Monday, May 31

Shaun Tan: Tales from Outer Suburbia

From the back of the book-
Shaun Tan…reveals the quiet mysteries of everyday life: homemade pets, dangerous weddings, stranded sea mammals, tiny exchange students and secret rooms filled with darkness and delight.
When my teenaged daughter brought this book home from school I was a little surprised. She’s well past the age where I would expect her to be perusing the junior section of the library. However, I’m glad she decided to share this discovery with me. This picture book for older children is truly delightful.
At first glance the illustrations appear simple, even slightly rough but with closer inspection they reveal themselves to be incredibly detailed and highly expressive. Though many of the stories are accompanied by words, the pictures are so rich as to make them superfluous. Having said that, the author has a succinct way with words, getting a maximum of meaning and emotion out of a minimum of syllables.
This is a layered work offering more than is simply, and beautifully, presented on the pages. I don’t know how it is I’ve never come across this author before but I would highly recommend his works to all.-Lynn

Tuesday, May 25

Jane Lindskold: Through Wolf's Eyes

When an elderly king’s heir dies the country’s noble families start jockeying for position all hoping the new heir will be selected from their stock. One minor noble, unlikely to be named heir, seeks to improve his standing by reuniting the king with his long ago disinherited son. In order to do this he heads across a mountain range into uncharted territory following in the footsteps of the renegade son and his entourage. What he finds there are the remains of a burnt out village and a wild teenaged girl. He believes the girl to be the king’s granddaughter and wants her to return to society with his small band of men.
The girl was raised by wolves and is more wolf than human. She agrees to accompany the men back to civilization on the proviso that a giant wolf keeps her company. They agree and after some initial training she is presented to the court where she is received by the other nobles with great suspicion.
Fortunately life amongst a pack of wolves has left her reasonably well prepared for life at court. She makes a few friends and carves out a place for herself.
As domestic political intrigue deepens, war breaks out on the boarders and the girl finds herself and her wolf-like skills in demand.
After a decisive battle peace is declared, the king treats with a neighbouring nation marrying his heir to theirs. The move garners much support from both nations but enemies are made as well and the question is left as to how long the peace might last.
This fantasy novel is first and foremost a tale of political intrigue. My brief synopsis here goes no way towards describing the complex network of personalities and alliances that make up the backbone of the story. Though there are several fantasy elements, including hints of magic and talking animals, they remain decidedly in the background. The setting is well described (my copy even had a map) and the world building excellent. There is also just a hint of romance. This is the first book in a series of six but could easily stand alone, with most of the big questions answered by the end of the story. There is no great cliff hanging ending forcing a reader to pursue the rest of the series in order to find answers to basic questions. This is a blessing in a genre that often asks more of a commitment from readers-here you can sample the author’s style in a satisfying manner and if you chose not to continue with the series you have still read a great story.
Though this is was not what I expected (I had thought there would me more of child raised by wolves and less of political machinations) and, to be honest, not something I would have read if the synopsis had been clearer as to the content, I still enjoyed it very much and may read the rest of this series at some point.-Lynn

