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Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Study in Revenge by Kieran Shields

A Study in Revenge is an uncorrected ebook from NetGalley, and the second in a relatively new historical mystery series set in Portland, Maine in 1893.  Deputy Archie Lean and criminologist Percival Grey find themselves investigating the strange murder, burial, and apparent second murder of the same man.

I might have liked Archie Lean and Percival Grey, but they just didn't quite materialize into real people for me.  The plot had a lot of occult elements, making me think of Alistair Crowley, but without a feeling of real suspense, and the plot felt tedious and plodding much of the time.

Overall, it felt rather like skimming the surface of elements that had potential, but that never had depth.

publication date - Jan. 8, 2013
Crown Publishers

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

Another NetGalley read, The Tutor's Daughter is a little bit mystery, a little bit Regency, and a little bit romance.

A perfectly good example of escapist literature, the novel is set in Cornwall and has a few Jane Eyre-ish elements.  Emma Smallwood's father has lost his interest in his boarding school for boys after the death of his wife, and Emma has gradually undertaken more and more responsibility.  When the opportunity arises, for the father and daughter to leave the school and privately tutor the half-brothers of two former students, Emma is surprised that her father assents to the move.

Emma has some serious doubts, for although she really liked one of the Weston brothers, the other brother was not such a pleasant experience.
When they finally do arrive at the mansion in Cornwall, it appears that the Westons are unprepared and the Smallwoods unexpected.  Something has been going on that has distracted the entire family from the arrival of Emma and her father.  While Sir Giles is apologetic and welcoming, his wife is much less so.

Mysterious noises, unexplained events, family secrets.

There is a very pedantic Christian message that occurs fairly close to the end.  Although it occurs late in the book, it is heavy-handed and actually defeats its purpose.  Makes you think of the "show, don't tell" rule.  If you can't get the message across by behaviors, don't ruin it with wordiness.  The novel was fine up until the closing chapters which seemed less well-thought out and a bit rushed.

Baker Publishing Group.
publication date - Jan. 1, 2013

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Crow Road by Iain Banks

Not long ago, I was lucky enough to receive Banks' Stone Mouth from Net Galley and really liked both the writing and the story. So I  decided to check out one of Banks' previous works and decided on The Crow Road.  Excellent choice!  I could hardly put it down.

This novel has an opening line that will probably be forever identified with it:  "It was the day my grandmother exploded."

Prentice McHoan has returned from his studies in Glasgow to the small Scottish town of Gallenach for his grandmother's funeral.  He introduces us, briefly, to the main characters as he looks around and notes the friends and family members in attendance.

As full of witty repartee as Stone Mouth, The Crow Road tells a different story of a creative and unusual family with the love and conflict that most families have to some degree.  The story shifts back and forth in time in a stream-of-consciousness style, as one event or situation reminds Prentice of another in the past.

Touching moments, adolescent angst, mystery, and a growing understanding of events past and present lead Prentice to some revelations about himself and his family...and about the disappearance of his Uncle Rory, the traveler, author, and magician.

I loved everything about this book.  One of my favorite character is Ken, Prentice's father, and the flashbacks to his relationship with his younger brother Rory (the young Rory's confiding his limited knowledge about masturbation to his older brother is so funny), to Ken's first meeting with Prentice's mother (the most unusual introduction imaginable), to his imaginative story-telling to the young Prentice and his cousins--wonderful.  The dialogue is witty, smart, and always sounds pitch-perfect.

The characters are lovable and pig-headed, eccentric and normal all at the same time.  So as the story develops through Prentice's unrequited love for Verity Walker, his jealousy of his older brother, his friendship with Ashley Watts, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Rory's disappearance begins to fascinate Prentice and lead to some serious questions.  When you are completely involved with the family/friend relationships, there comes the possibility of a darker secret waiting to be discovered.

I imagine this one will remain a favorite for years to come, and yes, I'll be checking out more of Iain Banks, but not for a while.  I'm afraid they won't be able to measure up.

In Banks' own words, the novel is about  “about Death, Sex, Faith, cars, Scotland, and drink.”   But it is so much more!

Fiction.  Contemporary Lit.  1992/2008.  501 pages.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ruby Red and Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Geir, Anthea Bell (trans.)

Ruby Red is the first in Kerstin Geir's trilogy, a young adult series about time travel.

Gwyneth is a likable teenager, suitably average in some ways, and yet fiercely loyal and distinctly different in others.  Gwyneth and her friend Leslie are typical teenagers, but their friendship is the kind that most people want, but aren't always lucky to have. Gwyneth's family, though, is anything but typical.

Her cousin Charlotte has been trained since infancy to join the exclusive and secretive society of time travelers because she is thought to have the inherited gene (gift or curse) that enables time travel.  Ahhh, but of course, while Charlotte has been carefully trained, and Gwyneth has not, it turns out that Gwyneth is the inheritor of said gene.  Jealous Charlotte and Unhappy Gwyneth must now re-adjust their situations.

