March 2nd, 2013


Books 1 & 2

title or description

1. The Time Keeper
by Mitch Albom
genre: fiction/spiritual

Summary: In this fable, the first man on earth to count the hours becomes Father Time. The inventor of the world's first clock is punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift. He is banished to a cave for centuries and forced to listen to the voices of all who come after him seeking more days, more years. Eventually, with his soul nearly broken, Father Time is granted his freedom, along with a magical hourglass and a mission: a chance to redeem himself by teaching two earthly people the true meaning of time.

He returns to our world--now dominated by the hour-counting he so innocently began--and commences a journey with two unlikely partners: one a teenage girl who is about to give up on life, the other a wealthy old businessman who wants to live forever. To save himself, he must save them both. And stop the world to do so.

Rating/Recommendation: 4 out of 5 stars. Albom has a sparse literary style that appeals. He says a lot without wasting words. Though it is a narrative about belief, it doesn't preach. I appreciate that. His 5 People You Meet In Heaven is still my favorite but this is a great second place.

title or description

2. Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes
by Betsy Woodman
genre: historical fiction/cultural fiction

Summary: Meet Jana Bibi, a Scottish woman helping to save the small town in India she has grown to call home and the oddball characters she considers family.

Janet Laird's life changed the day she inherited her grandfather's house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son's arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes is born.

Rating/Recommendation: 4 out of 5 stars. I was really charmed by this novel and surprised to learn it is Woodman's first one. It brims with a love of India (where it is set) and its characters. Wonderfully funny and witty, it's a quiet sort of novel about every day life, really. India fascinates me so I may be biased but it is a very good read.

Books 3 & 4

title or description

3. The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo
by F.G. Haghenbeck
genre: historical fiction

Summary: When several notebooks were recently discovered among Frida Kahlo’s belongings at her home in Coyoacán, Mexico City, acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this beautifully wrought fictional account of her life. Haghenbeck imagines that, after Frida nearly died when a streetcar’s iron handrail pierced her abdomen during a traffic accident, she received one of the notebooks as a gift from her lover Tina Modotti. Frida called the notebook “The Hierba Santa Book” (The Sacred Herbs Book) and filled it with memories, ideas, and recipes. Haghenbeck takes readers on a magical ride through Frida’s passionate life: her long and tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, the development of her art, her complex personality, her hunger for experience, and her ardent feminism. This stunning narrative also details her remarkable relationships with Georgia O’Keeffe, Leon Trotsky, Nelson Rockefeller, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Henry Miller, and Salvador Dalí. Combining rich, luscious prose with recipes from “The Hierba Santa Book,” Haghenbeck tells the extraordinary story of a woman whose life was as stunning a creation as her art.

Rating/Recommendation: 2.5 out of 5 stars. I wanted to like this book because I find Kahlo such a compelling artist and woman but it lacked the emotional depth that I would expect from a character like Frida. Half of the book is actual recipes which isn't really a problem but the fictional accounts of what may have happened don't ring true. At times it feels like the book is simply name dropping famous people of the time. It's definitely not one to re-read.

title or description

4. A Book of Horrors
edited by Stephen Jones - Various Authors
genre: horror/anthology

Summary: Many of us grew up on The Pan Book of Horror Stories and its later incarnations, Dark Voices and Dark Terrors (The Gollancz Book of Horror), which won the World Fantasy Award, the Horror Critics' Guild Award and the British Fantasy Award, but for a decade or more there has been no non-themed anthology of original horror fiction published in the mainstream. Now that horror has returned to the bookshelves, it is time for a regular anthology of brand-new fiction by the best and brightest in the field, both the Big Names and the most talented newcomers. A Book of Horrors is the foremost in the field: a collection of the very best chiller fiction, from some of the world's greatest writers

Rating/Recommendation: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Though the book had some misses, (it is a bit uneven) it does overall live up the hilarious (and quite adept) forward by Jones. He claims in his forward that most horror stories now a days are "lite" with sparking vampires and government-employed werewolves. I agree very loudly. For the most part the stories are creepy and in two instances completely scared the crap out of me. Stephen King's contribution "Little Green God of Agony" is old school and great but the stand outs for me were Peter Crowther's "Ghosts with Teeth" and Karl Ajvide Lindqvist's (author of "Let The Right On In) "The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer." Both have stayed with me long after I finished reading because they take a look into the horror human's manage to inflict on others. I strongly recommend this to horror aficionados.