Saturday, May 22

Angelica - Sharon Shinn

Almost two hundred years ago, so legend has it, the god Jovah carried the settlers of Samaria from a world torn apart by war and technology to safety. To ensure the same fate doesn't befall them, the peoples of Samaria must meet once a year on a great plain and, led by the archangel and the angelica (the archangel's spouse), sing to Jovah. Jovah, through his oracles, names each archangel and nominates his or her angelica - a person who compensates for the weaknesses of the archangel, making them a better leader and a better person.
For as long as she can remember, Susannah si Tachita has dreamed of an immensely large and unfamiliar cool, light, white and silver place where a disembodied voice knows her and speaks to her, most often in a language she can't understand. Susannah is Edori - her people roam across the continent of Samaria in family bands, carrying all their possessions. Susannah only recently moved from her home tribe of the Morosta to the Tachita clan, primarily because of Dathan. Though they are lovers, she knows he's not faithful to her in his heart nor, she suspects, in his flesh, and she's as yet unwilling to bear a child with him, but she loves him.
Even before he was named Archangel, Gaaron was a leader of his people, thanks in equal part to his personality and the frustrated training of his father, an agel who always hoped and expected to be named archangel. Dependable, reliable and worthy, Gaaron is used to being respected and his opinion heard. When Mahala tells him Jovah has named an Edori woman as his Angelica he is surprised, though not as surprised as when he meets Susannah, a woman who turns every aspect of his life on its head.
Chronologically the first thus far in the Samaria series, Angelica is the fourth published novel set on this beautifully crafted world. There are several, intertwined plots that beautifully mesh both with one another and with the subtle but definitive world building. These include Gaaron's relationship with his human half-sister Miriam (which is a portrait of adolescent rebellion, rejection of authority, the effects of distorted parenting, and tension between protection and smothering); a parallel but similar tale of a rebellious Edori girl; Susannah's conflict between marrying a good man but loving a more flawed man; oracle Mahala's suspisions about the true nature of the god, which is echoed throughout the series; a slowly-building romance between Susannah and Gaaron; and the devastating destruction of camps by mysterious, fire-wielding black men who vanish without a trace. And threaded through the narrative is a dominant theme of sacrificing ones' own needs for the interests of the community.
I have unsuccessfully tried before to do justice to Shinn's writing, both in this and the Twelve Houses series. I like the way she shows without ever telling, how the text balances plot with character development, the naturalness of the dialogue and the depth of the characters. I am never jerked out of reading by clumsy phrasing or a character's incongruous behaviour, yet Shinn eschews the obvious while maintaining believability. And my attempts to pace myself with her writing are ever less successful. - Alex

Thursday, May 20

Douglas Preston: The Codex

When an eccentric millionaire is given only months to live he decides to go out with a bang. He takes all his possessions and has himself entombed with them at a secret location. Whichever of his sons discovers the tomb first inherits all. The race is on but it is not only the man’s sons who are seeking his final resting place. Included amongst this hidden treasure is an ancient Mayan codex believed to document cures for cancer and other deadly diseases-cures that will bring extraordinary wealth to whoever holds their copyright, wealth that giant pharmaceutical companies are prepared to kill for.
The sons soon realise that they are hunted as well as hunters and band together in order to save their lives as well as discover their father’s tomb. As time wears on and their situation becomes more and more desperate they come to understand that their bond is more important than any treasure and they come to respect and accept each others differences. Finding the hidden hoard is a bonus.
You know what you’re getting with Douglas Preston: a bundle of clichés wrapped up in a fast-paced plot populated by two-dimensional characters. Knowing that going in you can just relax, suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.
There are no surprises here. You know who’s going to get the girl right from the start, you know that the villains will get their comeuppance and the plot twists are a surprise to nobody but the main characters. If you’ve read any of this author’s work you know what to expect and this book won’t disappoint. You’ll get what you came for-an easily read, superficial Indiana Jones-esque adventure.
When you’re not looking for great literary merit or a reading challenge but something light, fast and predictable then this is where you’ll find it.-Lynn

Wednesday, May 19

Eat Cake - Jeanne Ray

Ruth has always sought refuge in baking - something about the alchemy and fragrance brought her peace and clarity. Between the sulky teenage stranger who was once her daughter, and her perpetually worried mother, who moved in a year ago when her home was robbed, Ruth thought her life was complicated and stressed. When her beloved hospital administrator husband, Sam, came home and told her that a company restructuring meant he was now redundant, it seemed less important than Camille's latest obsession or her mother's fretting about medical bills - he was great at what he did, and would surely have no trouble finding a new job.
Life was a little less rosy the next day, though, and just as the realities of his unemployment were beginning to hit Sam and Ruth, she received a call from her peripatetic musician father, Guy. He'd fallen, breaking both wrists, and has nowhere to go, no way to pay his medical bills. And even though her home is now home to her mother, the woman who raised her alone when Guy took off for greener pastures, Ruth has no choice but to bring her father home from Iowa to stay, at least until his wrists healed.
of course, as her life becomes more complicated Ruth turns even increasingly to baking - her cakes become more intricate and complex. For not only does she has the increasingly strained relationship between her invalid father, unable to do much of anything for himself, and her justifiably pissed off mother to deal with, Guy's influence filters through the household. Most notably affected is Sam, who looses all impetus to seek stable work and instead focuses on his lifelong dream to sail.
Eat Cake is a chick lit novel for the older reader - there's a little romance, but the main narrative is about Ruth's changing life and how she responds to the series of significant but not devastating events. It's about empowerment, as Ruth takes charge of her the family income, turning her hobby into a career, and about taking a new look at what you think you know - most significantly your family.
I enjoyed the ride, but nothing particularly stood out, though that comment's a little unfair as I'm writing this review at least a month after reading the book. - Alex

