Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two individualistic narrators; two good stories

The Anthologist The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Quirky little novel that delves into the meaning, form, and function of poetry in an almost absent-minded manner. Interspersed with tidbits of the narrator's life and habits, the story of writing an introduction to a poetry anthology sort of hitches along throwing facts and opinions right and left.
If you don't mind stories that sputter around and if you like poetry--well, actually even if you think you don't like poetry, this may be the book for you. (If you don't like poetry it may be because you got ahold of the wrong end of the poetry stick early in your life. Let it go and start fresh. This book will give you a whole 'nother view of iambic pentameter.)

<The Wet Nurse's Tale The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisdorfer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The voice of Victorian Susan Rose is just right if you like good gossipy novels with lots of detail.
Susan is a wet nurse for women above her in the social scale. She remains cheerful even while expecting (and often getting) the worst.
This is an enjoyable read if you like historical fiction.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fantasy short stories

Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction by Sharyn November

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Short stories by a number of really great award-winning authors, writing about magic, faerie, unreality in the face of the normal.
Although written for a YA audience, these stories will entertain and amuse adults.
My favorites were The Baby in the Night Deposit Boox by Megan Whalen Turner and Little Dot by Diana Wynne Jones, but others were fascinating too.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Step into my garden, Maude

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, this book is enough to make you paranoid about any plant you see! It makes me glad that I manage to kill plants at 20 paces. Stewart writes lovingly of plants that stun, paralyze, and/or kill animals and humans. Makes you wonder what Mary, Mary Quite Contrary was up to.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

A rural way of life is not necessarily an innocent way of life

Moonflower Vine Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At the beginning of the book adult three sisters are back home on a farm in Missouri visiting their parents. We gradually get to know them, and the fourth sister. Remembered events in one chapter turn up in another, only with a different spin.
The action starts in the early 1950s and goes back mostly into the 1920s and 30s. It is a different way of life with no running water or electricity and a rather insular outlook on life.
Written just on the cusp of Women's Lib, The Moonflower Vine apparently was as shocker. Now it doesn't shock so much as speak to the emotions.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let me plug my favorite blog-turned-into-book

Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love the Cake Wrecks blog--the silliness, the ridiculousness, the very weirdness of it all. And now it's in my favorite medium--a book.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Couple of Good ones

Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence by Joseph D'Agnese

Two to five page summaries of the lives of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. A combination of setting the record straight (who were some of these guys?), debunking of popular myths, and some good old-fashioned gossip.
This would be a good bathroom book.

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Velva Jean Learns to Drive: A Novel Velva Jean Learns to Drive: A Novel by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Growing up in 1930s Appalachia Velva Jean dreams of being a big-time singer in Nashville, even as she is bounded by a life restricted by the mountains of home.
But Velva Jean clings to her Momma's dying words to "live out ther in the great wide world" and uses them as a touchstone for discovery. Growing up is not always easy or straight forward, but it can and does make an interesting story.
Parts of this book reminded me a little of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I've been busy reading

Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm not too sure I would have the nerve to schedule a six week tour of Italy with someone that I had a slightly rocky relationship with, but it makes an interesting book. Christmas and her mother were on their own for a trip that would exasperate, annoy, and yet entertain the two of them. It was not a trip of their dreams--it rained, it froze, it snowed (This was in the spring), the food was not always good, the service was often not what they expected, but still it was an eye-opening experience.
I really enjoyed this book. Being of a certain age, I found myself relating to both the author and her mother. And I'd still like to go to Italy.

Neverland: J. M. Barrie, The Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan Neverland: J. M. Barrie, The Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Daphne du Maurier was a cousin to the Llewellyn-Davies family that was befriended by James Barrie. Barrie assumed a similiar role in her life following the death of her father Gerald.
Peter Dudgeon draws a parallel between the families with Barrie as a rather scary center, although the du Mauriers certainly had their moments even without him.
Like many during the late Victorian period George du Maurier, Barrie, and their friends were drawn to hypnotism, seances, and the parapsycholigical. Where it led may have been the ruin of the younger generation of the family.
The book was somewhat confusing with so many characters and would have been helped by a family tree.

The Art of Racing in the Rain The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Okay, I'm a sucker for books told in first person by dogs (starting with that oldie Beautiful Joe). But this one is really special.
I loved this dog, with his active mind, his wit, and his passionate regard for justice. And his deep conviction that when he dies he will come back as a man.
I'm glad I read this book. Take it home and read it aloud to your dog.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Just in time for Halloween

The Mystery of Grace The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(I just wrote a remarkable review of this book and lost it. Come to think of it, that is a perfect description of this book.)
If you like fairy tales set in the real world, this may be your book.
Altagracia (or Grace) has a life customizing hot rods; she has friends, including her personal tattoo-er; she is also a mystery.
I've never been entirely clear on what mystical realism is, but what ever the technical definition is, this book qualifies in my mind. Charles de Lint has a firm grasp on the the edges of this world and the "Other".

