29 December 2009

"Only to find some peace of mind / We have to pick-a-pocket or two."

Grace Hammer: A Novel of the Victorian Underworld by Sara Stockbridge (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009).

Truly, I do not know what to say about Grace Hammer. It took me three weeks to read two hundred and seventy-seven pages, which is some kind of record for me. At no time while reading the novel did I think about giving it up, but neither did I find myself rushing back to it. And that it unfortunate, because Grace Hammer seemed full of promise!

Amidst the squalor of East London, comfortably successful thief Grace Hammer is busy raising her brood of children and making eyes at a handsome ne'r-do-well until a ghost from her past comes forth to punish her for stealing his precioussss all those years ago.

Add in a enormous cast of minor characters which I found almost impossible to keep track of (or tell apart), a lot of delicious Victorian window dressing, and the shadow of Jack the Ripper and you have … a book which is modestly entertaining, but too full of tangents. Grace Hammer would have been much better it had been trimmed of its more extraneous plot points and characters. Or maybe it began as a longer novel and was too inexpertly trimmed down? Who knows?

I know I want to go re-read Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith.

27 December 2009

(Always) Books Under The Tree

Christmas was, as always, very good to this bibliophile. I think I got as many books as I gave and (almost) everyone who received gifts from me was unsurprised to unwrap a book (or three) ...

This Christmas was split pretty evenly between fiction and non-fiction -- apparently, people want me to be all practical and do something productive with literature! Or, maybe, they're just tired of me pissin' and moanin' about the fiction I've been reading lately (Grace Hammer, I'm talking about you) and tried to lead me back to safe(r) choices.
Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam Lintott & Strip Happy: Quilting on a Roll by Donna Kinsey

In quilter's parlance, "jelly rolls" are collections of 2½-inch strips of color-coordinated fabric, rolled up so they look a bit like the pastry, and tied with a prettypretty ribbon. They are freakin' adorable and hard to resist, but resist you must for once the barrier is broken and one enters your house, they will reproduce like bunnies. Thankfully, these two books are among the many now available that will help you manage your jellyroll problem collection.

The Ultimate Soup Cookbook by Reader's Digest

A most excellent cookbook I have borrowed from the library too many times to count. There are over 900 recipes in this cookbook and every one I have made thus far was delicious! I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in getting into soup making. Soup is, after all, an extremely comforting and generally economical dish perfect for dreary recession winters ...

Girls With Slingshots, Volumes 1-4 by Danielle Corsetto

Collects a webcomic I've been reading obsessively for a while now -- recounts the fabulous adventures of two girls and their talking cactus. Hilarious and sweet and naughty. Also awesome for introducing you to Internet phenomena you may have missed like "two girls, one cup" (love of god, do not Google it).

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip
Sealey Head is a small town on the edge of the ocean, a sleepy place where everyone hears the ringing of a bell no one can see. On the outskirts of town is an impressive estate, Aislinn House, where the aged Lady Eglantyne lies dying, and where the doors sometimes open not to its own dusty rooms, but to the wild majesty of a castle full of knights and princesses…

[blurb from penguin group (usa)]

How is it I have not read this book, already?


22 December 2009

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2009, Unwrapped

I am not good about not opening presents. If you do not want me to open a present sooner than I “ought” to, then you shouldn’t give it to me. Also, presents from furrin parts are especially problematic as those darn customs forms usually give me a pretty good idea of what I have been sent.

Oh, I know, a good person wouldn’t even peek at the customs form. I am not a good person.

But I signed on for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap which meant that not only did I send some nice bookish blogger a gift, a nice bookish blogger sent me one in return. And, since we’re all being nice, I thought I should delay opening my present until Christmas. Even though I received my mysterious present the week after Thanksgiving. (Someone has mad organizational skills!)

Hanukkah came and I thought …. but then I thought better (this is in itself a Hanukkah miracle as The Husband and I have not infrequently opened our Christmas presents at Hanukkah). No, I told myself, be good.

But I am not a good person ... I opened my present on Winter Solstice and was delighted by its contents -- a Penguin Classics edition of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth and Intimations of Austen: Stories Inspired by the World of Jane Austen by Jane Greensmith.

I'd been wanting to read more Gaskell since I finished North & South, but hadn't been able to make up my mind as to which novel I would read next. Happily, my mind has been made up for me!
Ruth Hilton is an orphaned young seamstress who catches the eye of a gentleman, Henry Bellingham, who is captivated by her simplicity and beauty. When she loses her job and home, he offers her comfort and shelter, only to cruelly desert her soon after. Nearly dead with grief and shame, Ruth is offered the chance of a new life among people who give her love and respect, even though they are at first unaware of her secret - an illegitimate child. When Henry enters her life again, however, Ruth must make the impossible choice between social acceptance and personal pride. In writing Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell daringly confronted prevailing views about sin and illegitimacy with her compassionate and honest portrait of a 'fallen woman'.
Thematically, Ruth seems akin to works like Tess of the d'Urbervilles or the Scarlet Letter. Do you have any idea how much I love the Scarlet Letter?

Intimations of Austen: Stories Inspired by the World of Jane Austen looks to be (maybe) a lighter read and perhaps well suited to this upcoming long holiday weekend as it is a collection of what-if stories based on Austen's novels. I'm rather looking forward to reading "All I Do" in which Elizabeth Bennett did not *gasp* marry Mr. Darcy! Good fun!

Oh why, oh why did I not open my present sooner?

19 December 2009

"Silent, and soft, and slow ..."

❅❅❅
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
❅❅❅

11 December 2009

Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2009

Years ago, I participated in several Valentine and recipe exchanges through Chubby Girl Brigade and that was such good fun! Is anyone ever too old for sweet cards and little gifts through the mail? No, I say, never.

Alas, CGB is no more and I have been wandering the Internet, exchangeless, nigh on forever ... then I found Book Blogger Holiday Swap and The Neverending Shelf's Secret Santa exchange. Lo, my heart did sing!

Or something.

So far, I've really enjoyed reading my "giftees" blogs and getting to know what it is they like. Happily, we seem to have similar tastes so I've bought them a bunch of little things I would like someone to give me. They seem like kind women, so will probably not flame me too badly if my gifts turn out to be much less nice than I think they are!

The Husband is taking all our packages to the post office tomorrow (the bargain was, I would package and he would ship -- he thinks he got the better end of the deal!) so both my "giftees" should get their present by the end of the week ...



09 December 2009

"'Woman,'" he said, "'woman is made for man.'"