Sunday, May 16

The Master Quilter - Jennifer Chiaverini

When Sylvia Compton wed Andrew in a quiet service on New Year's Eve, without the fanfare they'd planned, the Elm Creek Quilters feel cheated of their opportunity to show their founder how much she meant to them. That is until they have the brilliant idea of making her a wedding quilt, with pieces from quilting friends and students past and present. The Quilters secretly send out letters to everyone on their mailing list and Sylvia's address book, inviting them to contribute a block in green, rose, cream, gold and/or blue cotton, in a pattern that reflects "how Sylvia had influenced you as an artist, teacher, or friend." Their plan is that the incoming blocks, which they hope with approximate a hundred and forty, into a queen-sized memory and tribute.
The Quilters expect that life will get in the way of creation for at least some of their potential contributors. They don't expect the same to be true for themselves. But as each member of the group tries to work on her own block - selecting the most appropriate pattern, seekinga out the perfect fabric - her life intrudes. As relationships shift, financial pressures mount, and the tensions between the want and expectations of loved ones war with the artists' own needs, creating their pieces becomes harder work than any of them anticipated.
Chiaverini's characteristic elements are present - her women are strong, intelligent, focused but flawed, coloured by their experiences and with lives sometimes unexamined. She interweaves social commentary with the plot, creating an unobtrusive but strong message. For example, she presents the male domination of academia, as Gwen is passed by for department chair in favour of a woman whose work concentrates on topics more 'hard and substantial' than quilting, while countering the claim with evidence that quilts are both art and relevant to social historians.
And when Summer, who has accepted her mother's attitude about relationships and self-worth without examination, she hides the changing status of her latest relationship, Chiaverini beautifully depicts the tension between private thought and public display.
I'm pacing myself a little better with this series than with my devouring of Ms Shinn's work, but it's a struggle. And now I know an author I can turn to when I need writing that soothes, satisfies, challenges and engages. - Alex

The Elm Creek Quilt series:
1. The Quilter's Apprentice
2. Round Robin
3. The Cross-Country Quilters
The Runaway Quilt
5. The Quilter's Legacy
The Master Quilter
7. The Sugar Camp Quilt
8. The Christmas Quilt
9. Circle of Quilters
10. The Quilter's Homecoming
11. The New Year's Quilt
12. The Winding Ways Quilt
13. The Quilter's Kitchen

14. The Lost Quilter
15. A Quilter's Holiday
16. The Aloha Quilt

Saturday, May 15

Reader and Raelynx - Sharon Shinn

In the face of growing persecution of mystics, dissent from his Marlords, and grumbles of possible revolt (if not outright civil war), King Baryn of Gillengaria has decided to marry off his only child, Princess Amalie. Once hidden from view, she now has the beginnings of a public face - if he can manage a match that aligns him with a powerful House he may be able to stave off a battle that could tear his country apart. But he loves his daughter, and though she knows her duty requires a marriage borne of politics rather than love, he had no stomach for a wholly incompatable union. And, more strategically, no wish for his daiighter to become a pawn in a calculating political battle. So he enlists the services of Cammon, along with his fey wife Valri, to mentally eavesdrop on meetings between the princess and her potential suitors. They sit behind a drape, alert for hints of avarice and danger.
But Amalie has a mind and a will of her won. She is tired of being told what to do, and is ready to make her own decisions - from how she spends her time to who she weds or beds. And despite Baryn's best efforts, the opposing forces amass unabated.
As engrossing, textured and interwoved as its predecessors, this fourth book in the Twelve Houses series is as well crafted and compelling as its predecessors. The spectre of war creeps inevitably closer, and while the plot advances we get to revisit those characters who we've journey with thus far. The writing is uniformly superb, with attention to detail that is both precise and unobtrusive, and strongly three-dimensional character creation. There is an excellent sequence early on, where an assassin is so well portrayed that I found myself almost hoping his mission would succeed even though he intended to kill the king - and the foiling of his attempt was magnificent.
I'm holding off borrowing the last (so far) in both this series and the Samaria novels because once they're read I'll be bereft, but it's not easy. - Alex