Add a handsome fellow time traveler in Gideon, some unpleasant members of the society, a previous time-traveling young couple who decamped with one of the two Chronographs, Gwyneth's ability to see and converse with ghosts...and you have an interesting adventure in the making.  Light, but kind of fun.

One element that caught my eye was the inclusion of Count St. Germain as a character.  I'd always thought of Count St. Germain as fictional, but when I Googled him, I discovered that he was a real person, and a strange and mysterious one, at that.

Sapphire Blue continues the time-travel adventures of Gwyneth and Gideon.  Gwyneth's relationship with Gideon is hot and cold; she finds his behavior toward her unpredictable.  Duh.

While Gideon is handsome and appeals to Gwyneth in spite of his on again, off again behavior, he is an annoying character who accepts the precepts of The Guardians without question.  Gwyneth, on the other hand, questions many things, including the worshipful attitude toward St. Germain and the society's anger at the rogue Lucy and Paul.

Overall, this book is probably best suited to the lower end of young adult readers.  The third installment (the English translation, that is) should be available in 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Second Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

I was quite excited to be offered The Second Rule of Ten by Wiley Saichek of The Book Report, as I received The First Rule of Ten from Net Galley a while back and really enjoyed it! (reviewed here)

Hendricks and Lindsay collaborate well in these novels about Tenzing Norbu, a former Tibetan monk who grew up partly in Paris with his mother and partly in Dharamshala with his father, one of the head abbots in a small monastery.

 An unusual mixture of cultures, the young Ten Norbu dreamed of becoming a detective as he read the forbidden stories of Sherlock Holmes at night and practiced the principles of Buddhism under the rigid supervision of his father by day.

At eighteen, circumstances sent Ten to Los Angeles, and in time, into the police department--quite a physical and spiritual journey from the monastery.  In the first novel, Ten is making a new transition, leaving the police department and achieving his goal of becoming a private detective.

The Second Rule of Ten begins with Ten's failure to communicate with his two best friends at the monastery during meditation; his letters, too, have been returned to sender.  The two friends, who remained in the monastery, help keep Ten grounded, and he is disturbed to find communication cut off.

He is also interested in a case of his former partner's, the death of a well-known, although not well-loved, Hollywood mogul.  His interest is partly due to his having found Marv Rudolph's runaway daughter some months earlier.

Ten's second rule:  " challenge my old, limited models of thinking.  To be willing to release them."

He finds that the second rule figures largely in the Marv Rudolph case and in his poor relationship with his father, the abbot.

I really enjoyed both of these novels.  They offer an unusual approach to the mystery genre, a little zen, a little mystery.

An Advanced Reader's Copy from Hay House Publications.

Mystery.  345 pages.  2013.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester

"Jennifer Kloester, Heyer's official biographer, spent ten years researching Georgette Heyer, during which time she had unlimited access to Heyer's notebooks, private papers and family records. Engaging and authoritative, this comprehensive, official biography offers new insights into the life and writing of a remarkable and ferociously private woman."  

The above quote is from Net Galley, and this biography was an uncorrected advanced copy from the same source.

Kloester had access to never before released sources from the Heyer estate, and her meticulous research is evident.  Georgette Heyer was notoriously opposed to personal publicity (although she wanted her novels well publicized and frequently took her agents and publishers to task if her books were not sufficiently promoted); her reclusive personality, however, disdained personal interviews and photographs for promotion. 

 Kloester's ten year journey began with extensive research for her PhD thesis, and eventually landed her with the generous permission of Georgette's son Sir Richard Rougier to access and quote from Georgette's private letters and notebooks.  

Interesting, too, is the generosity of Jane Aiken Hodge, Georgette's first biographer, who provided her entire research library, friendship, and advice.  Many others shared letters from Georgette, photographs, and personal information from their own experiences.  

The result is an entirely readable biography that gives a great deal of insight into the  retiring (at least on the publicity front) "Queen of the Regency Romance."  Yet to dismiss Heyer as a "romance author" would be a mistake, as her research was impeccable; she had a huge library relating to the period, the clothing, the slang, the manners, the types of carriages, and the entertainments of the period.  

Whatever may be thought of the quality of the plots (and opinions vary), the novels continue to seize the interest, and sometimes the lasting love, of Heyer's fans for her characters and plots.  Those introduced to her novels when young maintain a fervent love for them.

And there were plenty of them--fifty two, in fact.  The first written when she was seventeen and published when she was nineteen.  

If you are a fan of the Regency period, and/or of Georgette Heyer, you will find this biography interesting and informative.  Perhaps, like myself, you will be reading or re-reading Georgette's novels upon finishing Kloester's work.

