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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Rosie Thornton kindly offered to send me a copy of The Tapestry of Love, and I gladly jumped at the offer. I love needlework and the concept of starting over.

Catherine Parkstone has been divorced for several years when she decides to move to a small French village and begin a new life as a "needlewoman."  Although she is confronted with a degree of inconvenience with her new home, she gallantly works on establishing herself as neighbor and needlewoman.

Her neighbors are initially welcoming, but quite formal.  As Catherine settles into her new life and the rhythms of the French countryside, her friendships develop slowly, but surely.

The characters are interesting and well-drawn, providing a gradual acceptance that Catherine reciprocates.  There is some love interest with the rather mysterious Patrick Castagnol, some complications arising from a visit from her sister Bryony and from Catherine's difficulties with French Bureaucracy, but the story moves slowly through all of these, concentrating on the relationships Catherine builds.

I enjoyed the slow pace of the novel as Catherine adjusts to the demands of a new culture and setting.  The descriptions are lovely, and I could easily imagine the beauties and difficulties of her new way of life.

The relationship between Bryony and Patrick Castagnol, bothered me a bit, and the plot is relatively placid, but visiting in the Cevennes Mountains of France was thoroughly enjoyable.  Visually appealing with some good characters in the Bouschets, the novel offers a  peaceful interlude.

Adding Other ReviewsMystica MetroReader, Letters from a Hill Farm,

Fiction.  Contemporary Fiction. 2011. 406 pages.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Mail

Oh, goodie!  Annie from Buttery Books sent me her copy of Darling Jim!  Thanks, Annie, I really appreciate it.  It is a perfect choice for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge, and I can't wait to read it!

Death of a Musketeer is from Sarah D'Almeida, the author.  Thanks, Sarah, I've always loved The Three Musketeers and look forward to this version of their adventures.

Elynia is an ARC from Dark Coast Press.

I'm still working on the previous stack, but I've been so caught up in other things lately that it is going rather slowly.

Have to finish catching up on reviews, too.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What You See in the Dark by Manuel Munoz

What You See in the Dark is one of the ARCs from Algonquin books. 

In the quiet town of Bakersfield, CA, a young woman works in a shoe store and a handsome young man tends bar.  She is Latino; he is the handsomest, most desirable man in town.  

In 1959, this romance is closely watched by the entire town.  The narrator (who isn't identified immediately) is one of the individuals watching the courting couple, which gives a strangely sinister feeling to the narrative.

"A very plain girl, not too tall, with slender hips, and hair as dark as her mother's."    The narrator goes on to say that the girl walked to work each day and walked home alone after work.  "And that's how it should have stayed, a plain girl like that all alone."  

Soon " that girl" as the narrator often refers to Teresa--is riding with Dan Watson.  The narrator seems to know a lot of detail about the girl and the romance.  But who is the narrator?

The sense of menace is omnipresent, although the details are quite mundane.  In one scene, the narrator is at the drive-in, describing what is going on in the dark, not specifically with Dan and Teresa, but with all of the couples.  At this point, you realize the narrator is a girl and that she is also at the drive-in with her boyfriend.  

Chapter Two is from the perspective of the Actress (who becomes "this girl"   and is also never named) who is on her way to Bakersfield to meet with the Famous Director about the location of a motel.  She goes over and over the script, wondering about her part and some of the requirements.  She knows how important the role is, not because it is a large role, she will only be in the first third of the film, and then " she was going to disappear. Violently."    The Director, however, "was in the midst of doing something extraordinary and uncanny with some actresses, finessing their star wattage and burnishing it into a singular, almost iconic image." 

The story shifts to Arlene Watson, Dan's mother, who waits tables in the local diner and runs a motel.  She is bitter because her husband left her for another woman.  The Actress has entered the diner and tries to deflect interest by denying that she is an actress or famous.  When Arlene's hotel is under consideration, she refuses to allow its use as a film location because the Actress lied about who she was in the diner.

The making of the film and the romance of Teresa and Dan  take place simultaneously.  Until the night of the local premiere, when the romance ends in violence and death...

The perspective shifts, the chronology shifts.  There is menace, loneliness and longing, a murder, and the set of a very famous movie by a director who hugely influenced film.  Even if you haven't read any of the hype of the novel, the name of the movie springs to mind long before the shower scene is described. 

