25 January 2016

Knitlandia

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the WorldKnitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clara Parkes, whose first subject as a professional writer was travel, takes us on a tour of knitting and fiber festivals. Some of her adventures as a yarn evangelist are set in venues that thousands of knitters have shared -- Rhinebeck, Taos, Scotland, Portland, Maryland. Some tell background stories of festivals and events we dream of attending - Squam, TNNA, Vogue Knitting Live, Madrona. We are there at Sock Summit for the first knitting flash mob, we are in Denver to film "Knitting Daily" (as she is encased in makeup that makes her feel "like Ronald MacDonald in drag," and we go along on a tour of sheep-intensive Iceland. Always, there is pho, her comfort food, and yarn, in all of its incarnations and manifestations.

My favorite moments are in Paris, where she breaks a promise (no yarn! just family!) and visits a petting zoo of a shop" that offers yarn and tea. Years before, she tells us, she fell in love with fountain pens in Paris. How can anyone not be delighted with this book?

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy in exchange for a fair review.



View all my reviews

09 January 2016

No Cats Allowed

No Cats Allowed (Cat in the Stacks, #7)No Cats Allowed by Miranda James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Librarian Charlie Harris and his insanely huge large Maine Coon cat, Diesel (so named for the quality of his purring) are trying to be civil to the interim library director, but he's such a conniving, foul creature that even the ever-affectionate feline can't abide him. The feeling is mutual, as Charlie learns when the mean man bans his cat from the library, fires people without warning or reason, and acts as if he is out to change the workplace into a gulag.

If only those were the only problems facing the pair! The cat-hating ogre creep is killed in a uniquely library manner, to no one's real surprise or dismay, but the clues are pointing to Charlie's friend Melba instead of - well, instead of to whom?

I've loved each of the "Cat in the Stacks" mysteries for their humor, cheerful depiction of small-town habitues, and - of course - the wonderful, vocal Diesel. Librarians will love the spot-on depictions of behind-the-stacks goings-on. Recommended to anyone who loves well-written mystery series.

I was given an ARC of this book for review by NetGalley.



View all my reviews

28 December 2015

Knitting Pearls

Knitting Pearls: Writers Writing About KnittingKnitting Pearls: Writers Writing About Knitting by Ann Hood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Knitters, in my experience, are readers as well. We don't just read about knitting, although many famous knitters are also writers who write about knitting. Perhaps I generalize, but I believe that a collection of essays about knitting is designed to appeal mainly to knitters, since the editor will expect us to identify and empathize with them.

With a few exceptions, this collection will satisfy. Those exceptions are essays in which knitting is so tangential to the essay that one wonders why they were included, or in which the author calls knitters and knitting "...a chew-gum-and-walk-at-the-same-time crowd and an occupation ideal for a zombie. What does he know?

Some examples of excellence:
-- Anne Bartlett, whose growth as a knitter and novelist includes designing an intarsia version of a Scott Joplin rag while editing a book about former cannibals. (Former!)
-- Jared Flood, whose father gives him an old, iconic sweater knitted by his mother, "a veritable Swiss Army knife" of crafting.
-- Clara Parkes, who sees her UFOs* and calls them "beautiful limerence of our first few rows rows together... my personal museum of optimism." (*for the muggles, UFOs are unfinished objects.)
-- Diana Gabaldon, who says "everything you experience forms you as a writer. Why should knitting be an exception?"

Those who do not knit have insights, too - Jane Hamilton, for example, who lives on a sheep form, but chooses not to knit the beautiful, soft yarn milled from her flock. She lived for one summer with the last authentic creator of Harris Tweed, Miss Campbell. There, in the Outer Hebrides, she scraped lichen for dyes while the old woman spun and wove, selling fabric from her kitchen. Hamilton even knitted a scarf, but only because she was cut off from her family except for aerogrammes, deprived of radio and television, and forbidden by Miss Campbell to read. The scarf turned out so "...alarming that probably in this day and age TSA would shut the place down" when she discarded the thing at the airport. A novel is a miracle, she writes, and she has chosen "the miracle of language, the texture and song of speech... so absent on the heath" for her own life's work, her own material.

The book disappoints in two important ways. The first: it is arranged alphabetically by author, not by theme, and thus seems haphazard. The second: what were they thinking? Including six knitting patterns without even line drawings to tempt the reader to try them?

Recommended, in small doses, for knitters and for fans of the included authors.

I received this book from Goodreads, and this is a fair review.