Books 5 & 6

title or description

5. Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
genre: mystery thriller/fiction

Summary: Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Rating/Recommendation: 5 out of 5 stars. There's nothing -- literally, nothing -- I can say about this book because it is just brilliant. Not just the writing style that Flynn has which is dark but hilarious, twisty and breath taking in its ability to make you keep reading even though you know the end is not going to be pretty or even remotely what you want but when it gets there all you can do is nod and say "yeah, that's about right." Gillian Flynn has a great narrative voice that gets you inside her characters and whether you love them or despise them, you can't help but wanting to know more about them. Excellent book; highly recommend.

title or description

6. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
by Ayana Mathis
genre: historical fiction/cultural fiction/literature

Summary: A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Rating/Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Gorgeous and heartbreaking. That sums up the experience this book was. The twelve narratives grab you and you want to scream at Hattie for what her actions do to her children and scream at the adults those children become for letting that affect them -- which is just something the book focuses on -- children pay the price, always. Yet you understand them, care about them, want to hug every last one of them because you feel the pain there. I loved that Mathis didn't shy away from subjects like sexuality, mental illness, abuse, suicide but she didn't beat you over the head with them in her narrative: they were simply a part of life. Highly recommend this.

Books: 6/50

Book 37: Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Book 37: Sacred Hearts.
Author: Sarah Dunant, 2009.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 16th Century Italy. Religion.
Other Details: Paperback. 472 pages.

'... It is always hard, understanding what is being gained in the moment at which something is also being taken away ... How while outside these walls "free" women will live their whole lives dictated by the decisions of others, yet inside, to a remarkable extent, they govern themselves. How here each and every nun has a voice and a vote ... where they discuss and decide together everything from the menu for the next saint's day to the appointment of a new abbess or ... other posts essential to what is, in effect, a business as well as a spiritual refuge' - from 'Sacred Hearts'.

This novel is set in the fictional Benedictine convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrara, Italy, 1570. Serafina is the 16-year old daughter of a noble family from Milan, who has been sent there because her family could only afford the exorbitant dowry requited to make a suitable marriage for one of their two daughters. A smaller dowry along with Serafina's exquisite voice makes her a desirable addition to the convent. Serafina is there against her will and has no wish to become a Bride of Christ as she is already passionately in love with her former music teacher. However, her fate was sealed when her family discovered the relationship and she was shipped off to Ferrara. As a result she is hysterical when she arrives and later rebellious, all the while hoping that her love will, against all odds, find and free her from this imprisonment.

Central to the novel is the scholarly Suora Zuana, who had studied medicine at her father's side. She had come to the convent some sixteen years previously after his death and now serves as the convent's dispensary mistress. The abbess, Madonna Chiara, gives her the task of assisting Serafina in settling into her new life. A tentative trust builds between the two women as Suora Zuana recalls her own difficulties assimilating to life as a nun. Madonna Chiara's concern is to keep life within the convent as stable as possible. She is aware that the recent dictates of the Catholic Reformation at the Council of Trent could soon bring about changes that will severely limit the freedoms that she and the women under her care now enjoy.

The novel takes place in an all-female enclosed world yet one in which women of the time could attain a degree of independence in an atmosphere of learning and creativity. During an interdisciplinary course on the Renaissance I had done studied convent life during the period so was very interested in this fictional account. I understand that Sarah Dunant spent time as a guest in an Italian convent so that she could experience first hand the daily routines of worship and work. This hands-on research brought a sense of immediacy to the story. I found it difficult to relate to the petulant Serafina and was much more in sympathy with Suora Zuana and Madonna Chiara, both who shared a very grounded attitude towards their lives.