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin's, 2009)

Thirteen-year-old Kyra lives on the Compound with her mothers, father, and twenty brothers and sisters. Her family is part of The Chosen Ones -- a polygamist Christian cult whose leader (The Prophet) preaches obedience in return for eternal salvation. Kyra's life is extremely circumscribed and she wants to be a good daughter (doesn't she?), but she finds herself committing small rebellions. First, she sneaks off to the mobile library and reads forbidden books. Second, she shares a dangerous flirtation with a boy who really ought to know better.

Oh, and she fantasizes about killing The Prophet.

Little rebellions are fine, but does Kyra have the strength to fight back when The Prophet declares she shall marry her father's brother? Her uncle? Her sixty-year-old uncle who already has six wives?

The Chose One wasn't an easy read for me. Williams' constant juxtaposition of almost-normal life with dangerous cult creepiness made the book especially intense -- one minute Kyra's making breakfast, the next she's watching one of her mothers "drown" her own baby. Happily, the story moves along quite quickly to a pretty satisfactory end (bloody book-mobile chase and all) ... although my cynical self tells me the ending was too happy to be realistic.

08 December 2009

Fight Like A Girl

The Ring by Bobbie Pyron (WestSide Books, 2009).

I found out about The Ring a couple months ago when I was searching for boxing manga and, while it wasn't what I was looking for, it seemed pretty promising. A girl boxer with attitude problems? Where was this book twenty-years ago? I would have et it up with a spoon.

Now, I feel reallyreally old.

Mardie is a promising fifteen-year-old girl struggling to make sense of her life. Her mother died when she was four, her father seems to prefer her brother, her brother is annoyingly perfect, and her stepmother means well, but isn't her mom ... Like many of us at that age, Mardie makes some bad choices and gets in trouble. Her father, outraged by her shenanigans, grounds her for "god knows how long." While grounded, Mardie is dragged along to the gym by her stepmother and discovers boxing. She sees the girls boxing and can't get over "how strong and focused those girls looked, boxing up there in the ring ... they looked like they didn't give a shit what anybody else thought."

With her stepmother's help, Mardie convinces her dad it's okay for girls to box (gah!) and starts working out. Unfortunately, the mess that is the rest of her life keeps intruding on Mardie's fun and she must come to terms with it before the mess ruins boxing.

There are many issues raised in The Ring -- dead mom, stupid boyfriend, distant father, outed gay brother, incipient adulthood -- but somehow Pyron manages to work all these issues together into a ripping good read. The Ring just races along and, at the end, I wanted more. I don't say it often, but I hope this book has a sequel.

03 December 2009

"Such Things Happened."

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin Books, 2009).

In the bitter cold Wisconsin autumn of 1907, Ralph Truitt waits for his mail-order bride (a self-proclaimed "simple honest woman") to arrive on the afternoon train. Months before, he had placed an advertisement in the Chicago paper for “a reliable wife” and here she is. Surprisingly (or not), the woman who steps off the train is not the woman he was expecting and, as it will turn out, there is little about her that is simple or honest. But that is all right, because Truitt's has plans for his wife ...

I had some difficulty getting through A Reliable Wife. I don't know why -- the descriptions of places and things were stunning (this is a great book for readers who like "setting porn") and the motivations behind different characters's behaviors were compelling -- but I still suffered an overwhelming sense of "meh" when I reached the novel's end.

(I have to admit I picked this book up, because the author was supposed to have been inspired by Wisconsin Death Trip -- a book currently circulating like mad at my library. You don't have to have read it to enjoy A Reliable Wife, but it does add a certain amount of context to all the madness and depravity found within the novel).

29 November 2009

Away With the Fairies

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (Knopf, 2007).

Once upon a time in deepest darkest Transylvania, a wealthy merchant lives in a tumble-down castle with his five daughters. The merchant's health is not good and, following his physician's advice, he departs for a gentler clime. He leaves his business in the hands of his second eldest daughter, but (alas) this does not sit well with their pig-headed cousin, who does not think a girl should be put in such a position. Slowly, horribly, he takes control of their lives and makes the sisters prisoners in their own home ...

Meanwhile, the sisters had been sneaking out every full moon to dance with the fairies in a magic wood. One full moon, the eldest sister falls head-over-heels for a pale visitor to the fairy court -- one of the (dumdumdum) Night People -- and enters into what can only be an ill-fated love affair ...

And then there is the second-eldest daughter's pet frog who may well be more than a frog!

Overall, I enjoyed Wildwood Dancing. While the eldest daughter's wasting-away-lovelornness was incomprehensible to me (Many times I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and say "Don't sigh and stop eating! Fight for your love, you stupid girl!"), Marillier's world building was very good and I would love to read more about the other sisters.

22 November 2009

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood



These things sneak up on him for no reason, these flashes of irrational happiness. It's probably a vitamin deficiency.

I finished Oryx & Crake two weeks ago and still don't know what to say about it. Meh, I guess, sums it up best.

While Jimmy the Snowman is possibly the only human left alive on a plague devastated Earth, he is far from the only person. With him are the Crakers -- green-eyed mosquito-repelling plant-eaters who are genetically incapable of believing in God.

Once upon a time, Jimmy had lived in a world divided between rich, secure compounds and overpopulated, crime-ridden pleeblands. A world controlled by science-for-profit entities like HelthWyzer, OrgansInc, or AnooYoo. A world of synthesized foods and commodified everything. A world not too distant from our own.

Happily, Jimmy's friend Crake grew up obsessed with ridding the Earth of homo sapiens -- a species with too much monkey still in it. Instead, he would replace us with his green-eyed children, the Crakers.

I thought the premise behind Oryx and Crake was very compelling, but the actual novel was so intellectually removed for me, as a reader, that it was impossible to feel any real horror or strong emotion. Also, I found most of the central characters to be blandly cardboard-ish or plain unlikeable (Jimmy was such a prat that I started rooting for the pigoons).

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese, 2003)

14 November 2009

Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai


Sorykah, an submarine engineer with a secret history of gender-swapping, comes ashore to welcome the arrival of her infant twins and their nanny. Who never arrive -- they have been stolen away by The Collector's monstrous henchman. Thus begins Sorykah's epic quest to retrieve her children from the Collector's monstrous machinations in a world riddled with genetic anomalies.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but the second half bogged down with too many sub-plots and some very silly sexual shenanigans. Also, the text flowed weirdly in spots -- as if I was reading an awkward translation or a novel that was trying too hard to sound foreign and strange.

Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai (Del Rey, 2009)

08 November 2009

UR FEARS, LET ME TASTE THEM

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (Harper Teen, 2008).

