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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fairy Tale Imaginings

I love fairy tales, artists' take on fairy tales, and poems inspired by fairy tales.  Shaun Tan's sculptures based on the tales of the Brothers Grimm are wonderful illustrations of the paths creativity can take.

Little Red Riding Hood


The Frog King

Several years ago, I wrote a post about the following poem, an example of a contemporary imagining of a fairy tale.  It remains a favorite.

How to Change a Frog into a Prince

Anna Denise
Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it.

Some poems are difficult to understand and require multiple readings, and I love poems like that, poems that require intuition and effort. But I love poems like this one - poems that are instantly accessible, a bit silly and a bit serious. I love poems that "connect," as this one does to something that I'm reading or thinking about.

An easy poem, "How to Change a Frog into a Prince" is about transformation, and we are all transforming, but it is also about patience and kindness. It is tongue-in-cheek and perceptive - a gentle blend. It seems to say that love of all kinds requires acceptance and that princes, children, friends, lovers, and spouses are all subject to growth, to change, and that we have a role in these transitions. And humor helps. "Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it." Maybe we will, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Autumn Leaves and Impermanence

"All through autumn we hear a double voice:
one says everything is ripe;
the other says everything is dying.
The paradox is exquisite."

Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces

I think leaves are the most evident and beautiful example of this paradox.

Several days ago, I received an email  encouraging a mention of the Andrew Goldsworthy page.  I love Goldsworthy's work that leaves both permanent and transient images on the landscape.   

Source:  Impermanence

Below are more of Andrew Goldsworthy's images of leaves.
source: visual melt
source: visual melt
His stone wall is a more permanent work.
source: euniyah instagramof Goldsworthy stone wall


I chose pics with leaves
because my latest project is leaf stitching.

Magnolia leaf--
stitched, rolled, and fastened.


Recently finished, but not yet reviewed because they will not be published until next year.

I See You by Claire MacIntosh
The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn
Blood and Bone by Valentina Giambanco

Mail Art

I am still enjoying decorating envelopes and sending and receiving letters.  I found this wonderful post at Little Scraps of Magic by Paula Bogan about exchanging memories with her sister.  

Just an excerpt from the post Do You Remember after Paula received a postcard from her sister:   
 Denise wrote, " Do you remember peeking inside the trunk of the cherry tree near the kitchen? A mama bird would build a nest in a hollow spot in the tree trunk each year. We would wait for her to fly away and then run to steal a peek of her babies."

What a great idea to exchange memories on a regular basis!  Years and years ago, I asked my father and his siblings to send me a Christmas memory from their childhoods.  We read these at the family Christmas celebration that year--the results were hilarious and not all associated with Christmas.   But it was a one time thing.  I wish I'd thought to continue asking for memories, especially now that that generation is gone.

As older generations submit to dementia and death, so many stories are lost.  Copies of those original letters are now in the hands of my brothers and all of our cousins and in the hands of our children as well.  What if I'd thought to continue writing and asking for memories...?


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Shattered Tree and The Twilight Wife

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is the 8th book in the Bess Crawford series by the mother and son team who write as Charles Todd.

Set in 1918 in the last throes of WWI, Bess Crawford, a nursing sister, overhears a wounded French soldier make an outburst in perfect German.  When Bess questions this, it is suggested that the soldier may have been raised in Alsace Lorraine, annexed by the Germans in 1870, which would mean that speaking German would have become a necessity.  

When Bess is injured by a sniper, she is sent to Paris to convalesce and coincidentally catches a glimpse of the soldier dressed in an American uniform.  Her curiosity is again aroused, and she decides to investigate.  What is the man's story?  Is he a German spy--the one all of Paris has been searching for?  

Hampered by her injury and a lack of her usual resources, Bess nevertheless proceeds in her own investigation (with quite a few subplots).   Sort of hampered.  Bess sure gets around after being shot, treated, then operated on for an infection caused by a portion of a button that was not removed during the first treatment.  Tougher than many of the injured soldiers, our Bess.

The Todds write two series that have their beginnings in WWI, the original series features Inspector Ian Rutledge; later they added the Bess Crawford series.  

The content and style of the two series differ, and I've always preferred the original series, which is darker and more psychological.  DI Ian Rutledge is a victim of shell-shock and must struggle with his hallucinations of Hamish, who functions as a kind of Greek chorus.  The earlier novels in the series deal with some of the most detrimental effects of WWI on both soldiers and society at large.  The Inspector Rutledge novels are complex and intricately plotted--well-rounded characters and atmospheric settings.

The Bess Crawford series is more mystery and less psychological with more complicated, but less complex plots.  They come across as intense cozy mysteries--still dealing with the casualties of war, but as sidelines to the mystery plots.