The Twelve Houses series
1. Mystic and Rider
2. The Thirteenth House
3. Dark Moon Defender
4. Reader and Raelynx
5. Fortune and Fate

Tuesday, May 11

JJ Lumsden: The Hidden Whisper

A parapsychologist visiting a small town for his grandfather’s funeral is asked to investigate a series of unexplained events at a neighbour’s house. The neighbours, recently advised that their house sits on an ancient Indian burial site (no, really), are attributing the events to the supernatural. And the events certainly demonstrate stereotypical poltergeist phenomena. But why have things started now after over twenty years of habitation, and can it be stopped?
With only a week to get to the bottom of the haunting the parapsychologist throws himself into the case. But the more he investigates, the less likely a paranormal explanation becomes. Are the events really of ghostly origin or are they the work of a much more mundane nuisance? Either way, he will have his work cut out for him to prove the case. Though, needless to say, he manages to do just that.
I strongly suspect (though don’t know for sure) that this is a self published work and so I was a little reticent about reading it. In my experience there is usually good reason why publishing houses reject manuscripts and as a reader I have seen those reasons made flesh in self published works. However, given the niche this story is aimed at, I gave it the benefit of the doubt-after all market forces play their part as well.
What drew me to the work in spite of my misgivings? The inclusion of an extensive reference list (14 pages) and detailed end notes (68 pages). The author is an academic who obviously knows their stuff and is able to present it well. Indeed, I found the end notes to be of greater interest than the story itself. Perhaps, given my suspicions, I was being overly critical as I read, but the story, to me, seemed to be the enthusiastic work of a competent amateur.
It appeared the author wanted to include every aspect of paranormal research they could think of. To that end the story is riddled with expository dialogue (of exceptionally poor quality) the only purpose of which is to introduce subjects that are then addressed in the end notes. This gave the work a disjointed feeling.
The characters are two dimensional and the hero is not a particularly likable (or believable) guy.
There is a decided lack of atmosphere throughout. For example, I got absolutely no sense of unease from the victims of the haunting, let alone fear.
The pacing was off, the plot simplistic and the surprise twist ending flagged so far in advance as to be redundant. Though I did like the ending, even if I saw it coming.
This would be a solid first draft of a story. But it needs a good editing and extensive rewrite before I would recommend it. A great idea poorly executed, skip the story and go straight to the end notes-that’s where the value lies-Lynn.

Monday, May 10

The Alleluia Files - Sharon Shinn

Acting Archangel Alleluia and her companion Caleb discovered the truth about their god, carefully documented and hidden - Jovah is the spaceship that brought their forebears to Samaria, the angelic praying to him for rain, medicine and other favour is in truth as logarithmic way of communicating with Jovah's data banks, and everything is unfurls according to his programming, including who is named Archangel and who is selected as the Archangel's angelico or angelica (spouse). Alleluia became an oracle once her duty to Jovah was complete - she communicated with Jovah directly, and ensured that the secret was handed down to each new generation of oracles but not shared with the general populace.
A century later, division is rife. The wandering Edori have their own home on the far off island of Zion, and religion has become fundamentalist in nature. The Jacobites, named after their martyred founder Jacob, seek the truth about Jovah's nature, postulate that he is not divine, and believe that the truth about his nature is hidden somewhere. Their legends say Jovah is not a god who hears and answers their prayers but a ship, programmed by their forebears, designed to orbit their planet, protecting and advising them. They are reviled and persecuted by the people of Samaria. As the populace becomes more fearful, spurred on by the Archangel Bael, Jacobite Tamar hopes she will be the one to once again discover the truth. And unlike Alleluia and Caleb, Tamar intends to reveal it to the people of Samaria and free them. The orphaned daughter of martyred Jacobites, Tamar has always known her life would be short but dedicated, with the possibility of betrayal or discovery around every corner.
The Samaria novels can be read alone, but the experience is richer if read sequentially, more for the sheer pleasure of Shinn's work than through flaws in the world building. This sort-of sequel to Jovah's Angel is as beautifully crafted as her other work, and the plot I've described is only a small part of the complicated but lucid novel. There are romantic elements, an exploration of the natures of theology, non-explicit observation of blind faith (theological and otherwise), reflections on the corrupting effects of power, and the ever-present and always engaging tapestry of cultural interplay. I yearn for my next Shinn experience. - Alex

