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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.