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just What Is a Normal Family?

Un-Bridaled Un-Bridaled by Eileen Rendahl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Chloe runs from the middle of her wedding, takes a temporary job at the local bar, and moves into a house that is undergoing massive remodeling. And she considers herself the normal one in her family.
This book is all about family and how to cope with it.
In some ways this reminds me of Jennifer Crusie's romances, but not quite so fluffy. I liked it 3.5 stars worth.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Knit One, Funny Too

Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A dedicated knitters take on life in the knitted lane--or at least life as it applies to knitting. Often very funny, although maybe only if you knit (never admit an interest in crochet in the presence of this book). Reads like a blog.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Ghost story for Halloween

Spellbinder Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Belladonna sees ghosts. She talks with ghosts. She lives with ghosts. Then one day all the ghosts have disappeared and Belladonna needs to find a way to bring them back. With the help for her schoolmate Steve she sets out to find the ghosts and bring them back.
This is a quick and interesting read.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Historical fiction from women's point of View.

Dreamers of the Day: A Novel Dreamers of the Day: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a great book about World War I, the 1918-19 flu epidemic, the Middle East during 1920s, Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill, and any number of asides, told from a fictional character's view. I loved it.

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Homeland by Barbara Hambly.
I really liked this book (4.5 stars). It is told through letters between two women, one a young married woman living on an island in Maine, whose husband is in the Confederate army, and the other a young artist living (at least in the beginning) in Tennessee. They exchange ideas about everything from the war and family, slavery and freedom, the value of reading fiction, woman's "place" and women's daily reality. I think it would make a great reader's theater presentation.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gardening Year is winding down, but here's a book to dream on

The Elements of Organic Gardening The Elements of Organic Gardening by Charles, Prince of Wales

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An overview of the organic gardening practices that Prince Charles has undertaken on his properties of Highgrove, Clarence House, and Birkhall.
I am so envious of English gardens, and these are wonderful.
Read for task 25.2

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oldie, but Goodie

A Town Like Alice A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jean Paget, a young English woman, was trapped in Malaya in 1942 when the Japanese invaded and with 34 other women and children was subjected to a "death March" to a mythical prison camp. Along the way she met an Aussie prisoner of war who helped them out to his own detriment. Several years after the war, she becomes wealthy and goes back to Malaya to help those who helped her--and thus begins an adventure.
I loved this book and can hardly wait for the DVD to come in.
Read for Task 15.8 Australia

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Monday, September 7, 2009

A couple of things I've read recently

The Fixer Upper: A Novel The Fixer Upper: A Novel by Mary Kay Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Dempsey's lobbyist boss leaves her holding the bag in a bribery case. Without a job, she takes over flipping the old family house in GA that her father has inherited. I started out really disliking Dempsey, but as the book went on she started improving and growing. She learns a lot of home maintenence skills that I wish I knew how to do.
3 stars for task 25.9

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Museum of Human Beings Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fictional account of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea and his quest to find his place in life. It was interesting, but I can't say I really loved it.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Can a Kelly girl substitute for Steffie Plum?

Candy Apple Red (A Jane Kelly Mystery) Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Jane Kelly works as a process server/PI/whatever. She came to Oregon to be with a boy friend, who is now long gone over a difference of opinion about his best friend who killed his family and disappeared. Now the boy friend's back and Jane has been asked by a lawyer to delve into the mystery of the missing Bobby, who also happens to be the son of the richest guy in town.
There are close parallels here with Steffie Plum, although instead of Rex the hamster we have a pug named Binky. Go with the hamster.
This is listed as a fiction in my library, but it has at least as much of a mystery as any Steffie Plum book which are listed as mystery, so take your pick.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Texas Oil town story means reader bonaza

Honor at Daybreak (Texas Tradition Series, 32) Honor at Daybreak by Elmer Kelton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sheriff Dave Buckalew tries to keep oil boomtown Caprock safe from the predations of Boss Daughtry's gang. Young Slim McIntyre comes into town looking for cowboy work, but he too gets caught up in the search for oil. Set in dusty 1920's Texas, Kelton's book is very true to life.
15.3 a

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's a Sailor's Life for Me! Well...