What You See in the Dark has the black-and-white film noir sense throughout. The unusual approach to the story worked for me, as did the author's prose.  The initial suspense was difficult, however, and I found myself putting the book down and coming back later.  Fortunately, the author didn't attempt to carry that tension throughout--although the technique was quite successfully Hitchcockian, it was also a bit stressful. 

Munoz is a new author for me, but a talented one who has managed to blend several threads and weave an unusual novel.

Fiction.  Contemporary Fiction.  2011.  272 pages.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wedding Over, Back to Reading

Our niece got married this weekend at Hemingbough in St. Francisville, and we had a full agenda of grandkids, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc.  It was a beautiful wedding, and Megan and Drew make a beautiful couple.

 Some pizza Friday evening.

 Fee and Max above.  Mila and Bryce Eleanor below.

Father and Daughter Dance.
 There were acres of azaleas at the height of their beauty--a magical setting.

We were exhausted when we got home yesterday afternoon. I have lots of laundry, etc., to do, then I will be reviewing and reading. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books in the Mail & Once Upon a Time

When I took this picture, the top three were in progress; now, I've finished The Tapestry of Love and What You Can See in the Dark.  Slowly working on The Mighty Eighth, reading When Tito Loved Clara and The Gift by Hafiz. 

About to begin reading The Shadow Hunt in a buddy read with Kailana because Carl has announced the Once Upon a Time Challenge!  Yes, this yearly delight is on target, and I've got lots of books in mind (see previous post) and am taking notes when other bloggers mention their choices. 

 I've been busy in the yard and crafting, but must find time to catch up on reviews.  Finding time to read isn't a problem, but I do need to finish  When Tito Loved Clara-- The Mighty Eighth and The Gift can be read in small increments here and there.  I will be devoting my reading to Once Upon a Time for a while.

This weekend will be busy as we will be out of town for my niece's wedding.  Next weekend, I'm really hoping to make a trip to Canton, TX for their HUGE flea market.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Once Upon a Time Possibilities

My copies of Katherine Langrish's The Shadow Hunt and West of the Moon have arrived.  They will be my first reads for Carl's annual Once Upon a Time challenge (he hasn't posted the info yet).  Kelly (The Written World) will be reading The Shadow Hunt at the same time.

Other books under consideration:

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk (via Buttery Books) is a mixture of myth and modern mystery.  Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner and The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds, and many other great possibilities (via Seven Miles of Steel Thistles).

And since I loved  Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder, both authors are on my list.  

I could only wish that Megan Whalen Turner had a new installment, but will have to wait for the next in the The Queen's Thief series.  I also love Shannon Hale's books and have Repunzel's Revenge on my list.

Most of the above are YA or children's lit, but I love them, and I have grandchildren who will also love them.  Still, I need to have some that are adult fairy tale/ fantasy as well, including non-fiction.

I have such a stack in my TBR pile, but some of them will just have to give way for fantasy and the Once Upon a Time challenge.
Once Upon  by Jane Yolen  © 2007

Once Upon A Time
there was a Wolf,
but not a Wolf,
an Other,
whose mother
and father were others,
who looked not like us,
Republican or Dem
in other words--
They were forest dwellers,
child sellers,
meat eaters,
wife beaters,
idol makers
oath breakers—
in other words, Wolf.
So Happy Ever After means
we kill the Wolf,
spill his blood,
knock him out,
bury him in mud,
make him dance
in red hot shoes.
For us to win
The Wolf must lose.

Are you planning to participate in the Once Upon a Time challenge?  What titles do you suggest?

The Ingram Interview by K.B. Dixon

The Ingram Interview is described as "unrepentantly quirky."  I can't disagree; it is also very funny--wryly, tongue-in-cheek funny.  

The novel is in the form of  q & a sessions with Daniel Ingram, a retired English professor who tells the interviewer (never named) in the first session that he is in "'a continued care facility.'  It is a crossbred thing (like a jackalope or a tangelo)--half hospital, half hotel."  He is there because he has suffered an apparent heart attack.

 He describes Fairview: 
"Let's just say it is not an un-nice place.  A little small perhaps and banally decorated in beiges and muted mauves--it offers a full set of amenities.  There is a pleasant dining room, a staff of medical professionals, weekly housekeeping and laundry services, art classes, exercise classes, craft classes--etc., etc., etc.,  It also offers a guarantee that my uniqueness will be honored and that I will be respected for the special individual I am."

