Stuff and Nonsense: September 2010


Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy

Jogging at midnight through Central Park, public defender Margrit Knight encounters a pale, unseasonably dress man whom she dismisses as just another random New York lunatic ... until he turns up on the morning news as a murder suspect.

Her lunatic, Alban, is a gargoyle – a member of the Old Races who have hidden their existence from humans for centuries while living side by side with them. He has been quietly stalking Margrit for years, but now must reveal himself to her as he needs Margrit's help to prove his innocence.

While the Old Races Who Live Hidden Amongst Us shtick is not particularly original, Murphy’s take on it is well done and I like that she focused on lesser know supernaturals like selkies and gargoyles rather than done-to-death vampires and werewolves. I also like that Margrit starts as an ordinary woman and stays an ordinary woman. No superpowers, no fairy gifts – she gets by purely on grit, intelligence, and courage.

Unfortunately, Alban’s stalking of Margit creeped me out as it seemed more like a symptom of his obsession with his long-lost wife and less like an admirable gesture of love.  Of course, I never liked CBS’s Beauty and the Beast much and would not be pleased to discover Edward Cullen watched me while I slept! However, if you like the idea of a Mysterious Protector/Lover, then you will probably have no problem with Alban's behavior ....

Creepy stalking aside, I thought Heart of Stone was an entertaining afternoon read and I do look forward to reading the next book in the Negotiator series.

Heart of Stone (The Negotiator, Book One) by C.E. Murphy (Luna, 2007)


"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
     Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
     And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

            -- excerpted from "To Autumn" by John Keats
Autumn in the Lake District, 2003


Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom by Queen Latifah

I admit I have a serious crush on Queen Latifah. Such beautiful, savvy woman who carries herself with such grace, style, and evident self-worth -- she's one of the few celebrities I would actually like to meet. Obviously, I was please to borrow her latest book, Put On Your Crown, from my library system.

In Put On Your Crown, Latifah uses significant moments from her life -- her brother's sudden death, going bankrupt, body issues, etc -- as lessons her readers can use to become strong, confident women. Latifah is never preachy, but maintains an honest, sisterly tone as if she were simply making conversation with friends.

I think, if you're looking for a book that will "fix" you, then Put On Your Crown will be a bit of a disappointment as Latifah never explicitly says "this is how you become a Queen." But, if you want to read about how a strong woman coped with hardship and staid true to herself, then this book will probably appeal.

Quotes I found particularly inspiring (ymmv):

The point is to be healthy, feel good in your own skin, and play up your best assets. Whether you’re short or tall, thick or thin, the beauty comes from how you carry yourself, how you care for your appearance, and the inner glow that confidence brings.

We may not have all been born looking like supermodels, but so what? We become beautiful when we do things to take care of ourselves, inside and out. It's not just how how I look, it's about my health and doing things that will let me live longer by keeping down my blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol.

Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom by Queen Latifah & Samantha Marshall (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)


Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamand

Raider's Ransom1 is set more than 200 years in the future, in a Great Britain decimated by flooding and other environmental disasters brought on by climate change. England has been reduced to ten impoverished Counties which struggle by with what appears to be strictly pre-Industrial Revolution technology, while technologically advantaged Greater Scotland holds Wales and most of the rest of the island -- except the eastern marshes, of course, which are strictly Raider territory.

Lilly Melkun wants nothing more than to captain the best fishing boat in her village, crewing it with her best friend, Andy, and her trusty sea cat, Cat. Unfortunately, Lilly's village is struck by Raiders when the Prime Minister's daughter comes to visit, the girl is abducted, and Lilly's Granny is killed in the ruckus. The PM blames Lilly's village and conscripts all its young men, including Andy, into his militia. To stop a war and free her village's men, Lilly steals a mysterious "jewel" and sets off with Cat to find the Raiders and trade for the Prime Minister's daughter ...

I thought Raider's Ransom was an extremely enjoyable read with a fast-paced, well-developed plot that had just enough interesting twists and turns to keep me surprised and looking forward to the final resolution of the novel. Diamand's characters are all fully realized and it's obvious she's had a lot of fun with language while writing this novel -- not only with names, but with the way each character's speech is so individuated. Can't wait to read the sequel to Raider's Ransom, Flood and Fire, whenever it is published in the US.

1 Flood Child elsewhere in the world.

Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamand (Scholastic, 2009)


Behind the Bedroom Door: Getting It, Giving It, Loving It, Missing It

An emotionally diverse collection of personal essays about women and sex by twenty-six talented writers like Julie Powell, Susan Shapiro, and Ali Liebegott. While some essays are a bit explicit, they ultimately tend more toward candid insight than eroticism. My favorite essays were Deanna Kizis's assertive "Turning the Other Cheek," Valerie Frankel's funny "Ouch, You're Lying on My Hair!," and Hope Edelman's tender "The Sweetest Sex I Never Had." I was so moved by Edelman's essay about falling in love at fifteen while her mother died from cancer that I read it three times.

I imagine -- in the way it's convenient for teachers to reduce students to stereotypes -- that she saw me as the honor student tossing my smarts in the trash for the chance to screw a former outlaw. But she didn't know him, not really, not as the sweet, gentle boy I knew him to be, the one who touched me so carefully, so perfectly, that I needed his hands on me all the time.
(from Edelman's "The Sweetest Sex I Never Had")

Excerpts from selected essays are available on the book's website,

Behind the Bedroom Door: Getting It, Giving It, Loving It, Missing It edited by Paula Derrow (Delacorte Press, 2008)


Poetry For Your Pocket

I'm a sucker for prettily-packaged books. Show me a book with French flaps, deckle edges, ribbon markers, and embossed or stamped jackets and I'm bound to lust after it. This is certainly true of Everyman Library's Pocket Poet series -- these perfectly elegant hand-sized volumes with their beautifully illustrated covers, gold embellishments, and woven silk ribbon markers pretty much make me swoon.

Currently, there are more than sixty volumes in this series covering everything from animal poems to Zen poetry. One of my favorite anthologies in this series is Love Speaks Its Name, a beautiful collection of gay and lesbian love poetry, which includes Amy Levy's "At a Dinner Party" and William Meredith's "Tree Marriage" -- two poems which move me very much.

Anyway, being in the mood for poetry, I brought Poems of the Sea and Garden Poems home from the library a few weeks ago:

Poems of the Sea (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets) Selected & Edited by J.D. McClatchy (Knopf, 2001)

Grouped around eleven headings ranging from "Sea Fever" to "Wrecks of the Sea" this collection is a good mix of classic and contemporary poetry. Much of it is familiar class-room stuff -- "The Wreck of the Hesperus", "Annabel Lee," "Dover Beach," among others -- but there are also some interesting and unexpected gems such as Merwin's "Leviathan."

Garden Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets) Selected & Edited by John Hollander (Knopf, 1996)

Laid out similar to Sea Poems, but around headings ranging from "Paradises" and "Gardens of Love" to "Ruined Gardens." Again, lots of familiar poems and poets, but also some surprises. Certainly, I didn't expect to see anything by Matthew Arnold in a collection of garden poems, but there he is with "Lines Written in Kensington Garden."