The book will be available Jan. 1, 2013 and can be pre-ordered from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
received from NetGalley

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Random Thoughts

I  finished Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham and Ruby Red by Kerstin Geir and enjoyed both of these very different books.

Currently reading A Study in Revenge by Kieran Shields which is also holding my attention that fits this month of spooks and supernatural.  This is the first year since its inception that I haven't participated in Carl's R.I.P. Challenge, and only because I just wasn't paying attention when it rolled around this year--but this book would certainly be a good entry for the challenge.

After a run of mediocre books, I've had some great success in my last 8-10 reads, but I've also begun several books that didn't really catch my attention.  I may return to several of these at a later date and see if giving them a bit more time will improve my opinion.

Still playing with book folding and tried some embroidery on book pages.

 And another book doll.  The head piece on this Eccentric Figure is a silk cocoon...I think it makes sense as this character is definitely somewhat of a "bookworm."

Now, I'm busy with Halloween stuff.  I like Joanna Parker's designs have been inspired to make some whimsical little creatures like Dandy, the baby crow.
Just finished a burlap wreath with fabric bats and needle felted ghosts and have several more projects in the works.  

Making Halloween items is such fun, and although I started late this year, I'm enjoying all the playfully spooky crafting.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell

The Chalk Girl   is O'Connell's most recent Mallory novel.  Mallory, a NY detective is an unusual and intriguing character, and I've read most (if not all) of these novels.

Mallory, cold, manipulative, and distant, is never-the-less loved by many of the series' more sympathetic recurring characters:  Charles Butler, the genius with a clown-like appearance; Riker, the tough old cop and Mallory's partner; and the various endearing members of her adoptive father's weekly poker game. 

From Amazon's Book Description of Chalk Girl:

"The eight-year-old girl appeared in New York’s Central Park one day: red-haired, blue-eyed, dirty-faced, smiling widely. She looked perfect, like a porcelain fairy—except for the blood on her shoulders. It fell from the sky, she told the police. It happened while she was looking for her Uncle Red, who had turned into a tree. Right, they thought, poor child. And then they found the body in the tree." 

The little girl whose distinctive features and behaviors are indicative of Williams Syndrome is a witness that Charles Butler wants to protect and Mallory intends to use to gain information.  Unfamiliar with Williams Syndrome, I had to do some research to get a clearer picture.  Briefly, these children have elfin features and "an unusually cheerful demeanor and ease with strangers; developmental delay coupled with strong language skills; and cardiovascular problems, such as supravalvular aortic stenosis and transient hypercalcaemia."

As usual with the Mallory novels, the murders are a bit bizarre, but it is the characters that keep me returning to the series.  This is the 10th Mallory novel, and I've been reading them for at least 15 years.  The series begins with Mallory's Oracle, but I don't remember is that was the first one I read, and it isn't really necessary to read them in order.

These novels are definitely not cozy mysteries: the bad guys are scary, sinister, and very dangerous.  In point of fact, Mallory is both scary and dangerous, but altogether an original.

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery.  2012.  528 pages.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Stonemouth by Iain Banks

Stonemouth is the first novel I've read by Banks, and I'm having some difficulty classifying it.  The story is a first person narration by Stewart Gilmore, who has returned the small Scottish town of Stonemouth to attend a funeral after a five year absence.  From the very beginning the threatening atmosphere is palpable.

We have a long wait to find out exactly why Stewart was exiled, but as Stewart greets old friends and enemies, we learn, incrementally, that he was lucky to escape and that his return may be dangerous.  As he navigates the frequently treacherous waters of Stonemouth society, he receives mixed signals from the crime family responsible for his leaving in the first place.

Stewart also reminisces about his younger self, friends, and first love, and he realizes that at twenty-five he has a different outlook on many events and individuals.   He has to confront, face to face, some of the people involved with his disgrace and finds himself questioning certain aspects of the event that he has never let himself dwell on before.  The book is a coming of age novel with Stewart learning more about himself and about others.

The best part of the novel is the wit.  Aware of his own hubris, both now and then, Stewart can be remarkably funny, and his conversations with best friend Ferg are witty and insightful.  The repartee between Stewart and Ferg provided relief from the building tension and made me long for more of the intelligent give and take of insults between the two.  The dialogue with Ellie, his first love, has a completely different tenor, but is also beautifully done.

In spite of some of the content and language, there is a curious innocence to this novel.  I liked it very much, but find it difficult to explain why.

Net Galley e-book.  Thanks to Open Road Media for this one.

Fiction.  Contemporary Fiction.  2012.  print version 448 pages.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Art Forger

The Art Forger  is based on the 1990 theft at the Isabella Gardner Museum of 13 paintings, including 3 Rembrandts and works by Vermeer, Manet, and Degas.  The works were worth over $500 million and the crime remains unsolved.

In the novel, Claire Roth has had an unfortunate incident early in her career as an artist and must paints reproductions for an online art dealer.

