The value of this forbidden volume has a nice twist, and even rumors of the book present a problem for the government.

Despite the failings in the plot, this novel will remain with me.

Fiction.  Science Fiction/Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic.  2010.  384 pages.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Haunted Abbot by Peter Tremayne R.I.P. V (#4)

The Haunted Abbot is a medieval mystery featuring Sister Fidelma, of Cashel, Ireland.  This particular novel in the Sister Fidelma series is set in seventh century England.  Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf visit Aldred's Abbey in East Anglia at the request of Brother Eadulf's childhood friend, Botulf.

However, by the time they arrive, late in the night in the midst of a freezing snow storm, Sister Fidelma is succumbing to fever and chills.  Eadulf must counter two shocks:  his friend was murdered that very morning and Abbot Cild initially refuses to admit Sister Fidelma to the abbey.  The Abbey is closed to women, and Cild relents only because of Eadulf's connections and says they must move on in the morning.

As Eadulf visits the chapel to see his friend's body, he sees a young, richly dressed woman.  Exhausted, worried, and angry, Eadulf finds himself faced with many unanswered questions.   How can Abbot Cild refuse aid to Fidelma because she is a woman, when another woman roams the abbey?  Is the woman the ghost of Cild's dead wife?  Who murdered Eadulf's friend and why?  

Much of the book is a look at the culture of the times: religious conflicts, changing attitudes of the Church, the influence of Pagan beliefs,  power struggles between East Anglia and Mercia, inequitable treatment of men and women, legal differences between Ireland and England, and cultural conflicts.  As a result, the book is an education in the time period--so much so, that some may find the reading slow... 

but I actually found the historical information more engaging than the mystery, which was more complicated than complex.  I will look for more in this series, especially those set in Ireland, Sister Fidelma's home.

Many aspects of the novel reminded me of the nonfiction How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, a history that I thoroughly enjoyed as it was both interesting and informative.

Peter Tremayne is the pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis, historian and novelist, considered an authority on Celtic history and culture.  More information (biographical info and an interview) on Tremayne/Ellis here.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2002.  298 pages.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Such a pleasant surprise....

 I have forgotten to mention the nice email I received from Mark Stephens thanking me for my review of his book Teaching Yoga.  Isn't it funny that he should thank me when I should be thanking him for making the book available for my personal study and my yoga library?

My practice continues, and I continue to read my yoga books both for new information and for reminders.  Not all of them have been reviewed, but maybe I should make a list of all of them and at least make a comment on each.

Still working on reviews.  It is so easy to put that chore aside and continue reading.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Sting of Death by Rebecca Tope

The Sting of Death has a cast of interesting, if not particularly likable, characters.  I've not read any of Tope's other books, but evidently she has combined the protagonists from two different series for this book.

Det. Sergeant Den Cooper joins forces with Drew Slocombe to discover what has happened to Justine Pereira, who has apparently disappeared.  The investigation is instigated by Justine's cousin, Penn.

This is a tale of dysfunctional families and self-involved individuals.  The police procedural aspect seems quite casual and unrealistic, but the way the author continues expanding our knowledge of the characters is what keeps the story interesting.  Information accumulates, and as it does, the reader becomes more and more unsure of all the characters.  Even though I thought I knew who was responsible, each new tidbit opened more possibilities.

And then...the original disappearance is no longer the main plot thread.  Even when the villain is in custody, there are further revelations.  The characters are so wrapped up in themselves, so self-absorbed that they all view each new development only in light of the effect it will have on them. 

The novel intrigued me.  Usually, I need likable characters first and foremost, but most of the likable characters in The Sting of Death are so bland, especially  Det. Sergeant Cooper and Drew Slocumbe.  Maggs, Drew's partner, has some charisma and is interesting, but most of the interesting characters are pretty unpleasant.  Each one is flawed, and each one bears some guilt concerning the outcome.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2002.  302 pages.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland R.I.P V

When I saw Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland on the new book shelf at the library, I put it in my bag as a possible R.I.P. read.  I wasn't at all sure whether it would appeal to me, but I liked the cover.  As it turned out, I liked it a lot!

You can't take it seriously, but it is an enjoyable romp through Shakespeare's London with love interest, vampires, zombies, plenty of Shakespearean references and references to more recent works of literature and film.  If Shakespeare is/was a vampire, he appears to have continued his literary bent through his many lives.

Lighthearted fun.

Supernatural/Paranormal.  2010.  291 pages.
"The true felicity of a lover of books is the luxurious turning of page by page, the surrender, not meanly abject, but deliberate and cautious, with your wits about you, 
as you deliver yourself into the keeping of the book.  This I call reading."   
--Edith Wharton, attributed

I've been delivering myself into the keeping of several books lately.  Enjoying the R.I.P. challenge, I have now finished the third and fourth books for the challenge:  Shakespeare Undead, a funny mashup of vampires and zombies, by Lori Handeland and The Haunted Abbot, a medieval mystery by Peter Tremayne.  Reviews to come.

