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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I'm still not sure what I think about 1Q84.  It is the first book I've read by the celebrated Murakami, who has a large and devoted following.

The book is so very long that even though I read with interest, when I'd put it down, I felt no great longing to return to it.  I ended up reading several books even as I kept plugging away at this one.

The plot is strangely uncompelling, especially given the weird details like a dead goat that functions as conduit for...something, but still not clear what, an air chrysalis that produces...a doppleganger?, a weird cult, and a parallel world with two moons.

Curiosity about how all the strange events hung together and about a possible solution brought me back to the book.

Some disjointed thoughts about style and content:

-filler...paragraph after paragraph, detail after detail

-repetitions--characters repeat themselves, the author repeats himself; literally and in paraphrase

-lots of allusions to popular culture, music, and literature; mostly Western

-loose ends:  his father, his mother/the nurse in cat town/the girl friend, the professor, Fuka-Eri, Janacek's Sinfonietta, Sagikake-its strange perverse rituals and its purpose

-such a strange landscape of a novel; vague, amorphous; dream-like

In the end, I found that loose ends remained.  My curiosity--unsatisfied.

The novel is purported to be a love story, and I suppose it was.  My final opinion hasn't gelled on any aspect of the novel.   I didn't hate it.  I didn't particularly like it.  But I suspect that images from this novel will remain with me which, considering the books I've read that have totally evaporated from my mind whether I enjoyed them or not, is saying something.

Who else has read this?  What do you think?

Fiction.  I don't know how to classify this one.  Alternate history? Dystopian?  Magical Realism?  2011.  944 pages.

Monday, January 30, 2012

And Yet More Books in the Mail

Well, I finished 1Q84 last night.  I've thought about it off and on all day.  Tomorrow, I'll try to order my thoughts and write a review.  What to say?  What to say?  So very strange.

More of the books I ordered from the used book sellers at Amazon arrived:

A Visit to Vanity Fair:  Moral Essays on the Present Age by Alan Jacobs.  I really wanted The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, but this seller didn't have it, so I took what was on offer.  I read the review over at Of Books & Bicycles some time ago, and she included it in her Best of 2011.

Making a Garden: Reliable Techniques, Outstanding Plants, and Honest Advice  by Rita Buchanan.  It is time to begin thinking about gardening.

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson.  I've wanted to read something by Tove Jansson for some time, and I saw that this seller had a couple from the  Moomin  children's series.  The seller didn't have The Summer Book (also recommended by Of Books and Bicycles) or A Winter Book by Jansson; I'll get to them eventually.

So...more books to add to the stack by the reading chair.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

More Books in the Mail

So what has arrived lately?

Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck.  Recommended by Nancy (Pomegranate Trail)

Kathereine Neville's The Eight.  This was one of Annie's (Buttery Books) choices of books to give.  I know I've read other positive reviews, but Annie's mention reminded me.

Cara Black's Murder in the Marais (first in Aimee LeDuc series).  Recommended by Teresa, who doesn't have a blog, but should because she reads, crafts, and is involved in so many interesting activities including her neighborhood restoration organization and working with children.

Mary Gostelow's A World of Embroidery and  Mary Gostelow's Embroidery Book...because over at Bayou Quilts I've slipped into that embroidery cycle again with a vengeance.  The reason I'm not reading so much right now is because I'm spending my time with needle and thread.  Way too much time.

I ordered all of the above through the used books sellers at Amazon; most of the cost less than $1.00, some as little as one cent.  Plus shipping, of course.  Certainly a bargain!

These join about 10 others that are on the table (and floor) by my reading chair, next to the overflowing bookcase.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Black Diamond by Martin Walker

Black Diamond is the third of the Bruno Courreges series.  Bruno, the beloved Chief of Police in the small village of St. Denis, has such charm.  I'm glad to continue this series, although I haven't read the first one, I really enjoyed The Dark Vineyard, reviewed here.

The black diamond, or winter black truffle, is often referred to as the Perigord truffle.  Bruno is an avid truffle hunter and is establishing his own "truffle orchard"  with the help of his expert friend Hercule.  When he is asked to investigate some irregularities in the truffle market, he finds himself learning more about the economic and political influence of truffles.

Where to start on this novel?  There are several sub-plots that Walker manages to connect with great skill:  corruption in the truffle market, the murder of his good friend, Asian gangs, illegal immigration and human trafficking, environmental, political, and cultural differences.