View all my reviews

24 December 2015

Loving Eleanor

Loving EleanorLoving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is excellent on so many levels! As fiction, it enchants, as reporter Lorena Hickock meets, loves, and mentors Eleanor Roosevelt, whose aversion to being a public persona is transformed - to the benefit of the United States, but not always those who love her. How much time and energy can one woman have?

Based on extensive research, including the enormous trove of letters between these two fascinating women, Loving Eleanor is a glimpse into the life of a pioneering woman journalist, and the times she reported on - including the most dire poverty of the Depression. Without Hick's advice, Eleanor would not have written the columns ("My Day") that endeared her to the masses. Without Hick's reporting (and company on trips to mining camps), Eleanor's understanding of how people were suffering would have been secondhand.

Some of the details in this book, such as the lives of people so poor they could only offer a bowl of tumbleweed soup to visitors, are so graphic that your heart will ache. Others, such as the gradual realization by Hick that the post-political idyll she wanted for herself and Eleanor will never happen, are heartbreaking in a very personal way.

I'm grateful to Albert for including endnotes and an extensive bibliography -- I want to learn more about both of these women, and their times.

Recommended. Thank you, NetGalley, for giving me an ARC to read and review.



View all my reviews

14 November 2015

05 November 2015

random prompt from NaBloPoMo, which I'm not doing

What was the one toy that a friend had that you wished you had when you were little?

Ah, this one is easy: a Barbie doll. I never had a Barbie doll. I had a Revlon doll because my parents thought she was classier, which she was.


See?

Of course, she didn't take the same clothes, so my version of getting together with girlfriends to play with our dolls was more like parallel play than interactive play, but - I survived.

Would I want a Barbie now? Sure - as soon as someone comes up with Emily Dickinson Barbie, Frida Kahlo Barbie, Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie, or ---- you get the idea. 



The prompts, by the way, are here.


03 November 2015

Marigold / Harvest Home

Today I'll share a video of Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior singing her lovely song, "Marigold/Harvest Home." Do listen. 




the lyrics:

When the marigold no longer blooms
When summer sun is turned to gloom
See the forecast winter snow
See the evergreen that lonely grows
Move closer to the fire place
Neglect the garden
See the ground harden
At a ghostly pace

The golden summer sun is silver now
The fruit has fallen from the bough
The season moves to chestnut time
Toffee apples, treacle and mulled wine
Quilts and furs and woolens gay
You wrap around you
But the cold confounds you
On an autumn day

Stout and strong the walls of home and hearth
Curtains drawn against the draft
The rake has reaped, the blade has mown
Nights draw in to call the harvest home
The quiet of a heart at rest
In peace abounded
By love surrounded
Here the home is blessed

Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home
All be safely gathered in
'Ere the winter storms begin
God, our maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied
Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home
Raise the song of harvest home

02 November 2015

worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie



Yesterday, a group of friends gathered to mourn the loss of our friend, Lisa. True to our tribe, we gathered at Panera, where we gather each Sunday, and - as usual - we Knitted, spun, crocheted, laughed, ate, hugged. Not so usual were the tears for our lost friend. 



One of us brought two bowls filled with stones -citrine and amethyst-





The citrine was for Lisa, as yesterday was her birthday.

The poem that came to mind is this elegiac beauty, because we are all at the time in our lives when we do know why we weep. I'll share it here. Rest in peace, Lisa.


Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins 

24 October 2015

The Lake House

The Lake HouseThe Lake House by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Past and present mingle and meet in two English houses. One, a huge and crumbling house on a lake, was where a baby boy disappeared during a gala Midsummer's Eve party in 1933. The other, a small home in Cornwall, is where a widower resides with the tangible and ineffable memories of his beloved wife.

Sadie Sparrow, a metropolitan detective, is visiting her grandfather, on leave from a case she took so personally that the violated protocol: the disappearance of a young mother, who abandoned her baby in a London flat. While taking a long run through a thick forest, she discovers Loeanneth in ruins, and decides to investigate. The locals have long memories and computer files that lead her to the lost baby's elderly sister in London, now a secretive and popular author of a long-running series of mysteries. She decides to allow Sadie to unlock the house, possibly to unlock the unsolved tragedy.

Both houses are presences, especially Loeanneth,which begins to reveal its secrets to the motivated detective and the reclusive writer. Letters, diaries, abandoned manuscripts, and the crumbling artifacts of passions spent lead Sadie deep into the secrets of a once-vibrant family, broken by wars and loss.

Except for the ending, which is a bit too tidy, this book is a splendid two-tiered tale, with homes that become characters in the spirit of Rebecca's Manderley and Howard's End.

4 1/2 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley, and this is a fair review.