I've also finished The Sting of Death by Rebecca Tope, a curious mystery that kept me involved even when most of the characters were unsympathetic, and I"m in the middle of The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon, a compelling novel set in 1924 London. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Murderous Procession by Arianna Franklin

A Murderous Procession is the fourth in Franklin's A Mistress of the Art of Death series.  Henry II has ordered Adelia Aguilar to accompany the procession that will take his ten-year-old daughter  Joanna to Palermo for her wedding to William of Sicily.

Adelia is frustrated and angry because Henry had ordered that she leave her daughter Allie behind with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's imprisoned wife.  This leaves an interesting opening for the next novel which will, I hope, spent a little time on what Allie learns under Eleanor's tutelage.

The difficulty of Adelia's relationship with Rowley has annoyed me in the past and is not resolved...although there are a couple of twists in their relationship that occur in this novel that I would not have expected.  

The long and difficult journey to Sicily is full of danger.  A character from a previous novel has joined the procession intent on destroying Adelia, association with the Cathars threaten Adelia and others, accusations of witchcraft are hurled, and  even in tolerant Sicily, ignorance, prejudice, and superstition are having their tragic consequences.

As usual, Franklin does an excellent job of incorporating historical characters and events, giving the reader insight into the medieval period in which Adelia's story takes place.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.   2010.  352 pages.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest (R.I.P)

Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a little Southern Gothic, a little ghost story, a little voodoo, a little family curse.

As a young girl, Eden becomes acquainted with ghosts.  Initially, it makes life pretty difficult, but as she grows older she realizes that the connection with the three ghostly sisters is both kinship and caring.

Eden is a mixed-race child, but that doesn't ever truly bother her.  She is quite confident in that regard.  In many ways, she is like any well-loved and well-adjusted child, having been raised and cared for by her beloved aunt and uncle.

However, while her racial identity causes no angst, the fact that Eden converses with ghosts presents a few difficult times in kindergarten and elementary school.  The crazy cousin who tries to kill her would be much more distressing to most children that it was to young Eden, who handles the episode with aplomb. 

From the young Eden about a new classmate:

" There was a new girl in my class.  Her name was April, and she was from up North...Chicago, she said, and you knew it was true.  You could hear it in her vowels, and in her almost audible sneer.  She believed that the more snow you got for winter the smarter you were; and consequently, the hotter your summers the more likely it was you'd marry a cousin.  By the time I met her, she was the most hated member of my class.  This is not to say she had no friends; on the contrary, she was quite popular with the richer kids, for they envied her cosmopolitan air and her bizarre clothes, which she insisted were the veritable height of fashion.  But make no mistake, they hated her too.  They hated her for the reason we all did:  she thought she was better than us, and we were afraid she was right."

The mystery portion involves the  adult Eden searching for more information about her parentage (her aunt is strangely reluctant to be of much help), when it appears that her life may depend on the answers.

This was Priest's debut novel, and she has published several since this one.  In Four and Twenty Blackbirds, she demonstrates a great sense of atmosphere and place, evoking images of sight, sound, and smell, especially in the outdoor settings.  The characters could use a little more development and complexity, and parts of the supernatural element of the plot didn't work so well for me, but there were mysteries to be unraveled, and I certainly wanted the answers.

I liked Eden a great deal as a child, but found her adult version less appealing.  The  precocious young Eden's difficulties stimulated my interest; the grown-up Eden's purpose seemed more to keep the plot moving.

 I will certainly be looking for Priest's more recent novels.  It will be interesting to follow her career from this first novel through at least a few of her more recent publications, noting changes in style and technique.

R.I.P. book two

Fiction.  Supernatural/Mystery.  2005.  285 pages.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade is the second in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.  I read the first one, His Majesty's Dragon about a month ago.

In the first book, Captain Will Laurence finds his life turned upside down when the newly hatched dragon from a captured French ship decides to bond with him.  This meant that Laurence had to give up his naval career to become an aviator, a branch of the service that is neither as formal nor as highly regarded as other branches.  And yet, Laurence's growing attachment to the young dragon he names Temeraire quickly begins to assuage his loss of career and social standing.

By the time the second book begins, the idea of separation of man and dragon has become almost an impossibility.  When the British government decides to return Temeraire to the Chinese, things become sticky indeed.  Therein lies the tale...

I enjoyed the book, but found it slower and some how less dense than the first book.  More political and cultural difficulties, less action, and less of the wonderful relationship between Laurence and Temeraire...