When  approached Aidan Markel, a gallery owner, to paint a forgery of one of the stolen paintings from the Isabella Gardener Museum in exchange for a show at Markel' s gallery, Claire is reluctant.  Eventually persuaded by Markel's arguments that the forgery would also help return the original to the museum, Claire agrees to forge the painting.

When the painting is delivered to her studio, she is awed by the idea of having an original Degas at her finger tips.  Yet something about the painting bothers her.  As she works on the forgery using the original as a model, her misgivings increase.

The technical aspect of art forgery and the intuitive way that Claire studies the painting are as interesting as the story line which has Claire suspecting that the Degas that has been hanging in the Gardner for a hundred itself a forgery.  If the painting is, indeed, a forgery--who painted it and when did it replace the original Degas?

Barbara Shapiro is a talented writer who brings thought-provoking suspense and three dimensional characters together in a fascinating look at the world of art and art forgery.
Shapiro taught sociology, criminology and deviance at Tufts University and now teaches creative writing at Northeastern University. 

This was a Net Galley offering.  I read the book in June, but have held the review.

Fiction.  Mystery/Suspense.  2012.  368 pages.

Alarm of War by Kennedy Hudner

Alarm of War   is military science fiction or space opera, and a very good example at that. Reminiscent of David Weber's Honor Harrington series (military tactics are a major part of the story), but without the huge cast of characters that Weber employs,  with fewer sidelines, and with less technical detail -- making the book a faster read, but definitely a satisfying one.

The four main characters are likable , but several minor characters are interesting and avoid being simple stereotypes.  The novel is fast-paced and exciting, the main characters engaging and well-rounded.  These are the kind of characters that you can care about, sympathize with, and cheer on.  While the world building is not as detailed as Weber's Honor Harrington series, the characters are more human--courageous but fallible individuals who make mistakes and take risks that may lead to failure.   

It is a delight to discover another science fiction author that keeps me turning the pages without noticing the time.  Hoping for more of the same from Hudner and this series!

Read on my Kindle.

Fiction.  Science Fiction/Tactical/Space Opera.  2012.  print version 480 pages.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys is my first book by Stiefvater, but will not be my last.  I'll be looking for some of her previous books while waiting for the next installment of The Raven Cycle.

Blue Sargent is the daughter of a psychic, but is not a psychic herself; Blue's ability is amplification.  Her presence makes makes things clearer, more powerful for Maura, her mother, and the other psychics who live with them.  

Most of Maura's readings are nonspecific: true, but vague.  Her ability to tell who will die within the next year, however, is specific...and so is her prediction about Blue, a prediction affirmed by the other psychics.

The small Virginia town of Henrietta is the home of Aglionby, a prep school for the rich.  The boys who attend are wealthy, privileged, and entitled, and Blue has a rule about avoiding them.

Of course, this rule will eventually be disregarded.  Blue meets Gansey, Adam, and Ronan (three of the four Raven Boys) in the diner where she works, and fate steps in to draw the Raven Boys and the psychic's daughter together in a search for ley lines, Glendower, and magic.

The book is character driven, and the relationship of the four boys is my favorite part.  The friendships are genuine, but complicated;  Blue's inclusion aids the boys' search, but adds another complication to the relationships.

The book is not without flaws and ends with the frustrating promise of more to come, but I loved it and couldn't put it down.  Hate having to wait for the next one, but thoroughly enjoyed this first in the series!

Net Galley.  Read on my Kindle.  Many thanks, Net Galley, for this one.

Fiction.  YA.  2012.  print version 416 pages.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving  (ARC from Algonquin) ranks as my favorite work of fiction this year.  It charms, elicits thought, evokes compassion, and avoids maudlin sentimentality.   The characters are living, breathing entities that engage the imagination and make you laugh even as you sympathize with the situations in which they find themselves.  A character study, a road trip, an examination of grief, a philosophical treatise on love and loss, and an irreverent and wonderful ride.  

Completely different from West of Here which I also loved,  The Revised Fundamentals is straight forward and beautifully written, filled with characters you wish you could know and will not forget. 

I love this quote in which Ben is encouraging Peaches, the twenty-one year old, unmarried, unemployed, 8 1/2 month pregnant woman whose boyfriend is back in jail:
"Peaches, I say, take heart my mountain wildflower!  There is life beyond Henderson!  There are pleasures and mysteries unfathomable to your young heart!  Do not measure out your life with coffee spoons nor lay waste your powers--live, I say!  Invent yourself!  Let your reach exceed your grasp!  And pass the hummus while you're at it!"
Eliot, Wordsworth, and Browning, capped by the humor of "pass the hummus" -- how appropriate for the message Benjamin is trying to deliver, combined with the nonsense of the situation.  Love it!  Love the book.

 Don't Miss This One!

