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Sunday, February 27, 2011

This wonderful post about learning courage from fairy tales and books by Jennifer of The Lion's Whiskers reminded me of the importance of reading as both a child and an adult.  (Found via The Drawing Board blog).

Have just a few more reviews to catch up on and a nice stack of ARCs from Algonquin Books to settle into.  I limited my library books this week because I have so many books already in the stacks.

I had so much fun decorating for Valentine's Day this year that I've been working on St. Patrick's Day.  First, I went through all my green depression glass and other items, then I started crafting.  So far:  a St. Pat's garland, an Irish Lass from an old bottle opener, a tassel from fabric strips and a wine cork, a subway art print in a frame, a dish towel with an Irish label and raw edge ruffle, a St. Pat fabric label onto linen for a little sign.  Fun!
I'm adding pictures to my other blog as I finish different items.

Just finished:  The Bomber Boys:  Heroes Who Flew the B-17s in World War II.  I really enjoyed this for personal reasons; my father was a navigator on a B-17, but he never talked much about the war.  The stories of the various airmen who were interviewed gave me an insight into the Flying Fortress crews and their experiences.  There is also a nice bibliography that I'll look into later.

Amelia is hosting her annual Oscar Party tonight so after Fee and I had lunch at Byronz, we went and picked up Bryce Eleanor.  We went to the park before coming home; it was windy and overcast, but nice and warm.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Lonely Death by Charles Todd

A Lonely Death is another installment of the Ian Rutledge series by the mother-son team.  I've enjoyed most of these novels a great deal, partly because of the protagonist, but partly because of the time period, shortly after WWI.    However, the last couple of novels have lacked the depth of the first ones.

This one was much better than the last one (The Red Door); the Todds have (thankfully) brought Hamish more into the picture once again.  Rutledge suffered shell shock during the war and has been gradually trying to work his way back to a more balanced life.  Hamish, a voice in Rutledges's head, is both a "ghost" and a part of Rutledge.  Rutledge has to watch himself to keep from replying aloud to Hamish's comments.   Every novel has a connection to the war and its effects on British society, in one way or another.

A small Sussex village requests a member of Scotland Yard to help solve the murder of 3 young men, who were rebuilding their lives after the war.  Rutledge must discover what motive drives the murderer and try to prevent more deaths.  Although all but one of the men served together, the link appears to have its roots further in the past.

The characters are better drawn in this one than in the previous one, and the plot more interesting; although still not as good as some of the earliest in the series, it does have more of the earlier flavor.

Fiction.  Mystery/ Historical Fiction.  2011.  343 pages.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

The Sherlockian, told in alternating chapters, begins with Arthur Conan Doyle's frustration with the character he created in Sherlock Holmes; he wanted to be remembered for more than his detective's fictional adventures and resented the fact that many people believed Holmes to be real.  Killing off Holmes aroused genuine anger among his readers, and as we know, he eventually brought his character back to life.

In the current day chapters, Sherlockian Harold White is inducted into The Baker Street Irregulars, and finds himself trying to solve the murder of one of its members and recover a missing diary of Conan Doyle's.

Moving back and forth, we find Doyle and his friend Bram Stoker pursuing a serial killer in London, and Harold White pursuing a murderer and the diary.  I usually like parallel stories, but there is a skill in moving between alternating chapters that seemed lacking here.  Each little segment left me a bit frustrated.

Truthfully, neither story truly pulled me in.  I liked Bram Stoker's character much more than Doyle's and found Harold White annoying as often as not.      

Initially, I found the book amusing and thought I'd like it a lot.  As I continued reading, however, I found myself bothered by several things (including chapter transitions, or lack thereof).  A good premise, but somehow the novel never lived up to my expectations.

I don't regret reading it, by any means, I just hoped to like it better.   Years ago, I read The 7 Percent Solution which I liked, and I always enjoy Laurie King's Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.  Sherlock Holmes continues to intrigue me, whether through Doyle's original stories or the many take-offs.

Other reviews here:  Linus's Blanket, The Written WorldLiterary Corner Cafe...

Fiction.  Mystery/Historical Fiction.  2010.  350 pages.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Film Club by David Gilmour

The Film Club is a memoir by Canadian novelist David Gilmour that covers the years he spent viewing movies with his son Jesse.  Gilmour allowed his son to drop out of school in the 10th grade, but only if he promised to watch 3 movies a week with his father.  The movies become an opportunity to bond with his son, to explore directors and film technique, to discuss some of the topics of the various films which run the gamut of tragedy, comedy, great films, and guilty pleasures.

Gilmour struggles with his decision to allow Jesse to drop out of school, with his own job search, and with the ups and downs of his teenage son's love life.