While his description is accurate and amusing as far as attempts to make assisted care facilities more home-like, the last line is most intriguing.  Promises that guarantee to honor uniqueness and specialness have achieved such a degree of political correctness as to sound  priggish, unctuous, empty, and insincere.  I have no doubt that Daniel uttered the words without emphasis, but that he thought them b-s.

And as we soon discover, Daniel is about to be asked to find another place to live because he is depressing other residents.  Daniel is quietly satiric; the situation is amusingly ironic.

There is no great plot.  The interviewer asks Daniel questions and follows him through his move to his next temporary stay with a former student, and on to another assisted living facility.  Daniel answers questions--about the people he knows, his attempts at writing a memoir, his hope of re-uniting with his wife, his former student's process of making a film,  and so on.  Very documentary style.

What is amusing is the understated, phlegmatic responses Daniel gives, which reveal a witty almost sotto vocce feel.  They can be taken at face value, as they are factual, but they leave me with a feeling that Daniel takes quiet pleasure in inserting  ambivalence into his remarks.  

Mind you, Daniel is only 62 years old and a former college professor.  He is often surrounded by individuals who are older, less educated, or like his former student and his girlfriend--much younger.  He is  not among his peers, although he never appears to be terribly uncomfortable.  He is never harsh or mean, and his aim is often at his own habits and behavior.

A very short book, but one that I found made me smile.  (I've been pretty lucky in the last few books.)

 Thanks again, Nancy, for sharing this one!

I'm adding a link to  Nan's review (Letter's From a Hill Farm).

Fiction.  Contemporary.  2011.  121 pages.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

I finished West of Here a couple of weeks ago, and it is time to stop delaying my review.  Why have I delayed?  I loved the book, but I've not been able to adequately resolve my reasons for loving it.

I loved the characters.  All 42 of them.  Was I ever confused with such a large number of characters (even if some were relatively minor)?  No.  Not really.  Each character was unique--in personality, in purpose, in connection to his or her own place in time and storyline.  In the same way that most of us can name all the members of our families, including aunts, uncles, cousins; and close friends, their spouses, and children; and co-workers, these characters just take their places in our consciousness.  Teachers, think of teaching high school, 5 classes with 30 kids per class.  Confusing?  Only initially when you have 120 kids to learn all at once.

I loved the way the two time periods connected, the branch-like stories that sprouted from the same tree.  The desire to conquer the wilderness, the concern for the environment, the greed, the idealism, the personal discoveries, the triumphs and defeats, the wanderings both literal and metaphorical...thematic material a-plenty.

It is an unusual book.  I can't easily slip it into any genre that it doesn't resist a little.  

Evison has a talent for making you identify with such a wide range of characters, all with flaws and some with major moral fissures.  He also has the ability to conjure up communities in time periods over 100 years apart, from the origins of the fictitious Port Bonita in the 1890's to the contemporary town and inhabitants and to provide a breadth and depth that give the reader the sense of "knowing" the town in both incarnations.

What about the plot?  Which plot?  

It IS long, and I think it is will be one of those novels that you either love or hate--strong emotions one way or the other.  Wish I could be more succinct, more efficient in my description of the book, but the book is so NOT one thing.  Kind of like looking at a kaleidoscope and describing it.

The book was an ARC from Algonquin.  One that I'm not only happy to have received, but happy to be able to say I thoroughly enjoyed.

Fiction.  Historical and Contemporary.  2011.  480 pages.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

What a tiny treasure is The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating!  This is a memoir that has formerly active Elisabeth Bailey confined to bed without even the energy to sit up for any length of time.  Initially, the doctors don't know the cause of her illness, but what began with flulike symptoms turned into a "systemic paralysis-like weakness with life-threatening complications."

Bailey doesn't allow the book to be list of symptoms or complaints, but rather an emotional and spiritual journey.  Observing the tiny snail, which is about all that she can do, keeps her mind active and curious.  The snail, with its slow deliberate pace becomes both the perfect companion and metaphor.

One morning, Bailey notices a square hole in a scrap of paper; each morning revealed more square holes.  When the snail chewed a hole in a letter she had written, she began drawing arrows to the holes in her communications with the outside world with the note:  "Eaten by my snail."

Then she put some withered blossoms out for the snail.  In the evening, the snail awoke and began its exploration.  After investigating the blossoms, it began eating a petal:

"I listened carefully.  I could hear it eating.  The sound was of someone very small munching celery.  I watched, transfixed, as over the course of an hour the snail meticulously ate an entire purple petal for dinner.