In the universe of Wicked Lovely, the Summer King has found his Queen and (even if things didn't turn out quite as anticipated) everything is pure bliss and sunshine ... unless you're part of the Dark Court. Alas, members of the Dark Court feed on all those murky, dark, jaggedy-edged emotions that bliss and sunshine don't leave room for and thus they are becoming quite weak (and cranky) from hunger. What to do? Find a "willing" mortal, give her a magic tattoo, and funnel all of humanities ugly emotional bits through her. Yes, she might go crazy or die, but better her than the Dark Court ...

Ink Exchange is a companion novel and, as such, does not really touch upon the whole Aislinn-Keenan-Seth thing that got going in Wicked Lovely. If you want to know what happens with those three, then you need to read Fragile Eternity. There's a manga, too, but that is also more a companion piece than a direct continuation.

06 November 2009

Mah loot, let me show you it

An embarrassment of riches for my birthday! I had better deactivate all my pending inter-library loans, because it could take a while to get through this pile!

I don't even know where to start ...

29 October 2009

Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer


Lady Serena Spenborough's papa has died and left her inheritance in a trust controlled by, of all people, her high-handed ex-fiancé (obviously, dear papa had harbored certain hopes!). Now of "reduced" means, Lady Serena and her (very) young step-mama take up residence in Bath where Serena becomes reacquainted with a man who had loved her long ago. Meanwhile, the ex-fiancé is up to shenanigans of his own with a terrified young thing just out of the schoolroom!

I must admit that, shockingly, I did not think this Heyer romance was all the crack. Ivo's behavior towards Emily, when he wanted her to jilt him, was rather reprehensible. Especially as he only became engaged to her because Serena had engaged herself to the Major! Not good ton, dahlings.

Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin Books, 2004)

22 October 2009

"Black like iron, white like a swan."

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury, 2009).

I have a great weakness for retold tales and one of my favorite childhood fairy stories was the "Twelve Dancing Princesses," so how could I resist Princess of the Midnight Ball?

Galen, a young orphan soldier returned home from a terrible war, takes a job with his uncle tending the royal gardens. In the gardens, he meets Princess Rose and is smitten. Hearing there is a mystery surrounding Rose and her eleven sisters -- they wear their dancing shoes out at a prodigious rate -- he sets out to uncover the truth ...

The author did a nice job of weaving in many of the details from the "original" fairy tale while still creating a novel not overly bogged down in detail -- indeed, the novels moves along quickly and remains adequately suspenseful even though we all know the ending! My only disappointment with Princess of the Midnight Ball was in its shallowness of characterization -- aside from Rose and Galen, many characters had little in the way of individual personalities but were simply represented as a particular type (Hyacinth was churchy, the King was shouty, Uncle Reiner was shouty ...)

18 October 2009

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood


I am glad we have all remembered our sunhats.

I never read Oryx and Crake. Meant to, most certainly, but had been on a pretty strong Sheri S. Tepper bender when Atwood’s novel was released and didn’t have it in me to start what I presumed would be just another post-apocalyptic green feminist novel. Then, a few months ago, I read the first ten pages on yearoftheflood.com and, woo-boy, I could not wait to get my hot little handses the companion novel.

Oh, Year of the Flood was great! A future world in which shadowy corporations manipulate everything from suburban gated communities while cities go to pot? A future world policed by a sinister storm trooper-esque security force called CorpSeCorps? A future world in which chicken nuggets grow on stalks (you can feel better about eating them because they never had eyes)? And then there are those crazy hippy God's Gardeners with their rooftop gardens and terrible hymns!

I was having a rip-roaring good time right up until the last dozen or so pages, when I lost track of the story. At that point, I think it would have been a good idea to have put Year of the Flood aside and picked up Oryx and Crake for, without knowing the ending of Oryx and Crake, the companion novel’s ending didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I had a horrible feeling I was missing something important.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (Talese, 2009)

13 October 2009

"'We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits ...'"

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (Harper Teen, 2007).

For centuries, the Summer King has been searching for his Queen while his mother, the Winter Queen, thwarts and binds him with the help of the Dark Court. Sometimes, he finds a special girl that might be The One. Alas, most of those special girls choose to skip the Queenship test and become Summer Girls – perpetually happy and, um, "sexually open." Some special girls do take the test and fail, becoming the Winter Girl – bound to thwart the Summer King in his search for his Queen. O, woe, waily, waily. Soon Winter will rule us all.

All their lives, Aislinn and her Gran have been able to see faeries – not twee Victorian flower fairies, but horrible, cruel, monstrous faeries. She and her Gran have lived carefully, trying not to attract faery attention for fear of what would happen if their Sight was discovered. Would the faeries blind them? Kill them? Or something worse?

And now two faeries are following Aislinn …

Wicked Lovely is a delicious bit of urban fantasy. When I first picked it up, I was a little worried that the novel would annoy me the same Twilight did with its whole “monster wants girl” theme, but Wicked Lovely takes it to a very different conclusion. Ash knows she does not love the monster and that her desire is a danger to her self and those she loves. Yet, it is inevitable that she should become the Summer Queen … isn’t it?

(I think, if you liked Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, then you might enjoy Wicked Lovely).

06 October 2009

April Lady by Georgette Heyer


Nell, a young bride still unused to her new wealth, finds she has overspent her quarterly allowance and has acquired a (to her) frightful debt. Desperate that her husband, Cadross, not know, she turns to her gamester brother. While her brother is skint, he does have a Cunning Plan.

Which fails. So he concocts another plan. Which does not go as ... planned. Meanwhile, Nell's behavior towards her husband becomes increasingly distant and formal. Cadross begins to think all his friends were right when they said Nell was marrying him for his money and title. And Nell (thanks to bad advice from her Mama) fears Cadross married her out of convenience and will never believe she loves him -- especially now that she is in debt up to her eyeballs.

And then there is Cadross's sister, Letitia! Pretty, headstrong Letitia who is up to no good with an upstanding young man of prospect but no position ... she will turn their love into something out of a horrid novel, see if she won't.

Oh, the silliness! A lovely bit of fluff to read on a blustery October day.

April Lady by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin, 2005)

04 October 2009

Shame

After by Amy Efaw (Viking, 2009).
Devon Davenport works hard to be a straight-A and star soccer player. She is going to go somewhere with her life. She is not going to be like her mother. And life seemed to be going Devon's way, until That Morning.

That Morning, the baby was discovered in the trash behind Devon's apartment building. That Morning, the police found Devon home sick from school ...

After
is a tightly-written novel about a heartbreaking subject. It was impossible not to become emotionally invested in this book -- so much so that I wouldn't mind a sequel. What happens after After?


27 September 2009

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer


"... the most buffleheaded clunch I ever saw in my life!"

Sir Waldo Hawkridge, a paragon of masculinity, comes down from town with his cousin, Lord Julian Lindeth, to turn a recently inherited ramshackle estate into an orphanage. Yes, he's rich, handsome, educated, and philanthropic -- no wonder the ladies are all a-twitter!