The Captain's Wife The Captain's Wife by Douglas Kelley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In 1856 Captain Joshua Patten takes his young wife Mary with him on his clipper ship as he sails from New York to San Fransisco. This is her second voyage with him. They are sailing with a good crew, but an unreliable first mate and an inexperienced second mate.
Trouble looms before they reach Cape Horn. The first mate has a fight with the captain and is arrested. Patten apparently suffers from his head wound or an undetirmined illness, but spends much of the rest of the time unconscious.
Mary is the only one on the crew who can use the sexton to find their location and plot their course unless they are willing to release the first mate.
This is a novel based on a real life event.
Task 5.3 2009 GoodReads Fall Challenge

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Not about what I've Read, but what I plan to read

Many of the books I've posted the last few weeks are ones that I read for the GoodReads Summer Challenge. The bad news is today is the last day for that.
The good news is that tomorrow starts the GR Fall Challenge. So for the next three months many of my book choices will be geared to the requirements for getting through the challenge. This is a many-options challenge, and a reader needs only to do those tasks that are interesting or that there is time for. I will try to finish all 45 tasks for a total of 58 books (some tasks require two books and one requires three).
Some tasks are geared around fall holidays such as Columbus Day (Read A Novel Where The Main Character Travels At Sea Or A Non-Fiction Book About Sea Travel.) or Halloween (Read A Novel That Has An Adjective In The Title That Relates To Halloween...I.E. Spooky, Creepy, Crawly, Scary etc.)
A whole section is geared to school--2. Rewriting History - Read an Alternative Historical Novel. Afterwards, Post A Review Where You State Whether You Think The World (Or A Particular) Country Would Be Better Today If The Author's Version Of History Is What Really Happened. Give Reasons Why. and 8. Geography Lessons - Read Two Books That Take Place Countries That Correspond To Your Initials. If Your First Or Last Initial Is A Letter That Has No Country (I Think This Would Be Only X Or W) Then You Could Substitute Your Middle Initial.
There are lots of other fun tasks. If you think you would be interested, GoodReads challenge is only a click away.
For readers who have trouble thinking of appropriate books to read or who have a book, but are not sure how to fit it in, there are places to post comments and questions.
I hope to see you on the boards.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A New Jayne Castle--Yay!

Obsidian Prey (Harmony Series, Book 6) Obsidian Prey by Jayne Castle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
WARNING: If you haven't read any of Jayne Castle's Harmony series, this plot will make NO sense.
Lyra Dore is an amber tune and independent prospector who made a spectatular finde of alien artifacts in the underground rain forest, but she was cheated out of them by the guy she was dating, the yummy CEO of Amber Inc, Cruz Sweetwater.
She is a specialist in tuning amber, especially amethyst, and he is one of the few who can work with obsidian amber. He knows they are truly soul mates; she's not so sure. Several murders later, things start to clear up.
But my favorite part is the dust bunny, Vincent. Dust bunnies are the true pets with personalities, and Vincent is a sweetie. I'd be tempted to be a pet owner if I could have Vincent. (Note to Jayne Ann Krentz aka Jayne Castle: Let's do a dust bunny romance.)

The Harmony series just gets more and more ridiculous--and I can't stop reading them! I bought this to read on the plane Friday, but when I got home from the store I found the new challenges up on Good Read so I was going to save this for the GR Fall Challenge, but it was in my house. So I thought, I'll just read the first 160 pages (less than half) and then save the rest for Sept 1. At the end of chapter 17 I put it down, I swear I did, but at 1:15 a.m. I read the last page (which included an excerpt for Fired Up) and now I have to find two new books--one for the plane and one for the Challenge.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And you think you have impossible relatives.

Names My Sisters Call Me Names My Sisters Call Me by Megan Crane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ah, the dynamics of a family full of females. Courtney's getting married and wants her sister Raine to celebrate with her, but oldest sister Norah still harbors a great deal of resentment over the way Raine ruined her wedding six years previously. Courtney and her fiance Lucas go ahead with plans, but everything threatens to come unglued.
Made me glad I have a relatively normal family. It was a good book with some great lines and some interesting humor.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mayhem in the Middle Ages

Grave Goods (Mistress of the Art of Death, Book 3) Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Adelia, Henry II of England's Mistress of the Art of Death, is again called for duty. Henry is looking for the body of King Arthur, hoping it will help him put down the rebellion of the Welsh. Adelia has bodies, but can't truthfully say it is Arthur. She also has a missing friend, a damaged Saracen, a burned-out abbey, and a serious case of the hots for the Bishop of Saint Albans--who just happens to be the father of her child.
This is probably the best book yet of the series.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Children's book with a message for all of us