Fiction.  Alternate History/Fantasy.  2008.  312 pages.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn

Reader and Raelynx is the final volume in Shinn's Twelve Houses series, and I hated to see this fantasy end.  (disregard the cover image which doesn't look at all like the descriptions Shinn gives of either Cammon or Raelynx)

My favorite is the very first one, Mystic and Rider, which introduces the six main characters and follows them through danger and adventure on the road as they attempt to discover who is murdering mystics.  This is a series that is best read in order because Mystic and Rider creates such a clear picture of Senneth, Tayse, Justin, Kirra, Donal, and Cammon and the tumultuous times of Shinn's realm of Gillengaria.

The successive novels (The Thirteenth House and Dark Moon Defender) feature one or more of the main characters.  The fourth and final installment has all the six characters working together again, although Cammon the mystic reader takes the forefront in this one.

Shinn's writing is vivid and her characters are complicated and full of life.  The realm of Gillengaria is believable, exciting, full of political machinations, and on the verge of war. 

I did feel the conclusion was  rushed and a bit too convenient, but still is satisfactory wrapping up of details.

  The series is comfort fantasy--the kind you like to revisit because you love the characters.  When an author can make me feel so at home in her world, I can't help but feel grateful. 

Other Reviews:  Curled Up with a Good Book; Need More Shelves;

Fiction. Fantasy. 2008.  464 pages.

The Commuters by Emily Gray Tedrowe

I won a copy of Commuters from Kay (thanks, again!)  I was looking forward to a story about a grandmother in her 70's getting married again with the whole shebang--the dress, the reception, all in high style, kind of thumbing her nose at those who would prefer something quieter, more discrete.

What I'd looked forward to was an older couple still very much involved in life and set on defying stereotypical views that the aging should retire quietly and fade into the woodwork.  Winnie and Jerry, however, remain rather stock characters.  Their relationship is never developed into something alive and breathing.  We are told, not shown, and even the telling fails to bring them off the page.  Winnie's main defiance?  Well, it didn't impress me much that she insisted on cutting down that tree. 

The story devolves into family dynamics that are not particularly riveting, although they should be.  I found it hard to identify with Winnie's daughter Rachel, who had plenty of problems of her own and should have evoked more sympathy.  While there were a number of interesting story lines--Rachel's husband is recovering from traumatic brain injury and the family is struggling financially; Annette, Jerry's daughter, attempts to wrest the family business from Jerry; Avery, Jerry's grandson, has had problems with addiction, but is trying to establish himself as a chef; Jerry begins a pretty quick slide into Alzheimer's Disease--these story lines have a feeling of being included rather like a list to avoid really developing the relationships.

It isn't that the situations aren't interesting; it is the sense of  reading a synopsis that pervades the novel, an accumulation of parts that never coalesce into a meaningful whole.  A story of events, not of characters with whom you can fully involve yourself.

The Amazon reviews are all very positive, but I found the novel lackluster.  Although she liked the book better than I did, Kay mentions some of the same problems:  "Sometimes, I felt almost like an observer outside the window of the family depicted on the cover, seeing and hearing what the author wanted to share with me, but perhaps not getting to know the characters and their motivations quite as fully as I might have wished."

P.S.  -- Every review I've read on the TLC book tour is positive.   Remarkably positive.  Have to wonder about myself sometimes.  Why didn't I find it "lovely and literate," "poignant," "sparkling"?

Other Reviews (I've chosen 2 that are not so overwhelmingly delighted with the book):  Kay at My Random Acts of Reading; Jen at Devourer of Books;

Fiction.  Family Drama.  2010.  400 pages.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Labor Day Weekend at the Camp

Kids much fun! 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Off to the country...

 This is Mother and Child weekend down at the cabin.  Amelia, Erin, and several of their friends plus at least 10 kids under the age of six.  Whoa, Nellie!  I'll be going down later to spend the night.  Thank goodness, Fee and I have our own little cabin, because the big one has to be a mad house!

I'm looking forward to seeing "adopted" daughter, Ren, and her two little ones.  Ren is another reader, and we've shared many book titles over the years.  She and Erin were friends in high school at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, roomed together at Northwestern in Natchitoches, and later, in Baton Rouge.

I've finished a couple of good fantasy books that I'll review soon:  Reader & Raelynx by Sharon Shin and Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik.  Have an R.I.P. book in progress, and it is very good as well--Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest. 

The Whisper by Carl Neggars

Repetitive, repetitive, repetitive....
Too many characters with absolutely no purpose in forwarding the story.
How many times can you mention "five star hotel"?
How many times can you mention the (over 20) characters who remain names only?
How many times can you mention 3 or 4 in one sentence?
How often can you mention Ireland? 
And bounce between Boston, Ireland, and London with impunity?
How many times can you mention the back story?