Fiction.  Contemporary Fiction.  2012.  276 pages.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Catching Up with Reviews

Five from the last two months:

Night Watch by Linda Fairstein was a disappointing ARC.  Usually, Fairstein's books are interesting and enjoyable, but this one from the very beginning seemed uncertain about the path the novel wanted to.  Alexandra's French boyfriend Luc has never been a strong point for me, but Alex doesn't come off the page in this novel either.  The attempt to echo the real-life Dominque Strauss-Kahn (at the time, Strauss-Kahn was head of the IMF) scandal involving the sexual encounter with the hotel maid, didn't evoke as much interest as one would expect.

Fated by Benedict Jacka features Alexander Verus, a diviner mage, who is able to see future events and the multitude of  possible outcomes.  Fortunately, Verus can see all of these  events and possible outcomes with remarkable speed and thus make appropriate decisions.  Since his magic is limited to this unusual talent, he often has little immediate defense against the bad guys whose powers are seriously destructive.  First in a series, this novel never fully engaged me, but it remains to be seen if the characters can gain some depth in succeeding works.

The House of Velvet and Glass (ARC from Penguin) by Katherine Howe is another in the long line of novels with links to the Titanic.  From the press release that accompanied the book:  "1915, and the ghosts of the dead haunt a wealthy Boston family .. Sibyl Allston is devastated by the recent deaths of her mother and sister aboard the Titanic.  Hoping to heal her wounded heart, she seeks solace in the parlour of a medium who promises to contact her lost loved ones."

Actually, I didn't care much for Howe's first book The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, but hoped for better on this one.   Frail hope--this one was long, not particularly involving, with one-dimensional characters.

Lonely Hearts:  A Charlie Resnick Mystery by John Harvey (from Net Galley) is the first of the 11 novels featuring Charlie Resnick (original publication 1989).  The writing has abrupt switches of characters and scenes and lots of unattributed quotes, but the characters had more body to them than any of the above novels.  I liked it well enough to want to continue with series for a while and see how it develops.

The Family Vault by Charlotte McLeod (Net Galley) is the first in the Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn series and was originally published in 1980.  It definitely has an old-fashioned tone to it and is somewhat reminiscent of Agatha Christie.  I wasn't nearly as impressed as Magaret Maron, who wrote the introduction.  And yet...I'm curious about how the relationship with Max Bittersohn develops.  As with the Charlie Resnick series, my curiosity about the way the  series develops may lead me to at least one more.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Bookish Delights

Want a miniature author doll?  Check out this Etsy shop!  Debbie Ritter creates tiny dolls from literature--authors and characters.   So tiny and so charming!

From Dostoevsky to Poe, King Lear to Anna Karenina.  Found via Mary's Library.

Flannery O' Conner Miniature Literary Collectible Writer Doll

Flannery O' Conner Miniature Literary Collectible Writer Doll

Have you sometimes wondered who may have inspired a character?  Is the author using a real person for  the physical description,  the personality, or the situation?  Often the details of a description seem so real that it seems possible that the author is describing someone he knows, a real conversation, or a personality or behavior quirk  observed in person.

This site has photographs of the real individuals who inspired some familiar literary characters (found via Cornflower).  The inspiration for Alice in Wonderland is well known, but one photo inspiration was quite surprising.   

When I was about fourteen, I watched The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (the Midnight Movie offered many classic films that had me falling in love with Arsenic and Old Lace, Harvey, Rear Window, etc.).  At that time, long before the ease of Google, I had to go to the library to find more detail about something that interested me.  Usually,  my desire to know more about characters or events was stimulated by reading, but the film version of Evelyn Nesbit in The Red Velvet Swing sent me in search of a nonfiction account of the scandal.

Evelyn was certainly beautiful and fascinating, but that she should have been the face that influenced the description of that particularly well-loved character--surprised me.

These luminaries from children's book pages are magical.  Olden Designs Etsy Shop.
4 Childrens Storybook Luminary Bags called "Amy Sang"  (Series of Four)

I've been doing some book page folding and have made one more book doll.  Rather than trying to catch up on the many reviews that need to be written, each day finds me folding book pages, working with clay, and embroidering with some of my new floss and perle cotton. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson

Island of Bones is scheduled for release Oct.  11.  I read the first of this series, Instruments of Darkness, about Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther last year.  Evidently I've missed the second in the series and will have to go back and pick it up.

In this book, Crowther must confront episodes from his own past, as he and Harriet travel to his family home to investigate the discovery of an extra body in a tomb.  The family estate, which Crowther sold years ago, evokes memories that the reclusive Crowther would prefer to forget.

The unexpected body discovered in the tomb is only one of the mysteries that the unusual pair must unravel.  The reason behind the visit of Crowther's sister and her son, a missing girl, another body, a "cunning" man respected by the entire village, the murder of a local museum do all of these strange incidents fit together?