If you love movies, you will find all kinds of interesting trivia, be reminded of classic films, enjoy revisiting some of your favorites, and learn some of the odd facts that accompanied the making and makers of the films.

This was recommended by Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat, and a book that I thoroughly enjoyed (although the teenage love life was much more important to Gilmour than to ancient me).  A great pre-Oscar read--I'm passing this one on to my daughter who will soon be hosting her annual Oscar party.

Nonfiction.  Memoir.  2009.  225 pages.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first in the Chaos Walking series.  A very popular YA novel that just didn't do it for me, and I'd so looked forward to reading this series.  One turned out to be plenty for me.

The premise is great:  all thoughts are audible.  Men, in this respect, are "chaos walking."

Unfortunately, the best character is the dog.  I really liked the dog.

The rest of the novel lost momentum; although packed with little scenes of  havoc, the reappearance of the preacher and the men from Prentisstown became a bit ho hum.

Without spoilers, I can't reveal all the things that bothered me about this novel and kept me from immersing myself in the story.

Ends with a cliffhanger.

I really wanted to love this one because I've read so many positive reviews, but that's the way it goes.  The series is a beloved one, so take my curmudgeonly review with a couple of grains of salt and try it for yourself.  The book won awards. 

Fiction.  Science Fiction/YA.  2008.  479 pages.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

The Spiritualist is a bit of a mash-up: nice girl/bad boy romance, mystery, spiritualism.  I read Chance's An Inconvenient Wife a couple of years ago and felt some of the same dissonance (difficult to decide whether or not you like the characters).

The rise of the cult of Spiritualism fascinates me, and I was drawn to the book for two reasons:  I like this kind of Victorian Gothic mystery, and I'd read two nonfiction books about the Fox sisters (who are actually mentioned in the novel).  (Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism by  Margaret Weisberg and Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity by David Chapin.

Although some reviews have praised Chance for the historical detail, I'm not sure that I found the detail that authentic.  The apparent acceptance of middle-class  Evelyn (Evie) Atherton into New York society was not likely, and although the acceptance was less genuine than Evie believed, I still find it difficult to believe that she would have been comfortable with the creme de la creme of N.Y. bluebloods.  Especially since she attended events without her husband....

Evelyn's father was an investigator, but Evelyn doesn't seem to have learned much about the business.  Her character seems to vacillate back and forth.

OK - quick summary.  Evelyn's husband is murdered after a Seance, and she is eventually charged with his murder.  Who killed her husband and why?

It was an interesting read, but somehow a bit affected. 

The devotion of the members of the small circle who attended the frequent spiritual gatherings led by the handsome and charismatic medium Michel Jourdain does fit historic accounts.  Believers were dedicated and often contributed large sums and expensive gifts.  William James studied spiritualism and was generally supportive; Nobel-laureate physiologist Charles Richet was a convert; Arthur Conan Doyle was also a believer.

None of the characters in the novel were entirely positive, which is an interesting take.  Also, one angle or complication involving the relationship between Jourdain (the medium) and his patron is left ambivalent, leaving the reader with a prurient curiosity.

  Sooo...what do I think, overall?  Megan Chance likes to keep things a bit edgy.  Feelings about the characters are often a little uncertain.  It certainly kept me reading.

I did like The Seance by John Harwood better, though.

Fiction.  Mystery/Suspense/Supernatural.  2008.  419 pages.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Poets' Love Letters

Another offering from -- love letters:

Keats to Fanny Brawne
Gertrude Stein to Alice B. Toklas
Lewis Carroll to Gertrude Chataway
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Nelson-Dunbar

I've got about 5 more reviews that need to be finished, about 3 books in progress, and a stack of TBR.  A surplus of books at the moment.  But the weather is so beautiful!  It is just too beautiful to be inside during the day!

Happy Valentine's Day!  (image from The Graphics Fairy)

More Love Poems offers these lovely Valentines.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Love Poems


The Kiss
by Stephen Dunn

She pressed her lips to mind.
 —a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.
San Antonio  
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt 
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

The Traveler is the first book in a trilogy by a rather mysterious author.  Although it did get better, even then I didn't find it particularly interesting or engaging.

from Publishers Weekly
Twelve Hawks's much anticipated novel is powerful, mainstream fiction built on a foundation of cutting-edge technology laced with fantasy and the chilling specter of an all-too-possible social and political reality.
 Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I can see why the author might want to remain "off the grid" and unidentified.  This is one that probably should have gone into the DNF pile, but I hung in until the end.  Silly me.

Fiction.  Science Fiction/Dystopian.  2005.  456 pages.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth J. Duncan

A Brush with Death is a cozy.  The cover caught my attention, and books about old letters, etc. always interest me.