I found this a well written and highly engaging novel, well deserving of the critical praise that it received on publication. I had become first aware of it when featured on the Channel 4 Book Club where it was well received by the panel discussing it. Likewise, in the reading group I attended it was praised for its historical detail, characters and story. It generated a good deal of discussion about women's roles in the past and historical fiction as a genre.
Dead Dog Cat

#35, 36, 37

I've been finishing books that I've been working on steadily this week, but I haven't had enough time to sit down and post about them. So...

First one was Osprey New Vanguard #190: British Heavy Cruisers 1939 45. Once upon a time, the British fleet was a key component in their Empire. Warships of this a lighter classes were vital. Lots of technical detail in this book, as well as photos and illustrations.

Then, I read Osprey Command #23: Pompey, a biographical sketch of an important general and political figure in Rome.

Most recently, I finished reading The Doctor and the Rough Rider, the first book I've read this month. This is by Mike Resnick, and it's the third book of his Weird West series of novels; sort of steampunk meets Wild West by way of Indian shaman magic. In this one, Doc Holliday meets Theodore Roosevelt to open up the West for American expansion. This series has been an amusing read; reminds me of his Widowmaker series in some ways.
Alexander & Oxhead (Bucephalus)

Book #10: Maurice

Book #10

Title: Maurice

Author: E. M. Foster

Pages: 255

Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBT Fiction, Early 20th Century

Stars: ***** (5)

Summary: Maurice is complicated in his simplicity. He belongs to an upper middle class in 1912 Britain; has a mother and two sisters where he is the head of the household, an Oxford education, a pre-determined job, and a house and servants to manage. His life should be simple… work, marry, produce heirs. And yet he feels different. This novel explores Maurice’s path to finding out just what makes him different and how to reconcile it into his life in a society riddled with class politics. Oh, and yes, to fall in love where his kind of love is condemned and criminalized.

Review: Written in 1913/14 but not published until the 70s (after the author’s death), this novel presents an insight into homosexuality at the turn of the century in England. It wasn’t published until that time because Foster feared about the legal and social consequences of writing this novel; however, by the 70s attitudes have changed.

The below may contain spoilers in the sense, this novel being so thin on a plot, my emotional response to it and its characters may influence your own, which in this case is an important aspect in reading this novel. Therefore, if you choose not to continue to read, just know that in my opinion this novel is utterly brilliant on so many literary and emotional levels I haven’t even began to explore. Foster is a genius, this novel being a fine example; a definite must read.

It took a little while getting used to the turn of the century British style of writing but once I did the payoff was enormous (can’t stress enough just how much depth and brilliance Foster packs into this little short novel with a very simple plot). The best description of this novel is a trip into Maurice’s heart and mind as he’s trying to figure out himself and his role in the highly structured society. Maurice is a character that grew on me. He’s a bit slow and emotionally immature, qualities that are annoying at first but become endearing in the end. From the first moment Foster peals back layer by layer this complicated character as Maurice learns, fumbles, and learns over again. At the same time I love Clive, at least I loved him at first. His quick wit, intelligence, thirst for knowledge and philosophy, as well as Hellenic tendencies (and love for ancient Greece) endeared him to me. And yet, due to Foster’s brilliance I found pity for him at the end as even with all those brilliant qualities, he couldn’t find in himself any understanding and compassion for others (at least others different than him). I love the ending, Clive ‘s intelligence proved to be a determent, he lacked the depth and sophistication that Maurice, even with his limited intelligence, was able to achieve. And Alec, oh Alec, we knew him such a short time but I grew to love him as much as Maurice in the end.