View all my reviews

09 October 2015

The Hours Count

The Hours CountThe Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whatever else you know about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, one thing is true: they were the parents of two young sons. Julius had already been arrested when Ethel was called to testify before the Grand Jury on 11 August 1950. She was not given so much as a minute to make arrangements for the care of their two young sons when she was arrested immediately after testifying. One minute, she was a proper Jewish housewife and mother, wearing white gloves. The next minute, she was in custody, charged with typing her husband's notes. Whatever else you know, going into this book, realize this: ultimately, she was executed for typing. Not stealing or passing atomic secrets to the Russians. Typing.

The story is told by Millie Stein, a fictional neighbor in the apartment complex where the Rosenbergs last lived. Millie is married to Ed, a brutal Russian Jew, whose indifference to their son (probably autistic, lacking language skills) contrasts cruelly to the love and warmth in the Rosenberg family. Although Millie knows that her husband attends political - probably Communist - meetings, she is shocked to learn that he has known the Rosenbergs for years.

Ed grudgingly allows her to accept an invitation to a party at the Rosenbergs' apartment after she and Ethel become friendly, bonded by their children and shared concerns. Ethel has secretly steered Millie to Planned Parenthood for birth control, which would enrage Ed, who threatens to institutionalize their son unless she has another, "normal" child. Millie has kept secrets for Ethel to protect her privacy in the neighborhood.

Secrets are in the air at the party, where spying, lying, and politics are discussed by partygoers, including David Greenglass (Ethel's brother), his wife Ruth, and Morton Sobel, all of whom figure in the betrayal and death of the Rosenbergs. Millie also meets another (fictional) character there, a psychologist named Jake, whose promise to help her son develop language skills leads her down yet another dangerous, secret path.

Since the events that lead to the arrests, trials, and executions are only glimpsed by Millie, it can be frustrating to pick them out of the narrative. Both her husband and the therapist advance the plot without significantly enlightening the reader, since each has his own agenda, and the reader is as bewildered as Millie. Some of those glimpses are so ordinary, yet so meaningful - Julius playing with his son in the park, Ethel cooking a chicken. Others, just as true, are horrific, such as the government agents scooping evidence out of the apartment as Ethel pleads with them to spare the recording she had made of her voice, hoping they would know what she sounded like if she was gone.

Millie's plight as an abused woman who puts her trust in anyone who is kind to her and her son is vivid and heartbreaking, but her moments of clarity and insight into her husband's true business are made less believable by her ignorance of the world. Still, this detailed look at the last free days of the doomed couple is gripping and thought-provoking. The author provides a reading list. I care enough about the disquieting evidence of official malfeasance to learn more.

3 1/2 stars.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley; this is a fair review.



View all my reviews

30 September 2015

The Gilded Hour

The Gilded HourThe Gilded Hour by Sara Donati
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The gilded hour is that liminal time after the sun has set and before all the light has faded - a time to contemplate the day, and plan for the next.  The Gilded Hour, set in 1883, illuminates the lives of intersecting families - a thoughtful but realistic police officer who is the son of Italian-Jewish immigrants, two women doctors - cousins - whose struggles to find acceptance and respect are complicated by love and the evil of ignorance, and four Italian orphans who are separated by forces that may be accepted in the eyes of society, but that do not stand up to loving scrutiny.

The sheer detail of this long, dense, vivid book is one of its joys. Nothing - not the last stages of the Brooklyn Bridge, the ferry rides to an unimaginably rural Staten Island, the splendor of the Vanderbilt mansions, the hideous squalor of the streets - is wasted; all of it brings you into the story, breathless and fearful, joyful and expectant. The two cousins, one a Free Woman of Color, struggle against the medical mainstream as well as the forces of Anthony Comstock, which would deny women even the most basic understanding of their bodies and choices. That they accomplish what the do is simply amazing. Even the recent national history is important, as choices made during the Civil War continue to resound through the lives of every New Yorker.

I wish there were more than five stars to award. I learned so much from this book, and I came to love the characters so much. It's going to be hard to wait for the next book in the series.

Thank you, Goodreads, for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.



View all my reviews

I stand with Planned Parenthood

23 September 2015

A Curious Beginning

 A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell Mystery, #1)A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Veronica Speedwell is curious, indeed.

If you combine the scientific curiosity of Maisie Dobbs, the adventurous spirit of Beryl Markham, and the headstrong courage of Flavia de Luce, you won't come close to the vitality of Veronica Speedwell. This young woman has established herself as a world-class lepidopterist, travelling the globe with her butterfly net, a sharpened hatpin, and a carefully-packed carpetbag. She is alone, sure-footed, and satisfied.