Being quite the catch, the two men are invited to various parties hosted by the local fashionable set. And so they make the acquaintance of the local Beauty, Tiffany Wield, and her wrangler Miss Ancilla Trent, a somber-minded young woman of impeccable breeding who is the perfect foil for Tiffany's spoilt and reckless ways.

Waldo and Ancilla fall in love from afar. Of course, there are obstacles in their inevitable path to matrimony (Tiffany Wield, for one), but everything works out as it ought to in the end.

All of Heyer's romances are enjoyable reads, but Nonesuch takes the cake. 'Pon rep, its witty repartee and use of cant make it one of the most enjoyable bags of moonshine I've read in a long time (well, since Sprig Muslin).

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009).

22 September 2009

Cue Unnecessary Subplot(s) ...

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn (Avon, 2009).
Sir Harry Valentine works for the boring branch of the War Office, translating documents vital to national security. He's not a spy, but he's had all the training, and when a gorgeous blonde begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious. But just when he decides that she's nothing more than a nosy débutante, he discovers that she might be engaged to a foreign prince, who might be plotting against England. And when Harry is roped into spying on Olivia, he discovers that he might be falling for her himself...
Read this on the train going down to D.C. and it was ripping good fun ... right up 'til the end when the story just tapers out. Olivia's deflowering on the couch during the ball struck me as bit icky and the "suspenseful" kidnapping subplot seemed tacked on and unnecessary.

18 September 2009

Zombies and Necromancers, Oh My

Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk (Roc, 2009).

I know I'm not enjoying a book when I spend more time analyzing its cover than I do reading it. I know prospective readers aren't going to want to see cover art of a woman looking pretty beat to shit, but really could Cover Allie just look a little bit more like Story Allie? Toward the end of Magic to the Bone, she describes her banged up body pretty clearly:
The image in the mirror was a shock. Whorls of metallic ribbons marked me from temple to fingertip on my right, rings of black banded my fingers, wrist, and elbow on my left. The blood magic scars on my left deltoid were slashes of red.

A ragged, pink scar as wide as my hand puckered just below my ribs on the left, and a thumb-sized circle sat just below my collarbone.

Wow. So much for wearing a bikini.
So not how I would describe the worryingly thin babe with the sexy metal tats on the cover of Magic in the Blood (and she gets even more beat to hell in Blood).

I do not think I will read the third installment in this series -- I am getting tired of the secrecy, there are too many plot-threads to keep track of, Allie and Zayvion's love thing doesn't interest me, and the memory-damage is getting annoying. Oh my god, Allie and her forgetting! If only I could forget, too!

17 September 2009

Oh, Baby, You're My Soul Complement

Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk (Roc, 2009).

Thirty years ago, magic was (officially) discovered and commercially harnessed. Besides doing great good, magic can be used for Very Bad Things and the cost of using magic -- for good or ill -- can be high. "Good" users pass the cost off to a Proxy (creepily, this seems to include prison inmates) or Disburse the cost to themselves at a later date. Less scrupulous users Offload the cost on to innocents. It is Allison's job, as a Hound in Portland, to trace the source of illegal spells or Offloads and bring the baddies to justice.

Of course, Allison isn't just a Hound -- she is also the recalcitrant daughter of the man who pretty much holds that patents on everything magic. Or held. Dearest Daddy is dead and Allie's signature is all over his murder ...

Good times, good times.

An interesting premise and Monk really tries to make her world work, but there was a just little too much story packed into Magic to the Bone for it to form a coherent whole. While I'm not dying to read the rest of the series, it seems the only way to reach a satisfactory conclusion -- Where did the magic "coins" go? Are Cody and Allie Savants? Who is Zayvion? Who is Vitamin Man? Where is the first Mrs. Beckstrom in all this? And why is a girl who just inherited over half her father's incredibly lucrative corporation so worried about money?

12 September 2009

Vay-kay Picsies

collage of Washington DC photosWhile we enjoyed many of the D.C. museums we visited, I must give a shout out to the National Postal Museum and United States Government National Archives and Records Administration -- two institutions which deserve much better coverage in travel guides.

The Postal Museum's exhibit "Alphabetilately" was highly enjoyable and covered many fascinating topics like v-mail and railway post.

As for NARA ... I know everyone goes there to see the Big Three (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights) but many of the exhibits were far more compelling -- Charles P. Ingalls's application for a grant of 154 acres in the Dakota Territory under the 1863 Homestead Act was on display, for pete's sake!

(And let's not forget bit about Virginia Hall of the OSS who, despite an amputated leg, organized numerous sabotage operations against German forces in France).

01 September 2009

Vay-kay, Dahlings

Packed my laptop, laminated map, Michelin Must Sees Washington D.C., and Pauline Frommer's Washington D.C. ... off to see the Library of Congress and *swoon* National Archives.

(I'd previously posted that we would be attending the First Annual North American Discworld Convention this week, but we decided we'd rather not risk it).


View D.C. 2009 in a larger map

11 August 2009

Must. Not. Eat.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2009).

I have been a huge fan of Laurie Halse Anderson ever since I read Speak -- her books tend to incredibly well-crafted, suck-you-in-and-never-let-you-go-reads. Books I gulped down in one reading, because I had to know what was going to happen. They're also books that stuck with me for days, if not weeks, afterwards. And all this remains true of Wintergirls.

Lia and Cassie, wintergirls with bodies that could never be thin or pretty or controlled enough, had been best friends since third grade, but their friendship recently ended at the insistence of Cassie's parents. Now Cassie has died alone in a motel room and Lia is trapped in a downward self-destructive spiral. Ghosts pursue her. Sadness overwhelms her. Rage threatens her. And there is no-one for Lia to talk to.

Cutting, anorexia, death, depression... Wintergirls was not an easy read and yet it really is one of those books that needs to be read. That won't allow you to put it down. The world in Lia's head is a dark, sharp, claustrophobic one which feels all too creepily real -- I don't know how Anderson did it, but Lia's world-view became almost seductively normal after a few chapters and I had to keep reminding myself that it was not.

07 August 2009

GLOM OF NIT ...

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (Corgi, 1994)

In Men at Arms, Edward d'Eath, a piss poor (and quite mad) aristo who thinks things need to go back to the way they used to be, is determined to return the True King of Ankh-Morpork to His Rightful Throne. To do so he will need to use the gonne.

Alas for poor Edward, the gonne has plans of its own ...

The fifteenth Discworld novel and still a pleaser -- I've read it three times now and bits still make me grin (admittedly, I am a sucker for all Watch books).