The ending is perfect, just brilliantly perfect, and Maurice gets to live happily ever after (in the time that it was written a happy ending to an LGBT novel meant that it encouraged crime and that the criminals got away, that really put it into perspective just how big of a deal it was for Foster to write it so). In the end, I laughed and cried, and felt heartbroken and in love right along with Maurice; it was a very emotionally and intellectually satisfying experience.
Reading - La Liseuse

February Books (#4-7)

4. Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet, by Tim Gunn with Ada Calhoun, 312 pages, Fashion History, Hardback, 2012.

This book looks like it would follow the historic detail of modern garments. It felt a bit too forced on the proper attire of the modern person, with the historic stuff being secondary. I was disappointed. I love Tim Gunn, and I can hear his voice throughout the book. But this book is only one more modern clothing do/don’t book, just with a gimmick.

5. Witness In Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 338 pages, Mystery, Paperback, 2000 (In Death, Book 10).

Roarke finally convinces his wife, Lieutenant Eve Dallas, to go to a play. But in the final act, it soon becomes obvious that the murder is real. With a thousand witnesses, no one can be eliminated. It was nice to have a mostly standard murder mystery instead of another deadline story (serial killers, terrorists, etc.). The personal lives of our heroes are showing up in more detail, and the concept of “the love of a lifetime” is a theme.

6. Another Man’s Moccasins by Craig Johnson, 290 pages, Mystery, Paperback, 2008 (Walt Longmire Series, Book 4).

Another installment of the adventures of Sheriff Longmire of Absoraka County, Wyoming, as he investigates the murder of a young Vietnamese woman, dumped off the side of the highway. Among her possessions: a photo of Walt from his time of service in Vietnam which stirs memories, and the book is written part original investigation, part flashbacks to his time in the war. Normally, jumps in time like this are difficult to read, but Craig Johnson handles it well. I wanted to know what was next, for both investigations, past and present.

7. The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson, 318 pages, Mystery, Hardback, 2009 (Walt Longmire Series, Book 5).

Sheriff Longmire every so often hosts prisoners from other counties in his jail while they are waiting for their time in court. But he’s never had one quite like Mary, who has confessed to killing her husband after he burned the barn down with her horses locked inside. But something about her state of mind has Walt Longmire concerned that justice may not be served without some intervention on his part. So he goes undercover as an insurance agent investigating the fire. I liked how the mystery unfolded in this book, but I found the jumping back-and-forth in time by only a few weeks to be difficult in tracking current and past events.

Married Cardboard Libriomancer; Scarlet Faith Children

Cardboard, by Doug TenNapel
Gosh, this was fun! A boisterous book, full of inventiveness and heart. And beautifully drawn, too.

You're Married to Her?, by Ira Wood
Earthy, honest, slightly self-absorbed, definitely worth reading if you are like me and enjoy your essays a bit rough around the edges. Marge Piercy, my favorite poet, looms large in this book, as she is the author's beloved wife.

Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines
I've read a lot of reviews of this that were all BEST BOOK EVARRRR and, well, no, I don't think it is, quite. However, it is an extremely GOOD book, which does a number of VERY interesting things, and I adored it. The pages turn quick, too. Jim C. Hines has become one of those rare few authors I rely on.

Lucifer, vol. 2: Children and Monsters, by Mike Carey et al
This continues to be wonderful and strange, and it's now well into areas I hadn't already read back when the single issues were coming out. I have books 4-11 sitting on my table, eagerly awaiting an interlibrary loan of book 3...

Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer
Ah! I am perilously close to losing any objectivity about this series. It just.. packs SO much in to every chapter. There are always 800 things going on in a madcap anime way, and yet the fairy tale and steampunk (and, in this one, even space opera) roots are also given the space they need to grow and breathe. Whee!

Angel and Faith, vol. 2: Daddy Issues, by Christos Gage et al
She's an ex-con with Slayer powers, he's a vampire with a soul... together, they fight crime [and their own inner demons]! :D Seriously, I really dig this comic. They are doing everything right, and it manages to be funny and moving and kick-ass in exactly the right proportions.
(34, O2)
  • Current Music
    wactching the excellent BBC version of House of Cards