Seedfolks (Joanna Colter Books) Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Nine year-old Kim takes some lima beans to a vacant lot near her Cleveland home, scratches in the dirt, and plants them to grow for her dead father. A neighbor sees what is going on and clears a little more of the junk for his garden. Soon we meet eleven more people from the varied neighborhood who have a hand in planting and nurturing the gardens and the neighborhood.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Little Poetry--Haiku

Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Each haiku is given two pages which contains the poem itself, a short meditation, and a few words about the poet.
Although the editor chose the themes for these haidu inspired by Buddhist tradition, they can be enjoyed by readers of any religion. They encourage the reader to slow down and reflect upon life, to take time to see what is, to come away from being self-absorbed.
This is a lovely little book, worthy of rereading.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Elizabethan murder and an Elven mystery

Martyr: An Elizabethan Thriller Martyr: An Elizabethan Thriller by Rory Clements

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
John Shakespeare, William's brother, is an agent and investigator for Walshingham in this series. Much is made of, and indeed hinges on, the sharp tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Elizabethan England. In addition there is the constant tugging of family connections to court and the currying of royal favors. All this in a "simple" murder mystery.
If we had 1/2 stars I'd probably make it a 3 1/2.

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Finder Finder by Emma Bull

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Orient is a young man living in Bordertown, the area between the World and Faerie. If asked to locate an item or a person he has the ability to take you to it. So he is asked to assist the police in finding the person dealing with a deadly new drug on the market.
I really liked the personalities in this book, both human and elven (elfish? elf?). The book reads like Gaiman, only a little more sociable.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Oh, for the life of a Hero!

Standard Hero Behavior Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mock heroic tale of the hero quest. Don't believe all the tales of epic deeds and mighty heroes.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

What's a body part or two

Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead by Peter Manseau

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Manseau writes about what seems to be the need and fascination among many peoples and religions for religious relics. Even those religions which deny relics officially have some item or other that is venerated.
From the first chapter about the Catholic St. Francis Xavier's uncorrupted body in Goa, India to the Muslim hair from the beard of the Prophet in Kashmir to the tooth of the Buddha in Sr Lanka, we are told some of the stories, the background, and attitudes toward these relic.
This is a fine line between adoration of the articles and scoffing at the people who believe in them.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

A tale of riot, murder, and vengence

The Revenge Of Captain Paine: A Pyke Mystery The Revenge Of Captain Paine: A Pyke Mystery by Andrew Pepper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the second book of a series about Pyke, an ex-Bow Street Runner. The first dealt with his acquiring a wife and money. This one deals with his life as a banker and the early days of railroads in Great Briton. The book is gritty, fairly violent, and way too long.
We have a threat to Princess Victoria (this is two years before she comes to the throne) by her mother's secretary and the Duke of Cumberland. We have a threat to public safety with the rise of unions, and we have a threat to personal safety of Pyke's wife and son.
I generally enjoy historical mysteries, but this one was not my cup of tea. It took a while to get to the mystery, and then it unwound so very quickly in the last few pages.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

North River

North River: A Novel North River: A Novel by Pete Hamill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Set in the middle of the Great Depression, North River draws a convincing picture of doctor James Delaney who lives and works in New York City among of mix of the laboring class.
He had survived the Great War of 1917-1919, but a a great cost to emotional health. Now he is dealing with the disappearance of his wife and the unexpected appearance of his three-year old grandson.
This is not a book to read in a hurry. The characters demand time to get to know them and in return reward you with a really interesting story.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A New Sally Gunning book

Bound: A Novel by Sally Gunning. William Morrow, 2008. 307 pp.

Alice Cole is bound as an indentured servant for eleven years at age 7 when her father suffers from lack of funds upson coming to the American colonies. At first she is treated well, but at age 15 her contract is reassigned and life darkens. Each bit of happiness seems destined to be torn away.

We meet many of the characters from Gunning's earlier (and most excellent) book The Widow's War. Gunning once again examines the legalities of the mid 1700s and how it affects women. She adds to that the conditions of servitude in a country seeking to rid itself of servitude to England. (There is much talk here about the non-importation act and the Stamp Act.)

This is a really good historical fiction, even better than The Widow's War, which I really loved.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Dream Vacation

A Stopover in Venice

A Stopover in Venice by Kathryn Walker

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
This was a fairly annoying book about Venice, with the present leading to a mystery about the past. It is also a book about marriage and personhood. It can be difficult to follow--no quotation marks, so that I had to go back numerous times to follow the thread of who was talking. The art history was interesting, though. And I loved Leo and Lucy.

I was planning to read this book anyway, and then the Goodreads Summer Challenge had a challenge for Your dream vacation--read a book and make up an itinerary. In that way, this book did not disappoint. I found a number of places listed that could be visited if I could get to Venice. More than I could list for the challenge, in fact.