The tiny, intimate sound of the snail's eating gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared space."

I loved this short book.  I learned more about gastropods and the habits and sex lives of the Neohelix albolabris than I ever expected to know.  I learned more about patience and close observation than I'd ever thought about.  And about courage and perseverance...

The quotes the author uses from poets, scientists, and naturalists are so well-chosen, so apt:

"My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark.
I leave a lively opalescent ribbon:  I know this."   
                                                          - Elizabeth Bishop, form "Giant Snail," 1969

"at my feet
when did you get here?
                          -Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

"The [snail's] tentacles are as expressive as a mule's ears, giving an appearance of listless enjoyment when they hang down, and an immense alertness if they are rigid, as happens when the snail is on a march."
                    - Ernest Ingersoll, "In a Snailery," 1881

What a lovely, lovely little book this is.  Maybe my favorite of the year, and certainly one that I will include in all-time favorites.  I can't even explain why this tiny book touched me with such emphasis.

Nonfiction.  Memoir/ Natural Science.  2010.  178 pages + an excellent bibliography.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld

Rubenfeld's The Death Instinct is an historical mystery.  I have delayed so long in reviewing this that I've kind of lost whatever thoughts were on my mind at the time.

From Booklist:  
The destruction of the World Trade Center was not New York’s first terrorist attack. In 1920, a bomb blast on Wall Street sent cars tumbling and bodies flying. Rubenfeld’s novel, opening with the explosion, has the feel of a historical mystery. A cop and his sidekick are on the scene at once. The investigation begins. A witness to the explosion recalls seeing something that didn’t belong but can’t recall it. Thriller under way? Well, not exactly. Suddenly we’re into a 30-page World War I flashback. Then we visit Vienna for tea with Doctor Freud. We learn of Marie Curie’s work with radium. The sidekick has a rocky time with his love life, and we learn all about it. This fat book is heir to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, using the detective format as a chance to wander in the past. Rubenfeld ends with an explanation of the 1920 attack that finds parallels to 9/11. The leads are witty, and the prose is elegant. But readers should prepare to wallow in the book and take it slowly. --Don Crinklaw

Freud was featured in Rubenfeld's first novel (An Interpretation of Murder), which is not surprising as  Freud was the subject of Rubenfeld's undergraduate thesis.  The setting is  New York in both novels, but the time period and characters (with the exception of Freud) are different.

What I liked were the historical tidbits--about the Wall Street bombing, about Freud and his practice, about Marie Curie, and about the careless use of radium. (The individuals and events are worthy of further research, and somewhere, I jotted down questions concerning them.  Too lazy to get up and go find the questions, but they will serve for later online research.)

On the other hand, the characters weren't as interesting as those in An Interpretation of Murder, and the plot failed to engage.  Thin?  I don't know why, but this is what occurs to me in thinking about the book.

I liked An Interpretation of Murder much better (reviewed here).

Adding some other opinions:  Man of la Books Philobiblos, Mocking Hill Cottage,

Fiction.  Mystery/Historical Fiction.  2011.  464 pages.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Bomber Boys by Travis Ayres

The Bomber Boys:  Heroes Who Flew the B17s in World War II was an informative and personal look into the lives of five crews that flew B-17s during WWII.

At first, I wasn't sure that I'd like it (Ayres is not a professional writer), but the more I read, the more involved I became.

Laddie (my father) was a navigator on B17s; his pilot was Tom Landry (which meant free tickets to the Dallas Cowboys games during Landry's head coach days).  When we were rummaging through Laddie's war trunk, we found his Air Medal, his Distinguished Flying Cross, and his Lucky Bastard Certificate.

Although he never talked much about the war, he was an engineering student at LSU when Pearl Harbor was bombed.   He drove to Barksdale to enlist because he wanted to fly.  One brother joined the Navy, and the other joined the Army.  

The more I read, the more I enjoyed the stories of the young aviators and their crews.

More to be read on this subject.  Next up: 
The Mighty Eighth: The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It 

Nonfiction.  History/ WWII.  2005.  262 pages + bibliography.

Friday, March 04, 2011

All Over the Map

Even though I have a stack of good books to read, I sometimes just can't keep myself from ordering some that seem more insistent.  

Here are some that I've ordered recently:

The Gift by Hafiz (Stefanie's recent post pushed me into finally ordering!)