17 July 2009

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams


First heard about Reality Check on NPR a few weeks ago and, though I don't usually read thrillers or suspense novels, thought the novel sounded pretty good. Happily, a couple libraries in our consortium owned it so I placed a hold and it arrived just in time for vacation. Nothing like starting vacation with a fat pile of books to read!

Clea is much cleverer,‭ ‬much richer,‭ ‬and destined for far greater things than her boyfriend Cody.‭ ‬Alas,‭ ‬poor Cody,‭ ‬with his mom dead from cancer and ‬a dad driven by‭ ‬anger and alcohol … ‬he's a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is going no-where fast and is bound to take Clea down with him.‭ ‬Or so Clea’s father supposes when he packs her off to Japan after Clea comes home with a C is calculus.‭ ‬A C‭! ‬That boy’s no good,‭ ‬I tell you!

Love survives Japan,‭ ‬but when Clea leaves again (this time for a posh boarding school in Vermont),‭ ‬Cody breaks up with her.‭ ‬Not because he doesn’t love her,‭ ‬anymore,‭ ‬no.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬because he loves her enough to set her free of his influence.‭ ‬Clea goes away,‭ ‬Cody’s life continues its downward spiral and then‭ …

And then the chickie ups and disappears‭! ‬Yes,‭ ‬Clea goes missing from her boarding school.‭ An unfortunate accident, everyone suppose. Everyone except Cody, ‬of course. And there begins the tale …

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams (HarperTeen, 2009).

12 July 2009

Ally (Wess'har Wars, Book Five) by Karen Traviss


The Eqbas Vorhi (the militant branch of the Wess'har ) are still bent on tidying up the ecological disaster that is Umeh before they head off to Earth to do the same thing for us. Alas, they are overextended and call in help from the Skavu -- a species so militant in its commitment to ecological protection that it makes the Eqbas Vorhi look positively cuddly.

Meanwhile, Lindsey continues to help the bezeri migrate to land ( thanks to a handy infusion of c'naatat ) to rebuild their lost civilization. Of course, she doesn’t think this through and all sorts of not-really-good things happen.

And Aras, Shan, and Ade all continue to try to cope with the aftermath of Shan’s abortion … which was a whole book ago. (And I wish they would get over it already. Which makes me heartless, I know, but A/S/A seemed to spend most of this book not doing much besides moping and having conversations they'd already had in other books. Goshdarnit).

And, if that weren’t enough, c'naatat finds a new host !

(Insert ominous drum roll here‎)‏.

Overall, not the best book in the series as much of it just felt like set-up for Judge. All I can do now is cross my fingers and hope that the finale lives up to my expectations ...

RYOB Challenge 2009: Ally (Wess'har Wars, Book Five) by Karen Traviss (Eos, 2007)

09 July 2009

A Real Lady Killer

Graceling by Kristine Cashore (Harcourt, 2008).

Lady Katsa of the Middluns (unsurprisingly, the most central of the Seven Kingdoms) bears a terrible killing Grace. Her ruthless uncle, King Randa, makes good use of Katsa’s skills by having her torture, maim, or kill those who interfere with his governance. Understandably, Katsa doesn’t like living under her uncle’s tyrannical thumb, but it isn’t until Katsa meets Prince Po, a fine fighter (and figure of a man) with a secret Grace, that she begins to believe she can gain her Independence …

Together with Po, Kata sets out to save his cousin, Princess Bitterblue, from her abusive/insane/creepily Graced father. Along the way, Katsa will display her totally l33tin' killing skills by taking on an army (and let's not forget the mountain lion!). Of course, she will also discover her true love, her true self, and her true Grace.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like Graceling as much as I expected to. The plot was quite unique, nearly all the characters were well written, and Katsa was the kind of smart, resourceful, kick-ass heroine I am inclined to like and yet … I don’t find myself dying to read the prequel (Fire) or sequel (Bitterblue). The world of the Seven Kingdoms never seemed as real to me as its inhabitants did and so I'm not dying to revisit it.

05 July 2009

North and South


"... a strong-minded woman, equal to any emergency."

This was my second attempt at reading Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. The first time was immediately after viewing the BBC production and the film was too much in my mind. I also made the mistake, in my eagerness to "really get into the novel," of reading the introduction first. Since I left college, I never start with introductions as I find they tend to make me read novels in a more scholarly/literary way ... I find myself looking for motive and meaning, device and theme, when I should just be eating up the actual meat of the story.

Anyway, by the time I picked North and South up again I had forgotten enough of the film and the introduction to not be hindered by suppositions as to what awaited me in the novel. I knew it would be good and that was quite enough ...

Margaret Hale, a proud vicar's daughter from rural southern England, must adjust to the changes in her life when her father leaves the Church after a "crisis of conscience" and moves the family to the northern industrial town of Milton (where no-one will know them and he will not be reminded of his failing -- he pays poor thought to his family's ability to cope with this life change and I found his handling of the situation to be rather appalling).

In Milton, Margaret slowly discovers her own inner strengths as she takes over the running of their new (impoverished) household when it becomes clear her mother is too ill (and weak) and her father too impractical (and weak) to do so.

Despite her reduced circumstances, Margaret still entertains the same shocking class prejudices she picked up from living in London with her gentrified relations. She is appalling snobbish and close-minded in her opinion of the industrial North, its manufacturers and tradesmen, its hustle and bustle. Happily, Margaret soon gets a rude awakening from mill owner John Thornton, who is well respected by his peers and his employees, but no gentleman as Margaret would define such a man. As the two interact, Thornton comes to love her even though he knows Margaret will never have him ...

But, of course, she does. In the end. After they both learn not to be all proud and uppity and stop making terrible presumptions about people.

In a nutshell: It's Pride in Prejudice in the Industrial Revolution! (Let's face it, Mr. Darcy would have been so much sexier with his own steam engine ... or is that just me? I like a strong, principled, working hero who will probably not, in a fit of ennui, gamble the family estate away).

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Penguin Books, 2003)

03 July 2009

Catching Up With That Sookie Girl: The Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge



I read the first five Sookie Stackhouse ("Southern Vampire Mysteries") novels quite a while ago now and liked the series so much I couldn't stop talking about it. Ended up turning The Husband and Mother-in-Law on to them and now they have overtaken me in reading the series and are all fidgety waiting to read A Touch of Dead while I am still stuck at "OMG, Alcide is so irritating!" The sad thing is that I loved the first four Sookie books and truly meant to go on and read more, but Dead as a Doornail (book five) was not so fantastic and ... well, the terrible truth is that the world is full of interesting books and I am, quite frankly, easily distracted ...

Ooo! Shiny thing!

Happily, Beth Fish is hosting a reading challenge to help me "catch up on Sookie and all her friends -- living and undead, fully human and not." I know I don't have to start back at the beginning, but why wouldn't I want to revisit old friends?