As this novel opens, Veronica has attended the funeral of her guardian, and has scandalized the vicar's wife (whilst drinking tea, "properly strong... I abhorred weakness of any kind, but most particularly in my tea") and planned to embark on new adventures, both scientific and amatory. Her disinclination toward the traditional Victorian woman's life is extreme, and she pities the woman who tries to fix her up with a widower: "It is not your fault that you are entirely devoid of imagination," she tells the sputtering vicaress, "I blame your education."  Indeed.

However, mysterious and nefarious forces have combined to snuff that idea, if not Veronica herself. In a matter of days, she is nearly abducted, thrown onto the unwilling protection of a handsome but surly natural scientist, and forced to flee London with the brilliant brute to join a travelling circus. Why do these evildoers want her? What is there about her background that makes her so dangerous? And does the mystery have anything to do with Queen Victoria's upcoming Golden Jubilee?

Veronica and Stoker (the brute) are such a well-matched and appealing couple that this new series will undoubtedly be thrilling and satisfying. I recommend Veronica's maiden voyage (as it were) to anyone who enjoys a cracking good time in the presence of thoroughly enjoyable characters.

I was given an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.



View all my reviews

01 September 2015

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie AsterThe Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book has everything that I love: magic, time-travel, letter-writing, unusual characters who find each other and form a loving little community, wit, intelligence, historical verisimilitude, and smatterings of quoted Tolkien.

I often say "If you liked The Night Circus..." - I'll say it again.

Utterly delightful. I read it in two days, and will read it again.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC. This is a fair (and exuberant) review.


View all my reviews

25 August 2015

Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth AvenueThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes, even the wealthiest, most glamorous, most fêted superstar feels like a motherless child. Once Bobolink (Babe Paley) and True Heart (Truman Capote)were introduced, they were soulmates because their mothers, although present, were emotional bullies, leaving empty spaces and empty rooms that the socialite and the flamboyantly gay writer could fill with confidences and true vulnerability.

They met before Capote's success with Breakfast at Tiffany's. She and her husband welcomed him into their world and opened themselves to him even more than to each other - only Truman was allowed to see Babe's unpainted, scarred face. Not her husband, William Paley, nor CZ Guest, Slim Hawks, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Harrison, or any other the other glittering socialites had a clue about the renowned beauty's inner insecurities. From party to party, social event to lavish vacation, Truman and the Paleys partied and gossiped and lived the life of true excess that filled newspaper columns about the rich and famous.

How did it all go so wrong? After In Cold Blood, Truman faced a writer's block so deep that only excesses of drugs, alcohol, and Studio 54 could distract him. Although his beloved Babe was succumbing to lung cancer, he used the materials he had gathered - the gossip, innuendo, backstories - and exposed Babe and her circle in a story he published in "Esquire" - “La Côte Basque 1965” - destroying the illusion of their beautiful lives, and, effectively, committing social suicide.

Almost everyone in this book is seedy, gossipy, and unpleasant. Benjamin captures the rhythm of their language (especially Capote's) and the spectacle of their lives so well that you only realize afterwards that you have just read about truly awful people. The planning and execution of Capote's Black and White Ball are especially vivid, especially when the younger celebrities such as Mia Farrow and Penelope Tree leave with Frank Sinatra and the party collapses.

Four and 1/2 stars - close to completely enchanting.

I received this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley, and this is a fair review.



View all my reviews

21 August 2015

The Haunted Season

The Haunted Season: A Max Tudor Mystery (A Max Tudor Mystery, #5)The Haunted Season: A Max Tudor Mystery by G.M. Malliet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little disappointed. Not that Max and the residents of Nether Monkslip are any less fun to read about -- their squabbles, their power-plays, their baking... -- but there were so many characters in this outing that they quite blanketed the murder. Still, it was fun to read about the annual Duck Race (not that they race actual ducks, you understand), the internecine doings of the village ladies, and the Baaden-Boomethistles - lord and lady of Totleigh Hall, with the utterly perfect Dowager, a combination of Barbara Cartland and "Downton Abbey"'s Countess Violet.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley.



View all my reviews

18 August 2015

Wylding Hall

Wylding HallWylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Hand channels the summer of 1972, deep in an ancient English forest, where five young musicians are secluded from the world, creating their masterpiece. Their Child ballads, mystical and mythic original lyrics, virtuoso musicianship, and sense of wonder have been disorganized and derailed by the death of their lovely lead singer. Their manager thinks that Leslie, with her strong voice and lyrical skills, will energize the music and the remaining members of Windhollow Faire.