Saturday, May 8

Footprints of the Devil - Olive Etchells

Despite their estrangement, and the fact that he’s on the other side of the planet, when pro surfer Dave Tregenza gets a bad feeling about his brother he doesn’t hesitate, catching the next plane to England. Once there, though, the urgency has died down, and it takes Dave some time to summon the determination to return to the small Cornish village where he and Jonny were raised by their aunt Frances after the accidental death of their parents. So it’s several days after Jonny’s disappearance that Dave reappears, almost as unexpectedly as he left, to discover that the woman he loved – his pregnant sister-in-law, twins in tow – is distraught over the unexpected disappearance of her husband.
DCI Channon isn’t convinced that Jonny Tregenza is dead, though there seems little evidence supporting his leaving of his own volition. But it’s not until the discovery, in rapid succession, of two bodies, that the inquiry gets any real official attention, and that only because of possible terrorist connections. That is, until a third murder occurs.
I was very taken with Etchell’s first DCI Channon mystery, No Corner for the Devil, and had hoped that Footprint of the Devil would pick up the budding relationship started there. But the focus is on puzzling out the reason for Dave’s murder and, of course, the perpetrator, with only one reference to Sally Baxter.
Etchells does do a lovely job of combining location, mystery and character development, particularly the tensions between Dave and Frances, who’s once again faced with the possibility of having to raise children who are not hers. There are also some engaging scenes between police officers with opposing interests and agendas (that reminded me of my own, quite different, interactions with my more Gen Y colleagues), and a meticulous portrayal of village life. The ending is fairly satisfying, and even ties up a couple of ends that I didn’t realise until quite far through were loose. - Alex

Friday, May 7

The Perfect Stranger - Anne Gracie

Despite the protests of her friends and family, Faith Meridew followed her heart, and left everything she knew for love. But the man she loved was perfidious, and Faith is now a ruined woman. Making her may across France on foot, her state is obvious to all - her clothes torn and dirty, her shoes ill-fitting, and her resources exhausted, she thought she had experienced the worst possible, until three Frenchmen pursue her across a beach in the depths of night. It looks as though they will succeed, until a stranger emerges from the shadows and rescues her.
Nicholas Blacklock is not inclined to stand by and allow a lady to be ravished. But he is not without agenda - he needs a wife and, as he has a dire and secret medical condition, he need harbour no feelings for her. But he does require she be a gentlewoman, and it's clear even in her current state that Miss Meridew is that. so despite the protests of his close friends and companions, Nick allows Miss Meridew to accompany them; he's more than a little surprised to find Miss Meridew exerting her own strong opinions with little or no provocation, and more surprised by how much he likes it.
I heard of Gracie through Smart Bitches, and am glad of the recommendation - the characters are engaging, the plot original without veering too far from expectation, and there are genuine moments of humour, as when Faith and Nick argue about a suitable wedding present to celebrate her betrothal:
"I'll buy you a ream of bloody writing paper, but not as a wedding present.... Now think of a proper present."
She gave him a look from under her lashes. "Some people think a person should think up their own presents. Some people think the value in the present is the thought behind it."

Those people have never been given hideous items they never wanted!" he retorted.
there were certainly elements I was less fond of, including a mystical aspects that acted as a deus ex machina to alter the plot, but I otherwise found The Perfect Stranger a lovely introduction to Gracie and a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. - Alex

Thursday, May 6

As Darkness Falls - Bronwyn Parry

Isabelle O'Connor is still on leave from the New South Wales police force, following the aftermath of a child abduction in her small country town. One year to the day, another child goes missing - the third in the region in three years. Though it's vindication that the accused suspect wasn't the perpetrator, Bella has less than a week to find Tanya alive. But she doesn't want to return to Dungirri, the town where she grew up, where she trusted in the support of her community, and where she was almost killed defending the suspected abductor from the mob that murdered him.
In conjunction with Sydney-based Detective Chief Inspector Alec Goddard, Bella has to use her instincts, skills and local knowledge to discover who the predator is, and recover Tanya before it's too late. But her own life is in danger, forcing her to rely on a stranger - a stranger to whom she's drawn despite herself.
Parry's first novel tries to combine a mystery with a traumatised-heroine romance; I found the latter far from compelling, at least in part because the writing was so hyperbolic. But from the opening I knew what to expect:

No, not this.
Detective Sergeant Isabelle O'Connor dragged up every ounce of self-discipline to halt the cry of denial, and it lodged, unsounded, in her throat, She closed her eyes against the sight as years that couldn't be shed scalded her eyelids.