Yet it all works and flows together sensibly.  In addition to all of the above, there is some fascinating information about truffles and some interesting French history (from Viet Nam to Algeria to Bosnia) easily incorporated.  And...the food!  Oh, I'm not a gourmand, but Bruno and his friends are, and the meals delight to the point of making my mouth water.

Good characterization, an interesting plot--I'm more a fan of Bruno, Chief of Police than ever.

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2011.  320 pages.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In the Mail

The Pub Across the Pond by Mary Carter.  From a Bookish Librarian--Thanks, Deborah!  A disillusioned young woman buys a raffle ticket to own a pub in Ireland...and wins.  Sounds like fun!


If You Ever Need Me, I Won't Be Far Away by Bruce Farrell Rosen; a memoir of award-winning writer Bruce Farrell Rosen--some very positive reviews.

A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore; will be released for sale Jan. 31; a mystery-- an appraiser of books for an auction house, an old estate in Norfolk with a wonderful library and some very valuable books on astronomy to be evaluated.  Yes, I like all of the elements!

Bring Me One of Everything by Leslie Hall Pindar

(I've begun this one--I've already flagged a couple of pages for quotes!  Love her writing.)  Canadians might be especially interested in this one.  "The title of the book is based on what the management of the Smithsonian is said to have demanded when sending ethnographers to native villages to gather artifacts for its collection: "Bring me one of everything."

Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano:  The Story of the First Pianos and How They Caused a Cultural Revolution by Madeline Goold;  nonfiction; "A handwritten note inside a neglected Broadwood square piano built in 1807 leads Madeline Goold on a quest to uncover the remarkable history of these now almost forgotten musical instruments."

I've also ordered a few used books from Amazon that have been on my wish list for a while.  Oh, and there are still library books that I haven't gotten through.

What books are in your TBR pile?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

The Hypnotist is a Scandinavian crime novel by a husband and wife team.  Reviews on the book are pretty evenly divided.  While I had several problems with the book, I still read through it avidly.

The book opens with a gruesome triple murder and the only survivor is so severely injured that he may not survive.  Detective Joona Linna asks Dr. Erik Bark to hypnotize fifteen-year-old Josef to get some information about the killer.  The information gleaned from Josef gives the case a surprising turn.

One of the problems with the book is that one of the plot lines feels abandoned (and was never quite clear on certain details) when the second plot line takes over.  The protagonist doesn't have much of a role in the first half of the novel, and several plot elements seem over-the-top.  Details of police procedure seem haphazard and unlikely, as do certain hospital details.  The book "feels" like it was written by two different people, and perhaps should have been two separate books.  Some writing teams manage to make everything coalesce; other aren't quite as successful.

Nevertheless, I did find the book a page turner.  I liked Joona Linna, the detective, and would have preferred that he play a larger role throughout the book.  The main characters were well-drawn, and although Josef and his sister Evelyn were a pretty thin, Erik Bark, his wife, son, and father-in-law develop nicely (if not entirely believably).

If the author(s) would tone down some of the violence and shock value stuff, give Joona Linna more attention, and tighten up the plots, I would enjoy seeing this become a series.  As it is, it doesn't meet the standards set by other translated Scandinavian crime novels.

Fiction.  Scandinavian/Crime/Police Procedural.  2011.  528 pages.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Now, I Can Begin a New Reading Year

Ahhhh, it feels better to have finally finished reviewing all of the 2011 reads.  And my reading this month is picking up after a long January dry spell.

Still reading 1Q84 by Murakami, reading Black Diamond by Martin Walker, and re-reading The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays by W.H. Auden after reading Stefanie's  posts (and enjoying it as much as the first time).

Finished The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, another Scandinavian crime novel.  It has some problems, but it certainly kept my interest!

Started The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, but it wasn't keeping my interest, so I set it aside for a while.  I know a lot of people really liked it, so I'm sure eventually it will get my full attention.

I'm going to fix myself a cuppa and read this evening.  Sounds like a plan to me.  :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

 Clockwork Prince is the sequel to Clockwork Angel (which I reviewed here).  A little steam punk (in the best way--there are real characters and a plot--which much of the steam punk fiction I've read simply fails to provide), action, romance, mystery, literary references, and Victorian atmosphere blend well in Clare's latest installment in her Infernal Devices series.  The Shadowhunters continue to battle evil and are darn cute while doing it.