This is a series that I really enjoy, largely because I like the characters, but I found the first chapter or two slow.  When the book picked up, however, my interest was totally engaged.  Robertson does a good job with both the major and minor characters, and I enjoyed the setting and the details of Crowther's attempts at forensic science with the knowledge and instruments available in the 1780's.

Another Net Galley read from the Penguin Group.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2012.  Print version 384 pages.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clio Loves to Read

My latest Eccentric creation:  Clio, Goddess of Epic Poetry.
You know those ARCs that you don't care to pass along 
or donate to Goodwill, etc.?

After seeing a couple of "book dolls" online,
I decided to fold some pages 
and create my own.
More pics over at Bayou Quilts.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Two More Completed

Murder in Mumbai  by K.D. Calamur (Netgalley ARC) begins when two burglars discover a dead body and in a panic, decide to dispose of it themselves.  When the body is eventually discovered, Inspector Vijay Gaikwad and journalist Jay Ganesh approach the case from different vantage points.

Some of the most interesting parts of the novel have to do with the contrasts and conditions of Bombay/Mumbai.  The novel is very short and the characters don't seem fully developed.  I found it difficult to care much about the victim as she remained a bit of a cipher, but I did enjoy some of the details about Mumbai.

E-book from Netgalley/Penguin.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2012. print version:  184 pages.

The White Forest by Adam McOmber is a little bit Gothic, a little bit Supernatural, and a lot less than I hoped for.  Jane Silverlake has an unusual gift:  she can see the souls of man-made objects.  (?)

Largely separated from society in her father's crumbling mansion, Jane has two close friends, Maddy and Nathan.  When Nathan goes missing, Jane and Maddy believe his disappearance has something to do with Ariston Day's cult following.

The blurb sounded interesting, but the novel failed to really capture my interest or concern for the characters.

Netgalley ARC e-book.

Fiction.  Gothic/Mystery.  2012.  print version:  320 pages.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Peaches for Father Francis

Peaches for Father Francis continues the story of Vianne Rocher which Harris began with Chocolat.  Vianne returns to Lansquenet with her daughters Anouk and Rosette after receiving a letter from her friend Armande Voizin.  The letter was written before Armande's death, but by a strange (magical?) coincidence, makes its way to Vianne at a time when her presence is indeed needed.

What Vianne finds in Lansquenet is a community divided by culture and religion:  Catholic and Muslim.  To add to the strange atmosphere, Father Francis, Vianne's former nemesis, needs her help.

Although there are magical and evocative portions (typical Harris in creating a living atmosphere), I found much of the novel a bit forced.  Nevertheless, if you've enjoyed previous books in the Chocolat series, you will appreciate the opportunity to catch up on some of the characters.

An ARC e-book from Netgalley.  Publication date:  Oct. 2

Fiction.  Magical Realism.  2012.  print version:  464 pages.

Since I Can't Make Myself Write Reviews

Photo: My pet always _______ when I'm trying to read.

(Fill in the blank!)

The tail under the nose is so typical!

And visit Steve McCurry's blog post:
To read is to fly  wonderful photos and quotes!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Joy Brigade by Martin Limon

I never got around to reviewing The Joy Brigade (an ARC from Netgalley), but here is part of the book description from Amazon:

"Seoul, early 1970s: US Army Sergeant George Sueño is on a mission of extreme importance to the South Korean government, as well as the US Army. Kim Il-Sung has vowed to reunite North and South Korea into one country before he hands control of the government over to his son, which means North Korea is planning to cross the DMZ and overpower the American-allied South Korean government. Sueño's mission is to prevent this by sneaking into North Korea and obtaining an ancient map detailing the network of secret tunnels that run underneath the DMZ. To do so, he will have to go undercover and infiltrate the North Korean Communist inner sanctum."

Although I guess I'd give the book 3 out of 5 stars, the novel spurred me to further research on North Korea and the Joy Brigade.

From Wikipedia:  "The Gippeumjo (translated variously as Pleasure GroupPleasure GroupsPleasure SquadPleasure BrigadeJoy Brigade, or Joy Division) is a collection of groups of approximately 2,000 women and girls between the ages of 13 and 40 (although most are believed to be between 18 and 25), which are maintained by the head of state of North Korea for the purpose of providing pleasure and entertainment for high-ranking Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) officials and their families, as well as occasionally also distinguished guests."

And from Yahoo-Answers:    "In North Korea there is a thing they call the "Joy Brigades." President and dictator Kim Jung Il keeps a stable of the country's prettiest girls as young as Grade nine. Their purpose is to please him, the Dear Leader, as well as to serve as sex slaves for his top beureaucrats and military elite. Sometimes they are given to 'friends' as party favours."

Disturbing, to say the least.

And more facts of which I was ignorant:

 North Korea is about the size of one U.S. State, yet has the 4th largest army in the world.