Isabelle is beset by emotional response, though she manages to overcome it:
Panic almost overwhelmed her senses, thundering in her head, blurring her vision. A voice screamed from deep inside, No - not Alec too.

Information, predominantly about the hero and heroine, is dribbled to the reader in a way I suspect was intended to heighten intrigue and suspense, but which made the plot and motivations harder to understand than necessary. For example, Isabelle's florid reaction when Alec lets her know there's a snake at his feet (see "Panic almost overwhelemed her senses") would be more resonant if we knew before the event, rather than after, that her mother died of a snake bite in front of her when Isabelle was a child - I'd have related better to her need to summon "every internal resourse," the screaming of her inner voice and "the new wave of almost paralysing panic" she felt. I'd still have been distracted by the purple prose, but at least felt it was somewhat warranted. Learning this detail after the drama had abated made me instead think, "Oh, well then."
I could see no reason for reserving some of these facts for later in the novel, unless Parry's intent was to heap disaster upon disaster for her heroine. But they're all past events, incidents that have shaped who she is, and Isablle's responses and persona would have made far more sense to me had they been included at the outset, or at least earlier in the text.
There are several instances where the writing diminished what would otherwise have been emotionally resonant moments. I noticed this particularly when, in response to Alec's account of a genuinely distressing event, "Horror scalded her throat and his sorrow twisted tightly around her heart." A small amount of show - reaching for his hand, perhaps, would have heightened the effect rather than distracting from it.
And once again, this is an event that has contributed to a major character's demeanour and emotional availability, so including it earlier would have better accounted for Alec's reserve, despite himself. It would go some way to explaining why he remained distant from Bella, even though,
The fresh scent of her hair and the press of her body against his caused an avalanche of sensation to blast away the serenity he'd been experiencing just a moment before.
His breath stalled in his lungs as the urgent craving to pull her fully into his arms flooded his awareness. he almost did. Almost lost his self-control and gave in to the longing his sub-conscious had been pounding him with all day.

And that the writing is so distracting is a real shame, because elements of As Darkness Falls are really effective. I very much liked Isabelle's response to an ignorant remark about indigenous tracking (that also addressed the correct use of 'Koori'). Parry's portrayal of Dungirri is vivid and strongly evocative of a sense of place, taking me back to my childhood experiences staying with family in a Victorian country town. The tangled relationships of the townsfolk are convincingly portrayed, as is the stifling atmosphere of suspicion and guilt - though few of the attackers were formally charged, there have been a significant number of suicides and accidents among the town's men in the past twelve months, and the disappearance of Tanya demonstrates more powerfully than evidence that they killed an innocent man.
The mystery is equally strong - in true genre style, the perpetrator is in view all along, with both the revelation and dénouement ringing true. Had the writing style been more restrained and the character development more integrated, I would have been caught up in the hunt and concerned by the attacks on Bella (intended to destabilise her and distract her from the investigation), shocked by the reveal, and satisfied by the ending, which manages to conclude this chapter of their lives without tying everything up in a Happy Ever After.
Instead I'm not particularly fussed, felt no emotional resonance or satisfaction, and if I'm inclined to read the next of Parry's works it will only be because Lynn has a connection with the author. - Alex

Wednesday, May 5

Unlocking Mysteries with Solomon’s Key

Subtitled A Companion Guide To “The Lost Symbol” (Dan Brown’s New Novel), this mag-book claims to help readers ‘understand the secrets of ancient symbols and their meaning’.
I had always believed that the purpose of a companion guide was to explain concepts, language, ideas and so forth that the book in question either doesn’t adequately define or doesn’t delve into deep enough for the more committed reader. If this particular example is typical of the genre then I have been labouring under a major misunderstanding, for this does none of that.
Solomon’s Key was actually published before The Lost Symbol and doesn’t so much explain or examine the concepts of that book as it does speculate as to what might be included within its best selling pages.
While a few of the articles were interesting, all were superficial and none provided particularly new insight into the topics they addressed-many of which have been the subject of books (both fiction and non-fiction) themselves.
I can see how fans of Dan Brown might be interested in a short biography of the author. Indeed, I can see how they might appreciate the biography of the main character (which is much the same thing-Mary-Sue anyone?). But did they really need to include a précis of the other works and detailed lists of how the movies made from those books differed from them. And exactly how does the history of the director of those movies enlighten readers in any way about the, at that time, unpublished book.
The full colour plate photographs are not enough to offset poor editing (singularly annoying are unfinished sentences). And the speculation as to what might have been included in the book was quite a bit off the mark.
Not being the greatest fan of the author I was reading this guide for a laugh and I got it but had I truly wanted a guide to The Lost Symbol I would have been extremely disappointed.-Lynn