Library copy.

Historic Mystery.  2016.  304 pages.

The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner is yet another woman with amnesia story, but a rather predictable one that doesn't feel realistic.  While it does begin with interest, the middle and the conclusion lose the sense of genuine suspense.  Wrapped up nicely and tied with a bow.

The premise is interesting, if difficult to believe, but the characters had no real depth.

The novel was readable, but the comparison to Sharon Bolton is far-fetched.  This is just my personal view of the book.  There are many positive reviews.


Mystery.  Dec. 27, 2016.  Print length:  304 pages.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October and Edward Gorey

I'd love to visit the Edward Gorey House !  His illustrations are so charming, and I loved the way PBS's Mystery incorporated them into their introduction.  Gorey also illustrated T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

No question that the man loved cats.

Years ago, my daughter gave me one of his cat pins.  
It just exudes joy!  
This little fellow is my favorite pin of all time.  :)

The Gorey House has an annual envelope contest
and you can find the 2015 winners here.
one of the 2015 winners

You can download the 2016 entry form here. 
What a fun and creative challenge for kids.  :)

I've been putting out all of my Eccentric figures for Halloween, sorting out witches and goblins and ghosts and various monsters.  

I've begun one new creature to send to my daughter Erin, who is excited about giving a Halloween party in her new house.  They moved in after Halloween last year, so this is there first spooky October.  Her boyfriend teased her about trying to create a school carnival, but school carnivals are so much fun!  The kids are very involved in the planning, so bobbing for apples may or may not be part of the activities--might be bad for costumes and makeup.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier may or may not be the last in this series.  Originally planned as a trilogy, the characters of Blackthorn & Grim have reached a satisfying conclusion, and yet many readers are not ready for the series to end.

I liked Den of Wolves much more Tower of ThornsThe characters of Blackthorn and Grim have more depth and variety in this latest adventure, and again, Marillier melds plot, folklore, and myth in an intriguing way.  

Grim separated from Blackthorn more than he would like when he undertakes the job of helping the crippled Bardan build the heartwood house for Tolas, the master of Wolf Glen and Cara's father.  Grim takes pity on Bardan and is unhappy with the way he is treated by everyone at Wolf Glen.  Grim, big of body and huge of heart, cannot leave Bardan unprotected. 

Blackthorn is asked to befriend Cara, the child-woman who tells stories to trees while birds perch on her shoulders; who loves her father, but is more comfortable with Gorman, the forester who taught her to carve; who is sent away from her beloved Wolf Glen without understanding why; and who eventually reveals great strength under apparent fragility.

Mathuin, the Laois chieftan, remains a specter throughout the first of the novel, and while Blackthorn continues to fear that he has spies who will discover her whereabouts--the secrets of Wolf Glen dominate most of the story.

Near the end, however, the connection to Mathuin is renewed.  

If Marillier chooses to let Blackthorn and Grim go for a while, Cuan and Segan and the rest of the Swan Island Warriors would make a fitting diversion.  I would happily see these characters develop and have no doubt that the author would find fitting plots for them.

Read in Aug.; blog review scheduled for Oct. 17

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing Group

Fantasy/Myth.  Nov. 1, 2016.  Print length:  448 pages.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Beneath the Ashes and The Next

Beneath the Ashes by Jane Isaacs is the second in the DI Will Jackman series.  I read the first, Before Its Too Late, last year.  Jackman's wife suffers from locked in syndrome after a car crash, and while there is less about this aspect of his life than in the first novel, Jackman is still grieving and feeling guilty about his wife's condition.

brief description:  Nancy Faraday wakes up on the kitchen floor. The house has been broken into and her boyfriend is missing. As the case unravels, DI Jackman realises that nothing is quite as it appears and everyone, it seems, has a secret.  (source:  NetGalley description)

And then there is the body in the barn.  Jackman needs to solve the case before something happens to Nancy.

NetGalley/Legend Press

Police procedural.  Nov. 1, 2016.  Print length:  280 pages.

The Next by Stephanie Gangi came in the mail.  A lot of the advanced reader copies that arrive in my mailbox now are cozy mysteries or are books that I've already read from NetGalley.    

The Next was certainly different.  It starts out with a dying Johanna and her grown daughters who disagree about what should be done in Johanna's final days.  This part is sad, but interesting.

However, the novel then proceeds into a long section about Johanna's anger at her abandonment by her much younger lover who has moved on to a rich younger woman who is now pregnant with his child.  When Johanna dies, she finds herself as a ghostly spirit who has the ability to influence events in the earthly plane.  