Wylding Hall reveals itself as a portal to very old magic, perhaps older than the perspective-bending barrow deep in the woods. By the time the young musicians record the album during a spontaneous outdoors session - photographed haphazardly by a young teenager with his first Instamatic - each member has been wounded by a mystery, and has discovered uncanny links to past tragedies. Have they also seen a ghost?

The short novel is structured as the transcript of a 21st century documentary, narrated in turns by each of the band members and participants - all but one, the beautiful, brilliant Julian, whose disappearance decades before was linked to a very strange young girl, and a very strange melody...

Did you enjoy Uprooted by Naomi Novik? Do you eagerly await the work of Charles de Lint or Pamela Dean or Terri Windling? Does your playlist include Loreena McKennitt, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, or Fairport Convention? This is your book. Anyone who loves folk-tinged fantasy will love it too. The only thing that will disappoint you: there is no soundtrack. Maybe someone will put together a Spotify list.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley.



View all my reviews

17 July 2015

Go set a watchman

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Go Set a Watchman is not a novel. It’s a series of sketches that happen to use the same names and locale as To Kill a Mockingbird -- it includes several chapters that do nothing to advance anything, a few charming flashbacks to scenes with Jem and Dill, some gut-wrenching pages-and-pages of the most vile, racist stuff (being spoken by various people, including Atticus), & a spot of humor. As a book, its purpose is totally, totally different.

It should have been part of Lee’s papers, cataloged in some library, and accessible to scholars or other curious folk who wanted to see how the famous book began. Publishing it as a novel is just.plain.wrong.

And now there might be a third? oy.



View all my reviews

10 July 2015

relationships

For today, I just want to share a video - partly because I keep watching it, partly because I want you all to marvel, too. 

Clearly, we do not give enough credit to many, many people, and creatures. 

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!

The Tempest (V, i)



08 July 2015

The Painted Bridge

The Painted Bridge: A NovelThe Painted Bridge: A Novel by Wendy Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Newlywed Anna Palmer, haunted from childhood by dreams and visions of a drowning boy, is committed to the Lake House Asylum for women by her husband, mere weeks after their marriage.  He uses her sudden trip to help the victims of a shipwreck as his excuse. What normal woman in 1859 would do such a thing without first asking her husband's permission?

Before we meet Anna, however, we are confronted with the inverted image of another patient, Lizzie Button. Dr. Lucas St. Clair is photographing the patients and hoping that the new art form will form the basis of a reliable, scientific method of diagnosing madness.

It soon becomes clear that the director, Querios Abse, has no insight into his own troubled family, and not a trace of good intentions towards his patients. Neither do most of the caretakers, whose behaviors range from moderate kindness to stark brutality. While some of the patients are ill, others have been dumped by families who found them inconvenient. Querios's own daughter is starving herself to death while quoting from "Aurora Leigh" and trying to emulate a carnival attraction named The Fasting Girl, who supposedly lives on "drops of dew, brushed onto her lips with a feather."

While the reader never questions Anna's sanity, others do. The treatments she endures are both horrific and historically accurate: purges, chairs that whirl, isolation. They nearly unhinge Anna, who wonders anew at the visions and dreams that have given others license to support her husband's decisions. But who wouldn't begin to lose faith, imprisoned in a torture chamber and seemingly forgotten by the world?

I am giving this book four-and-a-half stars instead of five, only because the villains are depicted without a touch of nuance, and at least one major character is a touch too saintly. But I do, most definitely, recommend it as a story with atmosphere, ideas, insight, and a plot that will keep you engrossed.



View all my reviews

07 July 2015

The Other Daughter

The Other DaughterThe Other Daughter by Lauren Willig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel always thought her father was a botanist who died while he was away on a trip. Throughout her childhood, her mother maintained them as a respectable, if poor family. At the beginning of this engaging novel, Rachel has returned from seven years as a governess in France to find that her mother, dead of influenza, has kept secrets from her, secrets that change her life in ways she could never have dreamed: her father is neither dead nor a botanist. He is an earl - and he has another daughter!

Despite her loving cousin's protests, Rachel's feelings of betrayal lead her to concoct a scheme of revenge with Simon Montford, a handsome gossip columnist who has his own reasons to want to hurt the earl - and the other daughter. Their adventures amongst the glitterati of Jazz Age London and the earl's family change many lives, and will entertain the reader throughout.    

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.I also received a copy of the book from St. Martin's Press. Thanks to both!



View all my reviews