So, despite the fact that I found the main character Nel fairly annoying (why had she allowed herself to become such a doormat for her husband? why was she in such suspended animation for so much of the time? why were there no quotation marks?), it was an interesting book.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I started the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge

Love Lies Bleeding (China Bayles Mystery, Book 6) href="">Love Lies Bleeding by href="">Susan Wittig Albert


reviewrating: 3 of 5 stars
5.9 This Day in History-July 27.1858: First use of fingerprints as a means of idntification--Read a mystery or Crime fiction book.

This is the sixth of the China Bayles books set in the Texas Hill Country. China is having romantic problems even before she gets wound up in the murder of an ex-Texas Ranger. She seems pretty wishy-washy in this one for a former big-time lawyer.

Fire and Hemlock Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones


review rating: 2 of 5 stars
Polly moves in a world filled with sorcery and intrigue, her fate mingled with Tom's. This seems a reworking of the Tam Lin story. Slower going than others of her books that I've read.
Summer Challenge 30.10 Rora--Read a Nominee or Winner of the Mythopoeic Fantsay Award from 1971-1991

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

I've been way too lax at posting!

It's not that I haven't be reading, it's just that I haven't been posting what I've read.  Sorry!
I was introduced to the Goodreads site and find lots to do there:
I've been playing the Goodreads 2009 Spring Reading Challenge and it's been so much fun that come June 1, I'll start the Summer Challenge.  You can, too.  If you are already a member of Goodreads, go to this site: and start in.
I'll be getting double duty from the books I read this summer, using them for Goodreads and for the Olathe Public Library Adult Summer Reading Program, which started last Tuesday.  

I've already completed three books for the Library Summer Read:

J. Anthony Froude: The Last Undiscovered Great Victorian, by Julia Markus.
I must admit I would never have picked this up on my own.  I'd never heard of Froude, but Lorie asked me to read the book.  The first third of the book makes for wretched reading (for you fans of A Child Called It, it's right up your alley), and most of the remainder of the book is a reminder of how early abuse affects a person's life forever.  Oh, and why was Froude so great?  He pretty much set the standards for carefully researched biography.

Flinx Transcendent by Alan Dean Foster.
I've been reading Flinx and Pip books for years, following the orphan and his minidragon around the universe.  I must admit, I'm glad this is supposed to be the last one.  The last two or three have taken themselves way too seriously about Flinx being the only one who can save the universe from extinction.  Midway through this one I was hoping it would whimper to a close in a hurry.  A disappointment.

Perfect Soups by Anne Willan.
The layout and instruction in this book were really exceptional.  A couple good sounding recipes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good Reads Summer Reading Challenge

30.1  Biographical fiction and nonfiction
John Brown Fic Raising Holy HellOlds  Bio John Brown, Abolitionist— Reynolds 
George Custer Fic The River & the Horseman -- Skimmin    Bio Touched by Fire—Barnett 
Thomas Jefferson   Fic Sally Hemmings--Chase-Riboud   Bio Jefferson’s Secrets—Bernstein
George Washington Fic Mount Vernon Love Story —Clark   Bio An American Life--Brady  
Anne Boleyn    Fic Mademoiselle Boleyn —Maxwell   Bio The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn—Ives
Charles II of England Fic A Royal EscapeHeyer    Bio King Charles II –Fraser
Abigail Adams   Fic Patriot Hearts—Hambly Bio  Dearest FriendWithey
Ned Kelly   Fic
A True History of the Kelly Gang: A novel--Carey  Bio Ned Kelly: A short life--Jones
Marie Antoinette    Fic The hidden diary of Marie AntoinetteCarolly   Bio Marie Antoinette—Fraser
Frank Lloyd Wright  Fic  Loving Frank--Horan    Bio Frank Lloyd WrightHuxtable
Al Capone   Fic  Road to Perdition—Collins Bio Capone: The Man and the legendBergreen
Mata Hari   Fic Signed, Mata Hari—Murphy    Bio Femme FataleShipman
Duke of Windsor
Fic A Prince Among them—Lacy   Bio A King’s story—Windsor
Wallace Simpson Fic Gone with the Windsors—Graham   Bio The Duchess of WindsorHigham

These are just suggestions, and are for books available at my own public library. I haven’t read all of these. For many of these people there are many other biographies available—feel free to choose another.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Special for Friday the 13th

Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood Feeding_Creatures by Bill Schutt. Harmony, 2008.
My review rating: 4 of 5 stars
It seems appropriate that I read this book about vampire bats and other "blood sucking" creatures on Friday the 13th.
Bill Schutt writes a very readable book about the creepy, crawly creatures we shudder about, with little related side digressions in other scientific, historic, and cultural realms.
In addition to vampire bats, there are sections on leeches, and on bedbugs and other parasetic insects.
If you start this book expecting to be scared by the horror movie aspecs, forget it. This is an informative and engaging book. (And I mean that in a nice way--I am the last person in the world to read books in the horror genre.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Biographical matters

I've got three interesting biographies this time, and one that should have been good if the writing hadn't been so wretched.

Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradis. 2005, Basic Books. 222 pp Non-fiction
Everyone knows Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wandered around Germany collecting fairy tales so they could be turned into Disney movies. Well, they did collect them, with the help of a group of women, who got very little credit for their efforts. The Tales were collected during the years of the Napoleonic Wars which did impact some of the lesser known stories. This background is about the Grimms, the women collectors, and the tales themselves.

Nothing to do but Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. 1991, Delta. 164 pp Biography
In 1904 Twenty-five year old CArrine Gafkjen moves from Minnesota to homestead in North Dakota. She buys a quarter section of land outright (and a few years later, another quarter section) and begins her life as a wheat farmer. Nine years later she marries a fellow Norwegian homesteader and together they raise six children during the dust bowl and depression years.

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant. 1885/1999, Penguin Books. 674 pp Biography
Written during the last year of Grant's life, this is military memoir at perhaps its best. Although written during an age of often overblown writing styles, Grant writes a clear and lucid story of his days in the army, including the Mexican War, but most of the action is the Civil War. It is a great book even if you don't like war stories, just to enjoy the direct writing style.

The Royal Recluse: Memories of Ludwig II of Bavaria by Werner Bertram, translated by Margaret McDonough. 1936, Martin Herpich & Son. 266 pp Biography
Ludwig II was often referred to as "The Mad" King Ludwig. He certainly had his issues, starting with what sounds like a very unhappy childhood. He is best remembered for his championship of Richard Wagner and for the fairy-tale like castles he built, which bankrupted his state and led to his death. I couldn't decide if this book was poorly written or poorly translated or both.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber. 2007, William Morrow. 466 pp Fiction
Jake Mishkin is an intellectual property lawyer, whose friendship with English professor Mickey Haas involves him in a literary puzzle featuring William Shakespeare, the rare book trade, and a cast of thousands. This thriller is a cross between The Da Vinci Code and a Garrison Keillor monologue. There is absolutely nothing straight-forward in the telling of this story, from the plot to the integrity of the characters.

Brave Men by Ernie Pyle. 1944/2001, University of Nebraska. 513 pp Non-fiction
Ernie Pyle recorded World War II on the day-to-day human level, from the standpoint of the citizen soldier. Brave Men is a collection of his columns for Scripps Howard Newspapers from the fighting in Europe during 1943-44. It gives an immediacy even now to the history of the war.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. 2006, Dutton. 352 pp Fiction
"I met Charlotte in London one afternoon while waity for a bus. Just look at that sentence! That in itself is the first extraordinary thing, as I took the bus as rarely as once or twice a year, and even then it was only for the novelty value of not traveling in a car or train. It was mid-November 1954, and as cold as I had ever known London." And so Penelope meets Charlotte, and her aunt Clare and cousin Harry, and gets to kiss Johnny Ray, and a host of other events. This is sort of chick lit set in the 1950s, a kinder, gentler, chick lit.

Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them by Peter Kaminsky. 2005, Hyperion. Non-fiction
Kaminsky is off in search of the perfect ham. It takes him from Kentucky, to Burgundy; from North Carolina to Andalusia. He does barbecue and soul food and French cuisine (and shares a few of the recipes. He rails against the pork agri-business in the United States--and extols the wonders of what is often called heritage pork. Just reading this makes one hungry.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. 2008, Alfred A. Knopf. 333 pp Short Stories
This book of eight stories is just terrific. As in her book Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri's characters are often fish out of water, suspended between the familiar and the unknown or the uncomfortable. Even coping well with a new life doesn't always mean everything is well. There are many secrets here. I especially enjoyed the second story "Heaven-Hell".

Friday, January 9, 2009

There are some really good books out there.

Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx. 2004, Scribner. 219 pp Short stories
Annie Proulx's stories are about people whose lives aren't quite under control through no fault of their own. The bittersweet in life, mixed with the all to human foibles of her characters can add up to some painfully amusing stories. Her turn of phrase and her choice of scenes is spot on.