Things get sticky here as ghostly Johanna's focus is on a combination of sexual frustration and revenge.  I found this portion unattractive and just as I was about to stop reading, the story switches to a final section--which was interesting and diverges from the content in previous sections.

The book has a split personality:  a serious and sad and short first section; the unpleasant middle, full of a lustful, vengeful ghost; and the sweet and sentimental conclusion.  The ingredients didn't blend well for me.

Reviews are mixed and many are extremely positive, but almost all of them seem a bit uncomfortable with the obsessive, lascivious ghost (maybe not in so many words) before Johanna moves into the light.  Spoiler:  with her dog.

Conclusion:  interesting, and if the sexual component had been missing, I might have liked it better, but I found that frenetic compulsion unpleasant.

Favorite character:  Tom, the faithful dog.

Supernatural?  2016.  309 pages.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Rage of Plum Blossoms by Christine M. Whitehead

The Rage of Plum Blossoms by Christine M. Whitehead was so much fun!  

When Quinn Jones learns her beloved husband Jordan Chang is dead, she is devastated--even more so because the police have ruled Jordan's death a suicide, something Quinn can not accept.  

It takes months for Quinn to pull herself out of a deep depression and decide to prove that her husband was murdered.  

Since all of their friends have accepted the suicide conclusion, Quinn inadvertently begins building her own team through accidental encounters.  It is here that the book begins to shine with sensitive characterization and humor.

As a murder mystery there are weaknesses, but as a novel about people, The Rage of Plum Blossoms beguiles.  The motley crew Quinn assembles through chance meetings imparts charm and humor to the plot.  Diverse as Bernie, Sam, and Ryan are, each contributes not only expertise, but genuine support for Quinn's quest to find who murdered her husband and why.

I loved the characters and enjoyed the lively and entertaining escapades of Quinn and her team of allies.  

NetGalley/Kindle Press

Mystery.  Sept. 27, 2016.  Print length:  273 pages.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Inheritance by Charles Finch

The Inheritance by Charles Finch is set in Victorian England and continues this historical mystery series that I've enjoyed for several years.

When private investigator Charles Lennox receives a message from Gerald Leigh, an old school friend, he is eager to see him, but when Lennox tries to get in touch with his friend, he finds that he has disappeared.  After finally locating  Leigh, Lennox learns that the reason for his friend's disappearance is that someone has tried to kill him. 

The novel contains many reminisces of Lennox and Leigh's friendship as adolescents at Harrow and the mystery the two tried--and failed--to solve about who was funding Leigh's expensive education.  

Leigh, now a prominent scientist, has returned to England, summoned by a lawyer who is handling a large, anonymous bequest left to Leigh.  Lennox and Leigh want to discover if this is the same benefactor who paid for Leigh's schooling at Harrow and what the inheritance has to do with someone trying to murder him.

read in July; blog review scheduled for Oct. 10

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Historic Mystery.  Nov. 1, 2016.  Print length:  304 pages.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Evan Currie's Scourwind Legacy: Heirs of Empire and

Heirs of Empire by Evan Currie is the first in his new series The Scourwind Legacy. Although it does not compare to the Currie's Odyssey One series, I enjoyed this lighter scifi/fantasy mix.  

There is a backstory here that is only touched on briefly, but the book begins with the escape of General Corian, a traitor responsible for thousands of deaths.  Although Corian's escape is ultimately successful, the damage inflicted by Cadrewoman Mira Delsol is severe.  The General's forces manage to take the capital, and the emperor and his eldest son are killed; however, Lydia and Brennan, the emperor's younger children manage to escape.

Lots of action and futuristic weapons, interesting characters without a lot of character development, but this first book's purpose is mainly to set up future books.

It is quite different from the Odyssey books that I'm so fond of and has more of a YA novel feel, but it is fast-paced and fun.  Mira Delsol's role as the kick-ass cadrewoman keeps things moving.

(I received and read An Empire Asunder from NetGalley before finding Heirs of Empire, the first in the series.)

Kindle Unlimited

Space Opera.  2015.  Print version:  352 pages.

An Empire Asunder continues the battle between General Corian and the Scourwind heirs and their supporters.

The back story on General Corian's original attempt at a coup remains a blank, and although he sees his rebellion as an effort to save the Empire, the threat that motivates Corian is still unclear.  And he is a bit obsessive.  Obviously, if he must destroy thousands of lives and entire cities to save the Empire...the end justifies the means, and he is just the man for the job.

Lydia, as the older twin and heir to the throne, has assumed her role as empress, and Brennan trains for the cadre. However,  Corian and his allies are not finished yet.  There are traitors embedded everywhere who intend to do their best to see Corian succeed.  The Empire is, indeed, split asunder.