Fiction.  Suspense? Mystery? 2010.  331 pages.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bat Wing by Sax Rohmer

While searching for possibilities for Carl's most recent R.I.P. Challenge, I came across Bat Wing by Sax Rohmer.  Who?  Never heard of him.

I ordered the Kindle version (.99) and decided to see what I thought.  Bat Wing is reminiscent of Wilkie Collins in style, with a nod to Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin and to A.C. Doyle's Holmes and Watson.  Very old-fashioned and late Victorian in many ways, and certainly politically incorrect; I found myself smiling slightly as I read, recognizing the various elements of novels and stories from another era.

Rohmer throws out some red herrings, introduces a little romance, some unusual characters, and a little exoticism.  He is also occasionally repetitive.  While laying the clues to the supernatural and voodoo, Rohmer keeps Harley and Knox (Rohmer's version of Holmes and Watson) on their toes, letting them struggle, knowing that information is being deliberately withheld from them.  **my version reads Paul Harley and some reviews reference him as Harley, others as Harvey

I really like the old book covers!

When I finished, I wondered about the author, who was evidently extremely prolific.  I discovered, to my surprise, that Sax Rohmer was the creator of the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu.  Many of you will be familiar with Fu Manchu  through name recognition, but if you are like me, not really knowledgeable about the character.  I knew there were old movies featuring Fu Manchu, but I'd never seen one.  I think I'd confused Fu Manchu with Charlie Chan.

Any way, Rohmer was an eccentric and imaginative fellow and a member of  The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as were William Butler Yeats, E. Nesbit, Bram Stoker, and...Alistair Crowley.  That fact, alone, makes Rohmer interesting.

From an article by Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen that relates a story of Rohmer's Fu Manchu character:

"In 1909 he married Rose Elizabeth Knox, whose father had been a well-known comedian in his youth. When Rose Knox met Rohmer she was performing in a juggling act with her brother Bill. For almost two years they kept the marriage a secret from Rose's family - she lived with her sister and Rohmer with his father. Rose was psychic and Rohmer himself seemed to attract metaphysical phenomena - according to a story, he consulted with his wife a ouija board as to how he could best make a living. The answer was 'C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N'.

He certainly had great success with his "C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N." beginning with radio shows in the twenties featuring Fu Manchu:
Also in  the 1920's, Harry Agar Lyons played the evil doctor in the first films;
Boris Karlof and Myrna Loy appeared in a 1930's version.  Christopher Lee became a 1960's incarnation, and Peter Sellers and Helen Mirren appeared in a 1980's comedic installment, The Fiendish Plot of Fu Machu.

I've just added a 1940's version to my Netflix que.   I wish they had the 1920's and 1930's films available, but they don't.

So, yes, I got completely off-track on my review because, as usual, a little research (how I love the Internet!) can reveal so much more than one expects.  
Final evaluation of Bat Wing:  It isn't a modern novel, but at the time of its first publication in 1921, it was sensational and was the first of several novels featuring Paul Harley and his sidekick and amanuensis, Knox.  I found it great fun!  From what I've read, although his name is barely remembered now, his work was very influential to other writers at the time.

The next in the Harley/Knox series is Fire-Tongue.  Sounds like a great follow-up as it owes its inspiration to his friend Harry Houdini.

Fiction.  Gothic/Mystery/Suspense.  original published in 1921.  print version 220 pages.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

R.I.P - It's That Time Again

 I'm thrilled that Carl's R.I.P. Challenge is once again in play!  It takes very little to persuade me to choose books for this challenge as fall is the perfect time of year for the supernatural and for gothic mysteries.  The challenge lasts from September through October 31, but I often continue R.I.P. Reads through November because November is an ideal month for  curling up with a nice ghost story or two.
I've chosen Peril the First:   Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.  

Carl has also added an additional category-- Peril on the Screen (Great Idea, Carl!) and I am adding this one as well. What great fun selections for this category will provide.  My husband and I were discussing Dark Shadows just the other day.  It may be available through Netflix, and of course, some of the really old Dracula movies and the Hammer Films (home of Dracula, Frankenstein, and Gothic Horror and classic horror stars Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee).

In an earlier post, I mentioned looking forward to this time of year and to this challenge, and now it's time to begin some serious selecting of both books and movies.
And time to get out my favorite tea towel.

Witches also come to the forefront at this time of year, and Katherine Langrish of Seven Miles of Steel Thistles has written several interesting posts about witches.  Drop by and view some of her witch posts (1 A Word About Witches, 2 Witches in Children's Literature, and 3 Queens and Crones).  They make great reading and may even provide you with some titles for the challenge.