Tuesday, May 4

My Life in Orange - Tim Guest

Tim Guest's mother left him when he was four, flying to India and becoming a disciple of controversial mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Now Ma Pram Visma, she returned when Tim was six, moving with Tim and her partner Sujan to a Rajneeshi commune in Suffolk. Commune members wore only colours of the sun (clothes dyed pink, orange, red or maroon) and surrendered themselves to a life of inner exploration, Eastern mysticism, therapies designed to challenge themselves, and sexual liberation. Though he enjoyed some of the life, including nearly unfettered freedom, and a world of other children, Tim's preexisting feelings of insecurity and lack of groundedness were exacerbated by the move. And this state grew as, over the following years he and his mother moved from the commune in Suffolk to others in India, Germany and the US, interspersed with holidays visiting his father in America.
Equal parts an autobiographical journey and a history of the Rajneesh movement, My Life in Orange has great potential. Unfortunately I found myself irritated by both the style, which is neither chronological nor ordered, and the tone. Tim was 29 when My Life was published, and revisiting his childhood clearly caused a number of emotional ghosts to resurface, so that much of the book is written from the perspective of a child rather than of an adult looking back. For me, this meant that the text is imbued with a self-pitying neediness I found grating and intrusive.
Perhaps, had the whole work been consistent with this aspect I'd have engaged with it better, though the work as a whole is significantly leaden, but Tim alternates between recalling these lived experiences with detail about the movement and the way it was perceived at the time, and now. Often these elements are poorly introduced, so there's frequently little or no context, and I suspect he assumed a more intimate knowledge of the movement than the average reader has. This resulted in a somewhat chaotic text that increased my sense of detachment, with sentences and sections that seem wholly random:
I didn't know Viruchana's real name then; I still don't know it now" for instance.
That said, the writing is on occasion amusing and evocative, and I suspect less personal books would be far better crafted and involving. I quite liked, for example, the reactions of his mother's friends to her new life:
The Marxists thought co-opting Eastern philosophy was intellectual imperialism. The feminists were outraged that her consciousness had fallen so low that she was carrying a picture of a man around her neck. Her therapist acquaintances warned she was projecting her primary love object in an unconscious bonding with an omnipotent fantasy and that was bound to end in catastrophic negative counter-transference. Her hippie friends thought it was a hassle to have to dye so many clothes.

I completed reading My Life in Orange, though, because I find fringe movements and religion very interesting. It is evident that Tim was profoundly affected by both the disintegration of his parent's marriage and the lack of consistent and attentive parenting. I was sorry to see, when I googled him while writing this review (something I rarely do) that he died of a morphine overdose last year, aged thirty-four. It seems unlikely the two are unconnected. I also learned that he wrote a book about the online world Second Life, and if I find it I'll see how it compares. - Alex

Monday, May 3

Laura Anne Gilman: Bring It On

After a seemingly routine job went pear-shaped and resulted in the death of a long time friend all this witch wants is life to return to normal. So when she is asked to retrieve a piece of jewellery at the centre of an inheritance dispute, it looks like just the kind of simple task she needs. But nothing is ever easy and she soon discovers the necklace in question is, in fact, a powerful artefact. Considering it too dangerous to pass on to the woman who hired her, she knows she should turn it in to the authorities. But she can’t trust the magical authorities, who she strongly suspects are behind the disappearance of a number of her freelance colleagues.
Those same freelance colleagues who are dragging her into the middle of a coalition whose one purpose is to fight the authorities by forming an alliance with other persecuted magical creatures.
With the magical community on the brink of open warfare, she must find a safe place for the artefact and choose her side.
This is the third book in the retriever series and the story is starting to pick up pace. With the world well established in the first two novels, this book focuses on the bigger story arc and events directly related to it, leaving the tale of this instalment as an almost secondary plot. This being the case, it is definitely not a stand alone read.
The main characters and their relationships to each other continue to develop and the tension is building nicely as the plot steams ahead.
I’ve quite enjoyed this series so far, and from its scarce availability at my local library I’m guessing others have as well. There are only three more books left in the series and I am seriously considering grabbing all three so I can know how it all ends up.-Lynn