I will be (re)reading:
  1. Dead Until Dark
  2. Living Dead in Dallas
  3. Club Dead
  4. Dead to the World
  5. Dead as a Doornail
  6. Definitely Dead
  7. All Together Dead
  8. From Dead to Worse
  9. Dead and Gone
There's also a bunch of Sookie-related stories included in supernatural-themed collections like Many Bloody Returns, Bite, Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, and My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, but I don't think I'll be revisiting them. Although, who knows? I have a whole year to catch up.

Yay!

02 July 2009

"'Hooray, hooray for the spinster's sister's daughter.'"

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (Corgi Books, 1996).

In the midnight heart of the City of Ankh-Morpork (the Discworld's oldest, greatest, and grubbiest city), The Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night (guardian of the sacred knowledge since a time no man wot of last February) plot to overthrow the tyrant and install a puppet king ...

Who dares to stand in their way? The Night Watch, of course! Captain Vimes, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobbs, and shiny new volunteer Carrot Ironfoundersson will save the day with a little help from a lady, a librarian, and a total wittle ...

Third time I've read this book and it still made me chuckle.

Next up, Men at Arms.

15 June 2009

"Well presented. That's what it is, well presented."

Kafka's Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes by Mark Crick (Harcourt, 2005).

Admittedly this book's subtitle is a bit misleading -- fourteen writers hardly make a "complete history of world literature." Secondly, despite the ingredient lists, these aren't really recipes so much as culinary imitations of different writer's styles ...
That said, I found this book to be pretty darn entertaining and spot-on in its imitation of authors like Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen, Irvine Welsh, and Virginia Woolf. However, while Kafka's "Quick Miso Soup" and Woolf's "Clafoutis Grandmère" were all very fine and Literary, I admit my favorite "recipe" was for "Rich Chocolate Cake" à la Irvine Welsh -- written with such a thick Scottish brogue and so riddled with curse words that it simply begs to be read out loud. The cake, too, sounds delectable:
Ah take the pan off the heat while ah crack two eggs into a jug. Ma eyes focus long enough oan the shells tae read the crack by date: the bastards want me tae throw them oot and buy more. Mebbe the hen that laid them is sitting in the freezer doon at Scotmid, but ah know they keep for months. There's nae need tae beat the eggs: the 14:22 from Kings Cross goes by the windae and stirs every fucking thing, including me. Ah measure oot the flour and at the sight of such a mountain of white powder ah'm tempted tae stick ma nose in. Ah add the eggs and flour to the mixture and pour in a drop of port. Ah hae a drop masel; it's no bad, so ah put some more intae the pan. The bottle's soon finished. Ah've drunk half and the other half's goan intae the mixture -- greedy fuckin' cake.

12 June 2009

"Once upon a time, there was a little girl."

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse, 2008).



Living Dead Girl made my flesh crawl and left me feeling like some kind of dirty voyeur and, yet, I want you to read it. And then, if you will read Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Susan Palwick's Flying in Place, we can start a Living Dead Girl reading challenge.

I don't know if I'm joking or not ... there are books that must be read if only because they make us feel bad.

11 June 2009

"Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart ..."

The ChaliceChalice by Robin McKinley (Putnam Juvenile, 2008).

The demesne of Willowlands is in distress -- fires have broken out across the land, the earthlines weep, the people are unsettled. The former Master, a reckless tyrant who reveled in his power and neglected his duties, died in a terrible fire with his Chalice. His disapproving younger brother had been sent away to the Fire priests seven years before and those who go to the Elemental priesthoods cannot return as human beings. Yet, the Willowlands's Circle sends for him to heal their troubled land ...

Mirasol, who was until eleven months ago, a mere beekeeper and woodright, finds herself the new Chalice. Her duty is to bind the Circle, the people, and the demesne of Willowlands into a unified and harmonious whole. The position having come upon her out so suddenly, Mirasol has no training or experience and is frequently racked with doubt. Her powers are so unknown to her and Willowlands so fractured, that uniting it under the rule of a Master who barely remembers he is human seems downright impossible. But, Mirasol must try, because where else can hope lie if not with the new Master?

Because Chalice is a somewhat slow-paced and gentle read which does not tell its story in a linear way, some readers may find it hard going. However, I think readers who enjoy a beautiful turn of phrase and lushly descriptive writing will find themselves very much taken with this novel. I will warn you that Chalice may leave you with a powerful hunger for honey as it is chock-full of references to honey, bees, and beekeeping! By the time I finished with it, I was desperate for some buttered toast dripping with honey!

05 June 2009

Librarians on the Loose

Sunday's librarian trip to New York City was pretty fun. Oh, getting up at seven on a Sunday morning is never fun -- neither was getting home at one thirty the following morning -- but sleep was a sacrifice well worth making.

We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and toured the newly reopened American Wing, the André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, Egyptian Art, and saw just gobs of impossibly beautiful art I wanted to rip off the walls and take home with me. (Purchased: Doris Lessing's On Cats).

After many hours at the Met, we also visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Luckily, we picked a gorgeous day and much of the Garden was already in bloom. I needn't have worried the rose garden would be a wash -- it was perfect! Indeed, another week and we might have been too late! I took many photographs of the gardens, of course, and left racked with envy and lust. (Purchased: Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart).

On our way back to Grand Central Terminal, we stopped in at Strand Book Store and some of us (me) loaded up on books. Well, how could I not? The stock was so broad and the prices so phenomenal that I had a hard time reining myself in. In the end, I purchased Touchy Subjects and The Sealed Letter (won a Lambda last week!) by Emma Donoghue and the comic Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth.

Next spring, we're going to go visit The New York Botanic Garden and The Cloisters Museum and Garden.


03 June 2009

Passé Blanc

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008).

A few months ago, I stumbled upon Reading Rants! Out of the Ordinary Teen Booklists! which has a tons of reading lists on all sorts of different topics -- including one called "Historical Fiction for Hipsters: Stories from the past that won’t make you snore!" And there, second from the top, was Flygirl. I hadn't heard of Flygirl before, but it sounded so fantastic that I immediately fired off an inter-library loan request.

Flygirl tells the story of Ida Mae Jones -- a light-skinned nineteen-year-old woman living in 1940s Louisiana. Ida wants to be a pilot, but no-one will give a pilot's license to a black woman. Dearie me, no. Dead-set on achieving her dream, she has been saving money to attend the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago. Then the War comes and the WASP -- Women Airforce Service Pilots -- are created. If Ida can become a WASP she can do her part for the war effort and finally be a real pilot. Of course, Uncle Sam doesn't want any African American women pilots! Oh, no, only white ladies can fly! So Ida counterfeits a pilot's license and signs up as a white woman ...