 Penny Brannigan inherits a cottage from a friend and as she cleans it out discovers some old letters.  Her friend had a lesbian relationship in the 1960's, but her lover, an artist, had been killed in an unsolved hit-and-run.  Although there were some suspicious circumstances, the death was eventually written off as an accident.

Penny begins looking for more information, hoping to solve the mystery.  I enjoyed Penny's friends in the small Welsh village of Llanelen.

The novel is a typical cozy in that there is no graphic violence and setting and community are important aspects of the mystery.

Light, but fun.

Fiction.  Mystery/Cozy.  2010.  258 pages.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A Time to Keep Silence was recommended by Dorothy (Books & Bicycles).  It is a short memoir of sorts about Fermor's attempt to find seclusion for writing by visiting various monasteries.

 Fermor records his thoughts as he makes the transition, first into the Benedictine Abbey of St. Wandrille de Fontanelle in France, later into Solesmes, and finally, into the Trappist monastery of Le Grande Trappe.

He explains the difficulty of leaving the hectic, verbal world and entering into one that maintains silence even during meals.  Initially, he finds the silence sobering and disturbing.  Within a short time, however, he feels more comfortable.  He describes the abbey, the monks, the rituals, and the history of the orders.  At first, in his tiny cell, he experiences insomnia; however, then his sleep habits change, and he describes his sleep as "profound."  He finds himself sleeping much of the day.  Then another change, and he begins to sleep perhaps only five hours a night-- "light, dreamless and perfect sleep, followed by awakenings full of energy and limpid freshness."

His dedication and energy for his work increased.  Having recovered from the restlessness and depression, Fermor is able to appreciate the benefits of silence and solitude.  Time began to pass swiftly, almost without notice.  When it was time to leave, Fermor says that the transition back into the noisy, mundane world was as difficult as adjusting to the abbey in the first place.

I'm not going to mention his other withdrawals, except to say that his feelings for the Benedictine life were much more positive than those he experienced in the Trappist monastery at Le Grande Trappe.  The order was much stricter, and he was more sequestered from the monks.  However, the history of the Trappist order was very interesting, indeed.

Two of my favorite parts were not part of the book itself: the introduction by Karen Armstrong, who spent seven years in a Roman Catholic religious order, and Fermor's 1982 introduction, 30 years after his experiences.  My least favorite part was the concluding chapter on the Rock Monasteries of Cappodocia, which seemed a bit out of place.

A few years ago, I was interested in the life of Thomas Merton, the great spiritual leader who was a Trappist Monk.  Merton was interested in Buddhism and interfaith understanding.  Although the two men would have been contemporaries, Merton's experiences with the Trappist order were different because he was eventually allowed more freedom and privacy than most Trappist monks (who had to sleep in dormitories).  He met personally with the Dalai Llama and Chatral Rinpoche and felt that his experiences with this broader religious community deepened his own faith.

I have no idea, even after reading about Fermor's experiences as a lay guest in different monasteries and Merton's experiences as a Trappist monk, what it would really be like to have a lengthy retreat in a monastery.  I would certainly choose a Benedictine over a Trappist monastery, however.

Nonfiction.  Memoir/Religion/Spirituality.  First published in 1957.  96 pages.

In the Mail and ...

I've forgotten to mention that Nancy (Bookfool) sent me a copy of The Ingram Interview this last week.  Thanks, Nancy, I appreciate it!

Also in the mail, West of Here by Jonathan Evison, an ARC from Algonquin Books.    From Publishers Weekly:  "A big novel about the discovery and rediscovery of nature, starting over, and the sometimes piercing reverberations of history, this is a damn fine book."  

More sleet and snow expected today.  Here's the snowman I made last week.

Reading The Film Club and thoroughly enjoying it.  Putting off reviewing several books.  Playing in the studio with cloth and clay. 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Invisible Boy by Cornelia Read

Invisible Boy is the third book in the Madeline Dare series.  I didn't realize this, of course, when I pulled it off the shelf and don't really think it matters.  The story stands alone;  if interested, however, getting the previous books would fill in some of the background hinted at in the book.

The first couple of chapters almost lost me.  While I do enjoy witty repartee, the book opens with so much of it that you wonder if there is a story at all.  The heavy swearing and drinking was also a distraction.  Over use of wisecracks, cursing, and binge drinking becomes more than boring, it becomes annoying.

That said, the book does pick up when Madeline helps a friend and other volunteers clearing an overgrown, weed-ridden, historic cemetery.  Madeline discovers a tiny skeleton, one that has been dumped not buried.