Sunday, May 2

The Quilter's Legacy - Jennifer Chiaverini

Sylvia Compton is looking forward to marrying Andrew, the beau from her past who unexpectedly reappeared in her present, long past the time she thought she could expect love to find her again. She's looking forward to marriage, but exhausted by the wedding planning process - and her Elm Creek Quilts friends seem determined to turn what ought to be a quiet, garden ceremony into a major performance.
When Sylvia realises that her mother's quilts aren't safely stored in Elm Creek Manor's attic, as she supposed, but were instead sold off by her sister, Sylvia finds something else to focus on. With the assistance of the youngest Elm Creek Quilter, Summer, Sylvia and Andrew launch a hunt for the missing quilts - first online and then in person. They drive across America, quilt hunting en route to visiting Andrew's children, to let them know about the forthcoming wedding.
Using the stories of the missing quilts, Chiaverini launches into an unexplored past and a secondary plot - we visit 1899 and meet Eleanor, the protected younger daughter of a self-made businessman. Eleanor was never expected to survive childhood, and the doctor's grim diagnoses serve as obstacles to overcome rather than limitations. With the tacit encouragement of her governess, Miss Langley, Eleanor develops into a woman capable of thinking for herself, rather than a meek and mild miss, subservient to her family's needs.
Chiaverini has clearly researched the era, as details subtly rise through the text, but there's never even a hint of leaden exposition. Instead the reader learns about suffrage in the US at the turn of the last century, alongside changing mores and the tight grasp of tradition.
The rounded, developed characters, strong but believable women, crisp dialogue, involving plot and satisfying ending are a given. The Quilter's Legacy also incorporating all my favourite elements of Chiaverini's writing - a neat marriage of past and present, the way family lore and assumption can contort, depictions of the way events of the past trickle into the present, crystalline portrayals of the complexity of family relationships, and the tension between pleasing others and pleasing oneself. It's been almost month between reading The Quilter's Legacy and reviewing it, and revisiting this lovely book makes me want to read it again. Just lovely. - Alex

The Elm Creek Quilt series:
1. The Quilter's Apprentice
2. Round Robin
3. The Cross-Country Quilters
The Runaway Quilt
5. The Quilter's Legacy
The Master Quilter
7. The Sugar Camp Quilt
8. The Christmas Quilt
9. Circle of Quilters
10. The Quilter's Homecoming
11. The New Year's Quilt
12. The Winding Ways Quilt
13. The Quilter's Kitchen

14. The Lost Quilter
15. A Quilter's Holiday
16. The Aloha Quilt

Saturday, May 1

Murder at the B-School - Jeffrey Cruikshank

Wim Vermeer has slowly come to the realisation that he'll never achieve academic greatness, or even tenure. An assistant professor of finance at Harvard Business School, Wim's somewhat popular with his students but nothing special. So when the Dean asks him to investigate the mysterious death of a student, who coincidentally happens to be the son of a wealthy benefactor, Wim's hardly in a position to say no. It's a move that not only threatens his career, his reputation, his liberty and his life, but that unexpectedly brings him in contact with a woman who becomes significant - Captain Barbara Brouillard of Boston's police force.
This deceptively slim detective novel is well written and genuinely interesting. The investigation unfolds alongside a not-quite romance between two prickly, lonely people and both plot lines are compelling. I suspect I felt a particular affinity for Murder at the B-School, and certainly borrowed the book, because I visited Cambridge last year to see my brother, about to graduate (or commence, at Harvard bizarrely terms completion) from Harvard. thanks to a tour I was aware of the tension between the university and the town, which made some of the moments in the book that touch on that particularly pop.
There were a couple of moments that gave me pause, mostly revolving around insulin - the dead boy's father has diabetes and a nurse (either from an agency or his daughter) gives him his daily dose, even though there's no reason at all he couldn't be trained to do it himself. This is, clearly, an occupational trigger issue for me, and there's a reason this is introduced into the plot, but every reference to it jerked me out of the narrative. That aspect aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Murder at the B-School, and intend reading more of Cruikshank's work if I happen across it. - Alex