The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig. 2008, Harcourt. 406 pp Fiction
Take a college football team, undefeated in 1941, and place ten of it's starting lineup into various parts of the action around the world in World War II. The eleventh man is assigned the job of observing and reporting on them, and on their lives and deaths. This is a very readable book, with characters you will care about.

I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass. 2008, Pantheon . 287 pp Fiction

The story of two sisters, twisted apart by men and temperament, twisted together by birth and family. Louisa and Clement are nothing alike, and yet they share so many of the same things. Add to that a back story of a great-great-aunt and her sisters and you will find more ssisterly living than you know what to do with. If you have a sister you love, read this book. If you have a sister you hate, read this book. Another excellent book by the author of The Three Junes.

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. 2008, HarperCollins. 311 pp Fiction
Told in multiple voices, the old mystery of a North Dakota murder in a community with both whites and Ojibwe members. This book teases and pries at truths and injustices, leaving both in various states of exposure.
The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty. 1942/1998 Library of America 87 pp Fiction
Take the Grimm's fairy tale, cross it with American folk lore, add more than a dash of Southern Comfort and you have a wonderful time. There is the twist of the alligator's tail to this story and a charming cadence to the language. A Hoot and a Holler for this oldie.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Love is in the Air

Most of these paperback romances are not going to get much of a long review, but are just being entered as a reminder that I read them.

The Dangerous Duke by Christine Wells. 2008, Berkeley Sensation 308 pp Historical

The widow Lady Kate Fairchild keeps a steamy diary of fantasy affairs. Maxwell Brooke, Duke of Lyle kidnaps her and reads her diary. Real steam ensues.

The Edge of Desire by Stephanie Laurens. 2008, Avon. 450 pp Historical
Christian has loved Letitia for ages even though she is a married woman. Now she sends him an SOS to help rescue her brother and he responds quickly. Sexy romp of a Bastion Club novel.

The Horsemaster's Daughter by Susan Wiggs. 1999, Mira. 426 pp Historical

Widower Hunter Calhoun concentrates on his horses to the detriment of his children. Eliza Fylte is a horse whisperer who also "whispers" his children and loves the man back to life.

Never Romance a Rake by Liz Carlyle. 2008, Pocket Books. 436 pp Historical

Baron Rotherwell has a tormented past, so he thinks nothing of wagering on a hand of cards for the possession of the daughter of Comte de Valigny. But Camille has plans of her own, especially after she gets to know the Baron.

Rescued by the Magic of Christmas by Melissa McClone. 2008, Harlequin. 184 pp Romance
Carly Bishop's fiance is killed while performing a mountain rescue. What is she thinking six years later when she falls for another climber?

The Return of the Prodigal by Kasey Michaels. 2007, HQN. 378 pp Historical

Rian Becket loses his left arm and his heart in France. He returns home to his family to help save the family honor. Part of the Beckets of Romney Marsh series.

Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs. 2004, Mira. 411 pp Romance
Rosa has turned an old pizza parlor at the beach into an upscale restuartant while dealing with various family problems. Summer visitor Alexander comes back years after breaking her heart.

The Summer I Dared by Barbara Delinsky. 2004, Pocket Books. 491 pp Romance
Rescued from a sinking ferry by Noah, New Yorker Julia settles onto the Maine island to regroup and rethink her life. Noah is a divorced lobsterman who lost his father in the ferry crash, but he gains Julia, his son, and his life.

When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn. 2004, Avon. 368 pp Historical

He has already inherited his cousin's homes and titles. NowMichael Stirling undergoes agonies --and malaria--while he wrestles with his feelings for his cousin's widow Francesca. Part of the Bridgerton series.

When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James. 2008, Avon. 375 pp Historical

Lady Isidore was married by proxy when a young girl while her husband is trotting around the world. Years later he returns to demand an annulment, since she is not the doormat he thinks he wants. Seduction follows. Part of James' Duchesses series.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A mixed bag of Oldies

Sometime you have to go back and do some catching up on books you missed when they first came out. I read some older books this weekend that I enjoyed. Most of them have been on various lists of good books for years, but I'd always managed to miss them. It's a new book if you've never read it, no matter when it was published!

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. 1984, Vintage. 110 pp Fiction
Esperanza Cordero tells us about her home, her family, and her neighborhood in Chicago's Latino section. She can be funny, wise, and achingly hopeful. This is a deceptively simple book--short book, short chapters, short sentences. But there is a lot packed in here about growing up. The book has been on a number of high school reading lists for years, but I'm just now getting around to reading it.