Former cadrewoman Mira Delsol has unfinished business with Corian, but as usual things go awry, and Brennan is left to warn the Empire--if he can escape in time to do it.

Like Heirs of Empire, An Empire Asunder is fun and suspenseful.  The characters have continued to develop, but they are still the archetypal roles typical of this kind of good/vs evil format.  While Lydia has a very small role in this one, I expect the next book will give her more attention.  It is Mira Delsol and Brennan, however, who keep the action going.

Scifi-lite but lively and entertaining.  

Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for 10/8/16

NetGalley/47 North

Space Opera.  Nov. 15, 2016.  Print length:  334 pages.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Murder Game by Catherine McKenzie Writing as Julie Apple

The Murder Game by Julie Apple (or Catherine McKenzie) sets up a an usual murder plot that takes years to come to fruition.  Yes, as several reviewers have mentioned, there is definitely a The Secret History vibe to the book, but TMG moves at a faster pace and doesn't get bogged down with all of the erudition of TSH.  

A combination of psychological thriller and legal drama, The Murder Game pulls the reader into the lives of four friends who were close-knit in law school, but have largely gone their separate ways since.   Apple/McKenzie quickly establishes that atmosphere of slight unease that continues to increase. 

Alternating chapters switch back and forth from the present to a decade or more earlier during the law school years, giving the reader some necessary background about personalities and situations. Was it just a game at the time of its conception? Julie's account obviously omits certain information that leaves both past and present somewhat ambiguous.   

The characters remain sort of clinical despite the details given to "warm them up," and yet that is precisely what is required in this type novel--a since of distance.

Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for Oct.

NetGalley/Lawsome Books

Mystery/Suspense/Legal Thriller.   Nov.1, 2016.  Print length:  303 pages.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Murderer's Son by Joy Ellis

Thanks to NetGalley, I discovered Joy Ellis' Nikki Galena series set in the Lincolnshire Fens.  The Murderer's Son, a stand alone, is set in the Saltern-Le-Fen constabulary and introduces a new cast of intriguing characters. 

The prologue relates the details of a vicious murder that took place in 1993.  In 2015,  DCI Rowan Jackman and  DS Marie Evans are confronted with another murder that has some similarities to the 1993 case.

Daniel Kinder walks into the station and confesses to the murder, but neither Jackman nor Evans are convinced that he is responsible.

Daniel suffers from fugue states and believes that he is the son of the "blonde butcher" who was convicted of 1993 murders.  

As in the Nikki Galena series, Ellis creates a framework of characters and setting that feels authentic.  I liked the way the various members of the constabulary worked together and the possibility of getting to know them better in future novels.  Ellis also keeps you left-footed about the murderer.  

This stand alone is every bit as good as the Galena series, and I hope to read more about DCI Jackman and DS Marie Evans.  And Orac. 

Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for Oct. 4

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Mystery/Police Procedural.  2016.  Print length:  283 pages. 

Monday, October 03, 2016

R.I.P. Reads: End of Watch and The Obsidian Chamber

End of Watch by Stephen King is the final book in a trilogy--something I didn't realize when I pulled it from the shelf at the library. I wish I'd read Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers first, and yet the novel functioned well as a stand-alone, and I had no trouble quickly engaging with the characters.  In fact, my biggest complaint about the book is that there will be no more adventures for Bill and Holly.  King wrapped the series up and tied the knot.   

A crime thriller with a supernatural component, End of Watch has characters who are a little off the beaten path of the typical crime novel formula.  Although the first two books evidently did not include the supernatural element, it is just that paranormal aspect which makes it a great R.I.P. choice, and King makes it work in a chilling way.

Taut and suspenseful, I was on edge throughout.  The more I think about it, the more I want of Holly.  I don't want her character to just disappear into the ether.  

Library copy.  Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for Oct. 3.

Detective Fiction/Paranormal.  2016.  469 pages.  

The Obsidian Chamber by Preston and Childs is the 16th book in this long-running series. The series would make a great graphic novel because Agent Pendergast would translate beautifully to an illustration and the plots could easily be depicted in story boards.

Why did this particular installment not appeal to me as much?  Probably because Pendergast is mostly absent, and I'm not sure how I feel about the way Constance's character is developing.  Also, the opening chase scenes, which were far too long, felt like page fillers.  (And what happened to the second woman on the plane?)  The usual headlong pace of these novels was off here in many ways.  As much as I've enjoyed these novels--in which logic and reason play little part--this entry was...strangely boring.  

Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for Oct. 3.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Suspense.  Oct. 18, 2016.  Print length:  416 pages.