When Benedict Lightwood seeks to unseat Charlotte as head of The Institute, everyone must step up to prevent her replacement.  Charlotte has been given two weeks to locate the Magister, and in the search for this arch villain, we learn more about Will's background and see Tessa and Jem grow much closer.  Will begins to open up and let his defenses down just as Tessa and Jem are beginning a romance.  Oh, those pesky triangles.

I could do with a little less emphasis on the romance--don't get me wrong, it is crucial to the dynamics of the story, but in a Victorian society, I think there would be fewer situations in which a young woman would risk so much.  So... there were a few minor details that were a bit annoying (Tessa's admiration for Will's looks gets repetitive;  I have to admit that Will sounds gorgeous, but Jem is nothing to sneer at either).

Nice touch-- the Warlock Magnus Bain and the connection to the Aesthetes.  There are plenty of references to books and poetry, and Will's love of books and reading increases my regard for this bad boy.

The series is YA fiction, but I've enjoyed it very much so far and look forward to the newest addition due out in 2013.  That's a long wait, folks.
Last review of books read in 2011!  Finally!

Fiction.  YA, Steam punk, Fantasy.  2011.  528 pages.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wicked Autumn by G. M. Malliet

Wicked Autumn  is a cozy mystery featuring Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest.  Sound intriguing?  I wish I'd found it so, but I didn't even find it very interesting.

Few of the characters come to life.  There are quite a few characters as almost everyone in the village has had some kind of conflict with the bossy, manipulative Wanda Batton-Smythe, who is so annoying that it is hard to work up any sympathy concerning her demise.  If you don't care about the victim, then it is even more important to care about the other characters, but I couldn't drum up much enthusiasm for any of them either.

Next to last review of 2011 books!  Almost done!

Fiction.  Mystery/Cozy.  2011.  320 pages.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath

Where the Shadows Lie  offers lots of Icelandic atmosphere.  When Magnus Jonson, a Boston police officer, finds himself the target of a drug cartel, his boss seconds him to the Iceland police force which has requested someone with experience to aid them with their own rising drug and gang related crime.  Magnus, born in Iceland, and with duel citizenship, fits the bill.  The assignment would also keep him safe from the cartel's attempts to eliminate him before he can testify at the trial that would seriously damage the cartel.

On his arrival in Iceland, he is assigned to the recent murder of a professor  of Icelandic myth and legends.  Magnus doesn't exactly fit in with the Icelandic force and makes mistakes, but does find himself involved with a beautiful woman who has a definite connection to an ancient Icelandic saga that her family has kept secret for generations and, through her father's friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, a link to the reason for the professor's murder.

Lots of interesting details about the myths and sagas of Iceland (that Tolkien studied and admired and used in his own LOTR work).  Myth and murder and Magnus' personal quest to find his father's murderer all intertwine.

 "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie...."

LOTR fans will find this one interesting for more reasons than the mystery aspect.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2011.  352 pages.

The Cuckoo's Child by Marjorie Eccles

The Cuckoo's Child is a historical mystery set in 1909.  When Laura Harcourt is offered a position cataloging a library in a small Yorkshire village, she accepts partly because she needs some time to consider what her own direction in life is to be.  Laura comes from a wealthy family, but longs for a life of independence and purpose; a removal from her current life might give her time to determine her own path.

When Ainsley Beaumont, the elderly man who hired her, is murdered, Laura discovers that he has left her a small fortune in his will.  Laura realizes that her employment was much more deliberate than she had imagined and sets out to discover why Ainsley Beaumont hired her in the first place.  (Well, of course, we have a definite clue from the title, but Laura must discover the truth of her situation for herself.)

Some history must be unraveled for Laura to find the answers she needs, and she already has one clue in a partial manuscript that she had discovered in Beaumont's library.  At first it was a matter of general curiosity, but after Beaumont's death, Laura recognizes that the  manuscript has personal significance.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2012. 240 pages.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

:)  So this is what they get up to!

Thanks, Nancy!
Recently watched When Paris Was a Woman, a documentary of the literary and artistic scene in Paris between the two World Wars:

 "Between the World Wars, Paris was the world's artistic capital, attracting cultural titans like Gertrude Stein and others. Through home movies and intimate storytelling, this documentary re-creates the mood of this unique female artistic community."  

One particularly interesting aspect was the information about Shakespeare & Company (the original bookstore opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919, not the later one opened by George Whitman).  Another thing that was interesting was the flourishing of the lesbian community in Paris in the twenties and thirties.  Who'd a thought.