I liked some of the wit and humor.  I liked that the focus remained in large part on the victim.  I liked Maddy Dare, her husband, sister, and friends.

 I didn't like over use of bad language.  Believe me, it isn't at all shocking; I've heard it all and said most of it myself.  When it bombards you like this book does, especially in the beginning, the only purpose it serves is distraction.

There aren't many surprises, the reader pretty much knows where things are leading.  The police procedure didn't seem real, and my goodness, I ought to know, having watched Law & Order for years!  Didn't like the subplot. The tempo was uneven.  Hated and didn't get the last chapter which was a flashback.

Sounds as if I hated the book, but I didn't.  I enjoyed it.  What do I know?  Would I seriously look for the two previous books?  No.  If someone handed me one of them, however, I'd be turning the pages. 

Fiction. Mystery/Crime. 2010.  418 pages.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Snow Day in Lousiana

Pig Island by Mo Hayder

Pig Island sounded interesting, but in the end, was just weird.  Really weird and a bit horrifying, but not for the reasons one would assume. 

None of the characters were likable.  Every situation was bizarre and/or prurient.  A lot of things simply didn't hang together.

Spoiler:  The biggest problem occurred on pages 116-17 in my copy.  This is when Joe Oakes first confronts the "monster," and it is feeding "from Blake's bloodied remains...."  I had to go back and find the exact location because from this point on the story simply doesn't make sense in any way.  Each new situation from this point seems to forget this major problem.  I couldn't forget it, so how does the main character manage to forget it?

The conclusion was ambivalent, but once again, not in a literary way.  I simply didn't know what the author was trying to say because there were so many things that didn't mesh.

Not my kind of book. 

Fiction.  Horror.  2007.  352 pages.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Book Tree

Isn't this wonderful?  I love, love, love it!  From DesignArtist.

I've been decorating for Valentine's Day.  My stack of old books received a new ribbon, I've made a new doll (Valentina), and I've been playing with other crafty things, too.  Most of the crafty stuff is on my other blog, but I'm pleased with this little vignette and wanted to share.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Grave Secrets by Charlaine Harris

Grave Secrets is the 4th in Charlaine Harris' series featuring Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver.  Struck by lightening when she was a teenager, Harper developed the ability to locate bodies.  Not only can she locate them, but she can tell what caused their deaths.

She and her stepbrother have formed a partnership and are hired by both individuals and law enforcement to locate bodies and determine cause of death.  In this installment, the two are hired by a Texas woman who wants to know more about what caused her grandfather's fatal heart attack.  Harper is escorted to the cemetery and begins giving details about some of the other people buried there.  The information she relates about one woman's death appears to bring the entire family up short.  Then she tells about what caused the grandfather's heart attack....

The other plot, which revolves around the first one in strange ways,  has to do with Harper's sister Cameron who has been missing for years.   Cameron's disappearance has haunted Harper throughout the previous novels and now, after eight years, there has been a possible sighting.  A woman who appears to match Cameron's description is caught on a mall surveillance camera.  When Harper views the video, she is disappointed because the woman is not Cameron.  Still, she wonders about who called in the tip.

I tried and did not finish one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  As beloved as those novels are by many people, they don't appeal to me, but I do enjoy this series featuring Harper Connelly.  Best to begin with the first one to get a feel for the characters:  
1) Grave Sight
2) Grave Surprise
3) An Ice Cold Grave
4) Grave Secrets

Fiction.  Mystery/Supernatural.  2009.  320 pages.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mission of Honor by David Weber

Mission of Honor is the latest in the Honor Harrington Space Opera series by Weber.  I love Weber--his books are loonngg, full of realistic characters and involved plots, abounding in political negotiations and deceptions and riveting battle tactics. I love them!

However, this is a series that is best (and perhaps, only) appreciated if you begin with the first one.  The number of characters and complex relationships and plots need to be followed from the beginning.  I've written lots of reviews and posts on the Honor Harrington series and the Safehold series and so it is easy to deduce my fascination with Weber's creations.

Now that the war with Haven is over, Weber delivers more on the hints he has previously offered about an underlying conspiracy that has shaped the history of Haven and Manticore.  Honor goes to Haven on a diplomatic mission even as the Mesan Alignment advances its plans to involve Manticore in another war. 

I admit that these science fiction/space opera novels are not for everyone...they are very, very long and have hundreds of characters, but each character comes off the page.  I'm always impressed with Weber's world-building, character development, military tactics, and his ability to consider the motives and reasoning of not only the good guys, but the bad guys as well.

How long will I have to wait for the next one?

Fiction.  ScienceFiction/Space Opera/ Military.  2010.  600 pages.