"North Korea is the most militarized country in the world today,[6] having the fourth largest army in the world, at about 1,106,000 armed personnel, with about 20% of men ages 17–54 in the regular armed forces.[7] Military service of up to 10 years is mandatory for most fit people. It also has a reserve force comprising 7,700,000 personnel.[8] It operates an enormous network of military facilities scattered around the country, a large weapons production basis, a dense air defense system,[9] the third largest chemical weapons stockpile in the world,[10] and includes the world's largest Special Forces contingent (numbering 180,000 men).[11] While the aging equipment,[12] deriving from the economic plight of the country, is seen as major defect of the North Korean military capability, it is nevertheless regarded as a significant threat due to its size and proximity to major civilian areas."   (from Wikipedia)

If North Korea were your home instead of The United States you would...

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Fiction's Science Lessons

An interesting article in The Guardian:  Fiction's Science Lessons.  The article is by Charles  Fernyhough, author of Pieces of Light.

I read the article, then looked up Fernyhough's novel.  I'm adding Pieces of Light to my list after reading this description on Amazon:

Why we remember what we remember? Memory is an essential part of who we are. But what is a memory, and how do we remember? A new consensus is emerging among cognitive scientists: rather than possessing a particular memory from our past, we construct it anew each time we are called upon to remember. Remembering is an act of narrative as much as it is the product of a neurological process. "Pieces of Light" illuminates this theory through a collection of human stories, each illustrating a facet of memory's complex synergy of cognitive and neurological functions. Drawing on the latest research, case studies and personal experience, Charles Fernyhough delves into the memories of trauma victims and amnesiacs; and of the very young and very old - visiting medieval memoria and scent-museums along the way. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, "Pieces of Light" blends science and literature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, to illuminate the way we remember and forget.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Shadowfell is due out in September.  I've read it and loved it.

(an ARC from Netgalley and Random House Children's Books)

The first in a new series by Julier Marillier, Shadowfell is set in Scotland in a time when individuals with magical skills are enslaved or destroyed by the Enforcers who use a kind of mind manipulation that can, if successful, make the victim obedient to the king, or if unsuccessful, destroy the individual's personality and reason.

Neryn has a magical gift, and after her village is decimated, she finds herself on the run with her only remaining family member, her father.  The father's guilt and grief, however, turn him into a drunk and a gambler who no longer serves as protection for his daughter; he wagers Neryn in a game and loses her to a young man who quickly departs taking Neryn with him-- just before the Enforcers arrive to kill and plunder.

At the first opportunity, Neryn takes off on her own, seeking Shadowfell and the rebels against the king who dwell there.  When Flint, the young man who won (and rescued Neryn) discovers her absence, he sets out in search of Neryn.  But for what purpose?

I have to admit that I fell headlong into this fantasy and completely enjoyed the adventure, the folk magic, the Good Folk (Sorrow, Sage, Silver and others), and the eventual arrival in Shadowfell.

My main complaint is the fact that I will have to wait for the next book in the trilogy.

Shadowfell Page

As this was from Netgalley, I read it on my Kindle in May, but have held the review.

Fiction.  Fantasy/YA.  2012.  print version 416 pages.

Monday, August 27, 2012

In Progress

Last year I received an ARC of Jonathan Evison's West of Here (my review) and loved it.  It was a strange book in many ways, but I really liked it.  A while back, I received another Evison ARC, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving:  A Novel.

Because I've been so busy with other projects, I put off reading it.  Last night, I finished a book and went looking for something else to read, and Evison's new novel was a perfect fit.

Wow!  So very different from West of Here, but I'm already loving it!  Expecting a similar style and content, but a different story, I was surprised to note all of the differences.  What is the same is Evison's ability to create characters you care about, flawed and human, quirky and funny and sometimes sad.  Thank you, Algonquin!

Read recently, but not reviewed -- Murder in Mumbai by K.D. Calamur, Night Watch by Linda Fairstein, and Fated by Benedict Jacka.

Do you ever wonder about reviews that use words like luminous, brilliant, fresh, surprising, and inventive, but when you read it, you find it dim, stale, predictable, and derivative?

I'm reading one of those right now.  Well, I was.  It has been put aside.  Since it is very short, I may return and finish it at some later date, but I wonder about the people who reviewed it.

Did they really like it?  Were they paid?  Does it get better?  Am I just an odd man out?
In the film department, if you have the chance, you should see The Intouchables, a brilliant (in my-- ;-p --humble opinion) French film that is uplifting and funny.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

The Vanishing Point is due out Sept. 2.  I'm still debating what I thought about it.  Having read quite a few of her novels and watched the BBC series Wire in the Blood (which is pretty dark), I usually enjoy  McDermid's work, but this novel had a couple of things that bothered me.