The Mighty Eighth:  The Air War in Europe as Told by Men Who Fought It by Gerald Astor  (my recent reading of The Bomber Boys - not yet reviewed- encouraged me to discover more)

The Shadow Hunt and West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish (these will work for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge , and Kailana and I are both planning to do The Shadow Hunt; be sure to check out Katherine's blog where you can find out more about her own books, as well as see interviews of other authors and great posts about fairy tales.)
The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald.  

Currently reading: 
West of Here by Jonathan Evison (thanks to Algonquin Books!) and enjoying it.  Not a fast moving novel, but totally engrossing!    I get lost in this one and when I come up for air, marvel at the author's ability to weave so many threads into whole cloth.
The Hidden Reality:  Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene.  Well, I was reading this, but it has been kind of put on hold as I keep picking up West of Here instead.

What an eclectic mix:  poetry, history, fantasy, mystery, adventure, science.  I'm really trying to read more nonfiction this year, and so far, I'm doing OK. 

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

I thoroughly enjoyed The Death of the Missing Servant with its unusual detective, the vibrant and delightful Vish Puri.  Known affectionately as Chubby by friends and family, Vish Puri heads Most Private Investigators, Ltd, with aplomb.

Hall evokes  Delhi in images and voices that linger.  The novel has a glossary that will keep the reader up-to-date on vocabulary, and I enjoyed getting the definitions of terms with which I was vaguely familiar, as well as those that were new to me.

What was the most fun was the character of the irrepressible Vish, whose ego is no small thing, but who also has an innocence that makes him lovable.  The minor characters were interesting as well, and I hope to see them better developed, especially Mummy, who could have an agency of her own. 

The dialogue, dialect, and cultural mores are seamlessly blended--and informative.  Several serious themes are treated with a light touch that makes you think, but that doesn't take over the story.

An Adventure in Reading posted about Tarquin Hall here.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  295 pages + glossary.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Bones of Contention by Jeanne Matthews

Bones of Contention  didn't work for me (at all).  The characters weren't appealing and the plot seemed ludicrous. 

Here is the review from Publishers Weekly
A dying man's pending changes to his last will and testament trigger murder in Matthews's unconvincing debut. Seeking the truth about her father's death, Dinah Pelerin flies from the U.S. to Australia when she learns that her mother's cancer-ridden ex-husband, Cleon, is planning to settle family affairs before ending his life by assisted suicide. Attending Cleon are his first ex-wife; his current wife; resentful Aboriginals; an alcoholic doctor; and assorted progeny, including Dinah's artist half-brother, Lucien. An Aussie cop investigates after a poisonous snake bites Lucien, the doctor dies under mysterious circumstances, and other shady matters come to light. The failure to properly utilize the huge cast; implausible, even idiotic, actions by Dinah; and the too numerous, clumsily introduced plot elements prevent the reader from summoning much sympathy for the heroine or the novel.
 I agree.  I'd like to hear an Aussie's opinion on the overdose of "strine" -- I've never read a book by an actual Aussie that sounded like this.  The book is supposed to become a series with Dinah as lead, but I honestly can't see how.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  304 pages.

Tutankhamun: The Book of Shadows

Tutankhamun:  The Book of Shadows  is an interesting historical mystery set in the turbulent period of Tutankhamun's short reign.

I enjoy novels about ancient Egypt and find it curious to see how different novelists develop the characters of Tutankhamun; his wife (and half-sister) Ankhesenamun; Ay, the Grand Vizier, the power behind Tut's reign, and briefly pharaoh after Tut's death; and Horemheb, the Commander of the Army. 

Drake has created Rahotep, a Medjay officer called "the seeker of mysteries," who was the protagonist in Drake's first book in the series.  Rahotep is both a detective and a family man, which causes him quite a few dilemmas as he tries to balance work and family commitments.  Rahotep's character is nicely drawn and gives him a depth and sensitivity that might not be historically or culturally accurate, but makes him interesting and likable.

After being called in to investigate a gruesome murder of a crippled adolescent, Rahotep is also requested to aid the young king and queen by discovering the source of threatening gifts.  A second murder with bizarre details, this time of a young woman, and Rahotep knows there is a connection not only of the two young victims, but with the royal family.

What is at stake?  The safety of the Pharaoh and his wife, political stability, and Rahotep's own family.

Fiction.  Mystery/Historical Fiction.  2010.  369 pages.