Flygirl was fantastic. Indeed, I can't stop talking to other librarians about this novel. It's a history, adventure, and coming-of-age story all rolled together with just a tiny bit of romance for added interest. It's the kind of book I think would appeal to most teen readers -- even the one's who think historicals are boring -- and more than a few adults. I find myself desperately wishing a movie will be made of it and there aren't many books I wish that of!

I'm looking forward to reading Amy Nathan's Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots Of World War II (National Geographic Society, 2001) and Nella Larsen's Passing (Penguin Classics, 2003). I have also netflixed the "Fly Girls" episode of PBS's American Experience, because I just can't get enough of girls in zoot suits.

30 May 2009

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner


I had never before seen somebody I admired understand what was expected of him, choose to act otherwise, and be happier for it. For the first time in my life I realized that it was possible to reinvent oneself.

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through some old issues of Publisher's Weekly in a desultory fashion, vaguely hoping something fantastic would jump up and say "read me, woman!" when Swish caught my eye. This essay collection did not get a good review in PW, but the book's title and the review's reference to knitting were enough to have me reaching for an inter-library loan slip. And a good thing, too. Swish turned out to be just the right mix of funny and introspective -- exactly what I needed in my continued recovery from Bad Novel Brain Fog.

Joel Derfner has been celebrating his gayness since he was six years old at summer day camp, and hasn’t stopped since. On the way to becoming The Gayest Person Ever, he has been an aerobics instructor, musical theater composer, go-go dancer, and a member of the gay cheerleading squad. He also knits fabulously. In his essay collection, Swish, he covers everything from his relationship with his mother to "transformational ministry" (ex-gay movement) in a way which is both extremely funny and brutally honest. I recommend this book to everyone -- especially that bits about knitting and the essay on Exodus's transformational ministry.

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner (Broadway Books, 2008)

27 May 2009

"Dragon whips tail."

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (Viking, 2008).

Eon is the first book in a fantasy duology, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, from Alison Goodman, an Australian novelist previously only known to me as the author of ALA Best Book Singing the Dogstar Blues. I picked Eon up seeking relief from Burmese Days and more than willing to follow a plucky teenage heroine into danger. I've always had a weakness for plucky teenage heroines, you know.

Eon tells the story of a young student who has spent years training to be selected to become the next Dragoneye -- a position of great power and wealth. Eon, alas, carries two great burdens to the testing grounds. First, he is a cripple -- this carries a great stigma in his society and he is considered unlucky to be around. Secondly, he is a she -- females are forbidden to study magic and Eona will be quite brutally executed if the truth is known. Eon must hide her secret and cope with her deformity while picking her way through dangerous snarls of Court etiquette and thwarting a plot to overthrow the Emperor!

I liked this novel so much I stayed up until three in the morning to finish reading it. Yes, the plucky heroine sucked me in, but the soul-searching and world-building held me fast. Set in a mythical land reminiscent of ancient China, Goodman has created a unique and compelling novel. Fans of Tamora Pierce's Alanna or Sherwood Smith's Crown and Court Duel or Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otoro series will probably like this book, as well as anyone interested in Eastern cultures. Or dragons. Or plucky heroines. I look forward to reading the next book in the duology, Eona: The Last Dragoneye.

(That said, I have to admit that the sexual overtones in Ido's possession of Eon gave me the creeps and I'm not sure I would recommend this novel to readers under 14).

25 May 2009

"Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably-Priced Love and a Hard-Boiled Egg!"

The scent rolled over him.
He looked up.
Overhead, a lilac tree was in bloom.
He stared.
Damn! Damn! Damn! Every year he forgot. Well, no. He never forgot. He just put the memories away, like old silverware that you didn't want to tarnish. And every year they came back, sharp and sparkling, and stabbed him in the heart. And today, of all days ...
It's 25 May! Time to start re-reading Terry Pratchett's Night Watch!

20 May 2009

Birdie @ My Window

We have several American Goldfinches visiting our yard this spring. Aside from this inquisitive girlie, most of them have been hanging out at the pole feeder. I would have thought she was too big for the window feeder, but she seemed pretty content.


Sheer torture for the cats, of course!

19 May 2009

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall


Life's not all beer and skittles.

As we all know, The Well of Loneliness is the grandmother of Lesbian literature. It tells the story of sexual invert (lesbian) Stephen Gordon whose sexual leanings are ruddy obvious from a very tender age. She falls in love first with a maid and then later with a neighbor, but that relationship goes badly and she is forced to leave her home. Eventually, Stephen goes to France where she serves as an ambulance driver in World War I and falls in love with Mary Llewellyn. Alas, their love is complicated by social inhibitions and comes to no good end.

If The Well of Loneliness sounds depressing, that is because it is. It is also rather beautiful and enraging. Yes, after I finished reading this novel, I admit I wanted to go tip some cars over and set them on fire. And then re-read the novel.

Irritatingly, many of the issues raised in The Well of Loneliness are still issues we face today. Whether it is safe to have a public relationship. Whether one may marry and have children. Whether one may manage the death of a loved one. Issues from 1928, still on the table today.

That said, The Well of Loneliness isn't just a "message" novel. It is also a beautifully written romantic tragedy full of enough determined characters and purple-y prose to entertain any lover of chunky historic novels.

RYOB Challenge 2009: Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (Avon Books, 1981)

15 May 2009

Pretty, Pretty Curtains

Pretty much ever since we moved in, I have been toying with the idea of quilted patchwork valances for my sewing room. I've daydreamed over many a pattern and fat quarter bundle, but never been able to commit. A lot has to do with the ugly bubbling red and white walls of my sewing room. It's hard to imagine anything looking pretty against them.


Last weekend, I had some kind of brainstorm while browsing Fabric.com in the middle of the night and ended up ordering a jelly roll of "Nouveau" by Sentimental Studios for Moda and two yards of Wilmington Prints's "Essentials Scroll" in light ivory. Alas, by the time the fabric arrived, I had forgotten my brilliant plan! What was I supposed to do with these fabrics? Why had I not jotted down notes? Oh noes!

Today, I unrolled the strips and held them up to the window and, against the bright light of the afternoon, they were beautiful. So beautiful that I decided to bite that darn bullet and piece some valances ...

Every time I started to panic (and I panicked quite a lot), I just held the strip set up to the windows, oooh-ed a bit at the play of light through them, and went back to my sewing machine. The tops are done now -- it took about three hours to cut and piece the two of them -- and now I have to wrap my head around quilting them. I want them to have a bit of body, but not be too stiff. The thin cotton batting I normally quilt with is, I think, too thick for this and so I wonder if felt might work ...