I didn't like the way the story was told, but found the story itself intriguing.  When Stephanie Harker's young ward is snatched at an airport, she is devastated.  Detained in a glass inspection box because a pin in her leg set off the metal detector, Stephanie is able to see the man walk off with Jimmy, but is unable to get out and prevent it.  Her response is immediate and forceful, but when she is able to get out of the inspection box, airport security personnel, unaware of the abduction, attempt to subdue her and eventually Taser her.

Later, after it is clear that young Jimmy has been abducted, but after the kidnapper has already made a clean get away, Stephanie tells her story to the FBI agent on the case.

The detail of Stephanie's life leading up to her guardianship as related to the FBI agent doesn't work for me.  I wish another way to tell the story had been used because I just couldn't make a couple of hundred book pages fit into a few hours of relating the story orally.

The story itself, however, is engrossing.  Stephanie, a ghost writer, agreed to ghost the story of Scarlet Higgins, a rather infamous reality show star.  During this period, Stephanie comes to realize that Scarlet has a long-range plan for financial success and is by no means the bimbo she projects to the media.  A friendship forms and grows throughout Scarlet's pregnancy and the first few years of young Jimmy's life.  When Scarlet succumbs to a second bout of cancer, Stephanie is named as Jimmy's guardian.

Stephanie's distress over losing Jimmy is palpable, and when all leads have been exhausted in the U.S., Stephanie returns to England and continues searching for clues that might lead to finding Jimmy alive.

The final shocking twist is another bothersome detail for me, as it seems so out of character.

So...while I found the story itself intriguing, the framing of so much of the story as an oral recounting to the FBI agent and the final twist were drawbacks for me.

The ARC was an e-book from Net Galley and Atlantic Monthly Press.

Fiction. Mystery.  Sept., 2012.  Print version 416 pages.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Two by Paolo Bacigalupi

After hearing Paolo Bacigalupi's Comic Con interview on NPR, I ordered two of his books:  Ship Breaker and The Windup Girl.

I read Ship Breaker first and enjoyed it; however, I'm not sure it rates as a novel, even a YA novel--more like a long short story or novella.  It was interesting to see some possibilities of a post-apocalyptic world, but the story gives no hint of how this "new" world developed.  Yes, the seas rose, but that doesn't give ample explanation for the situation.

Brief synopsis:  Nailer is an adolescent boy who works for a crew that scavenges oil tankers.  (These tankers have been abandoned after whatever apocalyptic event occurred.)  Live is harsh and basic, the strong prey on the weak, survival is paramount for most individuals.

When Nailer discovers a wrecked clipper ship driven on shore by a powerful hurricane, he thinks he has made a Lucky Strike that will provide the means for him survive and to escape his drunken, abusive father.  What he finds, in addition to the dead crew, is a young girl who has survived.  The girl presents a dilemma for Nailer:  if he lets her die, his chances of making the most of his Lucky Strike are much greater -- if he rescues her, he may lose any chance of a better life.

Although I enjoyed the action, the world Bacigalupi builds seems like a facade.  You know, the kind of Western town in movies that has all the fronts of the buildings and nothing behind them.  The scavenging makes sense in Nailer's world, but the tremendous contrast between the "Corporate" world and the poverty and lawlessness of Nailer's environment is never explained or examined.

dystopian novel.  2011.

The Windup Girl, on the other hand, is definitely not a YA book.  Despite the novel's having won both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for best 2010 novel, I can find little to recommend it...unless you enjoy violence and degradation.

Another dystopian novel, this one takes place in Thailand after the whatever apocalyptic event has taken place.  While both Bacigalupi's world building and prose are widely praised, I didn't find either satisfying.  The characters are thin stereotypes and none of them are really likable.  It is a disturbing story and often very slow; sections feel padded with sentences and paragraphs that fail to add anything new or important.  The dialogue is stilted and the psuedo-science of kink springs, etc. failed to make sense to me.

I admire Bacigalupi's attempts (in both novels) to point out some of the dangerous policies of societies and governments, some of the threats and consequences of climate change, and some of the scary practices of big agriculture.  Unfortunately, not much in The Windup Girl worked for me.  This is just my opinion--I know many people love this novel.

dystopian novel.  2011

Monday, August 20, 2012

This and That

Although I haven't been reading as much lately, I have quite a few reviews scheduled for closer to the time of publication.   A lot of the scheduled reviews were read in May or June.

July and August have been slow reading months, but I did read The Windup Girl and Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Night Watch by Linda Fairstein, and The White Forest .....need to review them.

interesting article about science fiction

good science fiction reading list

people reading on flickr

Booker Prize Long List

What I have been doing (instead of reading) is making a boro jacket, working on white on white pieces, and making encrusted pieces of embroidery.

I posted lots of progress pictures on Bayou Quilts.

I've done at least 9 of these encrusted pieces.

Two of the white on white blocks in progress...
I've done more on both of these since the pictures were taken.