The King's Brat by Constance Gluyas. 1972, Prentice-Hall. 363 pp Historical fiction
Set in England at the start of the reign of Charles II, we start in the slums of London with Angel Dawson, friend of Nellie Gwynne, being pick up and thrown in Newgate prison fore theft. While there she meets a young woman there with amnesia who recovers just before dying and asks Angel to tell her brother Nicholas what happened to her. Nicholas just happens to be Earl of Benbrook, the new King's best friend. He decides to clean the beautiful Angel up, educate her, and turn her into a lady. Can you say Pygmalion? He's been scarred by a promiscuous mother, so true love does not run smooth. Oh, and did I mention the Plague? And the amorous King? We miss the Great Fire in this one, but that's about all.

The Last English King by Julian Rathbone. 1999, St. Martin's Press. 381 pp Historical fiction
The events leading up to the Battle of Hastings is told in flashback by Walt, King Harold's only surviving bodyguard, who is suffering from remorse at being alive. The characters of Edward the Confessor (who really needed to), the Godwinson family, William, the Conqueror to be, and a cast of thousands make the few years leading up to 1066 really come alive. I can truthfully say that I have never read a book about these people that was quite so lively. Those Anglo Saxons were a rowdy bunch.

The Past Is Another Country by Lois Battle. 1990, Viking. 392 pp. Fiction
After the end of their schooling life is different for classmates Megan Hanlon and Greta Papandreou, but their lives still intertwine in unexpected ways. Megan works in film, Greta marries a surgeon. The third woman is one of the nuns who taught them. All three have issues with relationships that crisscross past and present, that probe who they were and who they are. A better book than I expected.

Your Blue Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell. 1992, Ballantine. 332 pp. Fiction
The ache of cultural change and chance encounters. The pain of growing up and being black. The agony of parenting in a world you can't control. The rawness of life where ever you go and learning to live in the skin you've been given. This book aches with the need to be read to the background of a low bluesy saxophones and a gravel-voiced singer.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A little fantasy, a little science fiction

Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams. 1992, Tor. 448 pp
In a future world the Aristoi are the ones who, through genetic manipulation, control the worlds configured in reality and in simulation (think Second Life with tactile and odor added). The Aristoi are encouraged to call up their inner daemons (the more the merrier) and do whatever pleases them. This can and does lead to abuses. It can also lead to boredom and confusion on the part of the reader.

Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey. 2008, Del Rey/Ballantine. 538 pp
Once again plague threatens Pern, this time its draconic denizens. But Weyerwoman Fiona (whom we first met as the very young daughter of Lord Bemin during the human plague in Dragon Harper) has a young queen dragon and is ready to try anything to save the wings. For the people who grew to love the Dragonriders of Pern, the passing of the author's torch from Anne McCaffrey to her son Todd was an anxious moment. It hasn't been a seamless match, but the torch is now a lot steadier. Todd has chosen to write his series in a time period unused by his mother. The characters are all his now, and if many of the plot elements are familiar, it is after all the same world.

Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin. 2008, Tor. 384 pp
I'm a little late coming to the Wild Cards books edited by Martin. If you like your superheroes drawn up by committee and outside the world of graphic novels, this may be the series for you. In this particular book the younger generation of super heroes compete on reality tv show American Hero, with the losers disappearing to help fight in the war against the rampant excesses of anti-American feelings in the middle East--more specifically, Egypt and some of its ancient gods. It's a graphic novel sort of book in straight literary form--no POW or WHAM inserted here, just good depictions of arms being ripped off and blood dripping. Not my cup of tea, but I know there is an audience out there.

The Iron Bridge by David Morse. 1998, Harcourt, Brace. 436 pp
Maggie travels back in time from her troubled world in 2043 to 1773 England oat the start of the beginning of the Industrial Age. She is attempting to influence the use of technology by sabotaging the building of the first iron bridge (over the Severn River at Coalbrookdale) in the hope of containing some of the worst problems in the future. I love her excuse that she gives for not knowing so many of the simple things necessary for life without "modern" conveniences, "I'm an American." This book draws heavily on the Quaker heritage of the mill owners and their struggles with conscience--to build cannons, to use and/or trade slaves, etc.--although it is not a preachy book. Although shelved in the library's Science Fiction section, it is more of a historical novel that starts with a bit of time travel.

The Well-Favored Man by Elizabeth Willey. 1993, Tor. 447 pp
The ruling family of Argylle is widely scattered, going about their own business. Father Gaston has been gone without an explanation and now his sorcerer brother in law Dewar is missing, too.
Prince Gwydion is ruling the country with some day to day help from his brother Walter and his outdoorsy sister Belphoebe, but the twins are off doing their own thing. But when a very large, intelligent blue dragon enters the kingdom, it's time for the family to pull together. This first novel is rather reminiscent of Zelanzy's Amber series.