Probably, I am over-thinking a pair of valances.

Lest you think I spent all my time fretting over fabric, I also made turkey soup from the carcass of the one I roasted on Wednesday. The soup, while very basic (turkey with mixed vegetables and barley flakes), is quite flavorful from its afternoon adventure on the stove top and will probably not last long in this house.

I was also smart enough to keep some of the turkey meat back for "Turkey Enchiladas" and we will have the enchiladas for Saturday's supper with a bit of green salad and beer.

03 May 2009

Gardening By The Book

vintage usda gardening posterI started a small vegetable garden and am considering starting a container garden on the porch. Because I can't just do something without reading all about it first, I've been making good use of the library's gardening collection.

Last fall, I built a small (3x9) bed. I had planned on using the method described in Patricia Lanza's Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! (Rodale Books, 1998), but it wasn't going to work for me as I had no moist compost or yard waste to contribute yet. Instead, I put about an inch of moistened newspaper down to smother the grass/weeds, then peat moss and manure into the bed. I let the bed sit over the winter and, a few weeks ago, worked in some compost, dirt, and Miracle-Gro Garden Soil. It's a beautiful looking bed.

Another useful book has been Mel Bartholomew's All New Square Foot Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2006) which has quite destroyed my fear of overcrowding. Following Bartholomew's instructions I should be able to get an astonishing amount of vegetables from that one bed. The lettuce seedlings are certainly thriving while taking up much less space than usual! What else can I pack into that bed?

Bush beans, bush cucumbers, and many varieties of tomato! There are many other things I would love to try growing, but I am sticking with the advice of many gardening writers who say I should start with easy things I know we'll eat.

The library has lots of books on container gardening and I've browsed enough of them now that I want to try a few containers, too. One of these weekends, I'll get a couple rectangular planters to edge the porch and fill them with peppers and herbs -- Lanza's Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces (Rodale Books, 2002) and Georgeanne Brennan's Little Herb Gardens (Chronicle Books, 2004) should come in handy, here.

30 April 2009

"Totem to King's Blood Four."

RYOB Challenge 2009: Sherri S. Tepper's The True Game (Ace, 1996).

In The True Game, a young man named Peter is sent from the safety of his school out into a world to find his mother. Along the way, he discovers a set of carved game pieces and a mysterious book ... long lost treasures that will reveal untold Talents, set in motion ancient plans, and tell the true history of his world.

I was very amused by Tepper's successful creation of a world based, apparently, on a Dungeons and Dragons-esque version of chess. The characters are (mostly) all pieces in the Game (from Pawns to Kings) and they are playing for life or death. The world of The True Game, you see, is entirely based on the Game. Its political and social structure, its economics and religion, are all dependent on what happens in the Game. As we learn through Peter, how you live your life and what Talents are discovered in you at adolescence, determines what sort of rank or type of piece you are in the Game. Of course, no-one wants to be a sacrificial Pawn!

The True Game collects the first three books in the True Game series (King's Blood Four, Necromancer's Nine, Wizard's Eleven). There are nine books in this series, grouped together in three different trilogies. The other two trilogies concern the boy's mother, Mavin Manyshaped (The Song of Mavin Manyshaped, The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped, The Search for Mavin Manyshaped) and his wife, Jinian (Jinian Footseer, Dervish Daughter, Jinian Star-Eye). I understand that the trilogies are not ordered chronologically (the middle trilogy happens first). I suspect, rather like with the Chronicles of Narnia, you could read them in either in the order set by the author or chronologically without your brain exploding!

20 April 2009

Yes, I See How Clever You Are (Shut Up, Already!)

RYOB Challenge 2009: John L'Heureux's The Handmaid of Desire (Soho Press, 1996).

The Handmaid of Desire is set in the English department of an unnamed California university ("The university") where Olga Kominska, a mysterious visiting professor famed for her feminist theory, has arrived to teach a course on Foucault. Will Olga be the answer to her peers's prayers or will she destroy their tiny incestuous universe?

The novel started off promisingly, but had become quite tedious by Part II. I began to hate all the characters and just wanted the book to end ...

The Handmaid of Desire is a snide little novel full of academic in-jokes and literary styling I am just too dumb to appreciate. I will be quite happy to donate it to the FOL book sale.

17 April 2009

"It's like a fairy tale," said Betsy. "A dark sort of fairy tale ..."

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1952) 

This is the second-to-last book in the fantastic Betsy-Tacy series. In this volume, Betsy is now twenty-one and is off to Europe for a year. College hasn’t worked out very well for her and, perhaps, a year abroad will help her become a better author. The story starts off with the trip across the Atlantic Ocean and leads her through Munich, Italy, and Great Britain. Betsy makes new friends, suffers homesickness, and writeswriteswrites.

Betsy and the Great World is a deliciously charming, but also a terribly bittersweet. Oh, I am sure Lovelace did not write it to be bittersweet and you may not read it as such, but I found it so. The novel describes a world which no longer exists -- indeed, stopped existing almost before the novel concludes. Betsy's joy and excitement, her friendships, her adventures ... they are all tainted by the creeping shadow of WWI.
Betsy and the Wilsons left Switzerland behind on the twenty-eighth of June. She remembered how, reading in a newspaper about the murder of an Austrian archduke in the Balkan town of Sarajevo, she amused herself as the train sped through the night by plotting a romantic novel full of titled corpses, spies, and intrigue.
Even though I know I'm worrying about fictional people, I find myself wondering what happened to poor Tilda and Helena? Did Hanni marry her soldier? Would any of them have survived the War?

And I did cry, old sap that I am, when war was declared, the Territorials were called up, and it looked like Betsy had better get out of England while she still could.

I think I’ll be reading this book again (along with L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside) the next time I'm feeling a bit maudlin and romantic.

12 April 2009

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon


Out there is the dark: the dark we don't know about yet.

In a near-future America, where autism can be identified and cured in utero, Lou is a high-functioning autistic who has adapted very successfully to living in "normal" society. He works, with other high-functioning autistics, for a company which values his pattern-recognition skills. One day, he hears rumors of an experimental new treatment which might make the remaining autistic people "normal."

Lou's senior manager also hears about this treatment and decides all autistic employees should have this treatment -- whether they want it or not.

Lou is conflicted -- should he take the treatment and become "normal?" Who would a "normal" Lou be? Is it better to be “normal?” What is "normal," anyway?

This is a thought-y sort of book and much recommended.

(I'm still amused by Crenshaw's casual dismissal of "that woman, whatever her name was, that designed slaughter-houses or something" -- he is referring, of course, to Temple Grandin, author of such excellent books as Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior and Emergence: Labeled Autistic).

RYOB Challenge 2009: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (Ballantine Books, 2004)