The behavior of James Joyce surprised and disappointed me, but many of the most influential writers of the time found support at Shakespeare & Company and many supported the book store in return.
Two more reviews down, but I still have a few more 2011 books to review and hope to finish them by tomorrow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Moon Maze Game by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes

The Moon Maze Game is the third in the Dream Park series.  A detail that I wasn't aware of when I added the book to my library bag.  I have enjoyed previous Larry Niven books, even some he wrote with other authors--not this one, however.

The plot centers on live action role playing, as previously described in earlier books in the series.  I don't know if those books were better written and/or had better plots and characterization because I haven't read them.  From the beginning I found the skipping around from the characters on earth and those in the lunar colony a distraction, jumpy in a way that felt unnecessary and lacking in continuity.  From the less than compelling moved into a less than compelling middle and end.

There are almost two plots.  Almost--because the plot about the designer of the game and his goals peters out almost immediately.  The plot about the kidnappers who enter the game setting was supposed to be exciting, but was actually tedious and lacked suspense.

 I would read a little and then put it aside and read another book, then come back to it, but I finally finished it (when I'd run out of other books to read) without ever becoming involved with plot or characters.

Fiction.  Science Fiction.  2011.  368 pages.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You  was an ARC from Penguin, UK.

I've been unable to find a good way to describe the book, so I'll begin with a product synopsis:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.
What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.
All the way through the book, I enjoyed the characters and their experiences, marveling at the way Moyes balanced an accurate description concerning details of a quadriplegic's life and the struggle Lou has in her attempt to improve Will's situation.  Plenty of light moments  offset the grimness of certain aspects of Will's life, and Moyes manages to include both humor and grim reality without becoming maudlin or sentimental.  
Let's face it, the life of a quadriplegic is a struggle for survival with so many medical issues in play.  Will is often angry and sarcastic and depressed, but Lou's presence in his life keeps him interested.  Moyes handles the subject with sensitivity and tackles some serious issues concerning freedom of choice.
Lou and Will are characters worth meeting, their stories are interesting, and although there may be tears, overall, the novel is uplifting.

Fiction.  2012.  481 pages.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Long Absence

I still haven't reviewed the rest of the books from 2011.  It has become a challenge, and I'm determined finish those reviews before the week is out.

In the meantime, I haven't finished a single book in 2012.  Nearly two weeks without finishing a book!  Almost unheard of around here.  I have been reading 1Q84 and enjoying it, but it sits alone and neglected most of the time; the new year is certainly getting a slow start.  Last year, I read 160 books, a new record for me.   This year, however, I hope to read fewer books, read better books, and read more nonfiction.  That is the goal at least.

So what have I been doing that has taken up reading time?  Making prayer flags, eco dyeing, embroidering (while watching the UK version of Being Human and Stephen Fry's Kingdom), and sculpting or finishing up a couple of dolls.
Autumn is finally finished.  She languished half dressed for at least a month, maybe more, before I made her trousers.
Getting ready to make prayer flags.  The strips are 5 x 11", then the top is folded down to make a passage for the twine to pass through.  Finished size is 5 x 8" -- I have 8 in progress now.  Check out the Prayer Flag Project for more information about prayer flags and check  here to see examples.  Jotted down possible embroidery designs on an envelope; I'm using some of my eco dyed fabrics, linen, and muslin for the flags -- raw edges, unsophisticated style.
eco dyed blues from, of all things, red cabbage
This lady now has a cap and white hair.

Experimenting with fly stitch and blanket stitch variations on Prayer Flag #1.
I've also been taking some Yang style tai chi classes.  Haven't done tai chi in several years and learned Wu style originally; the differences may be small, but are difficult.  My body wants to convert movements to Wu style and needs frequent reprimanding, but I'm enjoying the larger, looser movements of Yang.

After a long holiday break, I'm also trying to get back to my yoga classes.  Both tai chi and yoga are good for both body and spirit, and I always feel lighter after classes.

Fee and I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this past weekend.  It has been so long since I've read LeCarre that all I could remember about the novel were George Smiley and Karla--not a bit of the plot.  Of course, I read it in the late 70's or 80's and when I can barely remember what I wore yesterday, it isn't surprising that the plot seemed brand new!

OK - back to my original thought:  I will finish reviewing last year's books by the end of the week.  Fingers crossed.