Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Of the Moment

It’s officially summer! There is much reading to be celebrated, especially after our blackberry winter: this is a delightful weather term for the unexpected late May snowstorms that occasionally plague northern climates. I won't forget our 17 inches of snow on May 2nd this year for awhile. But blackberry winter is also the title of a wonderful song by Hilary Kole, which inspired the book by Sarah Jio.

As many of you know I love to recommend Sarah Jio’s books, especially perfect for summer reads.

Blackberry Winter takes place in Seattle in 1935 and the present with two snowstorms separated by nearly a century on the 2nd May. During the first snowstorm a child is kidnapped and never found although his mother relentlessly searches. Decades later after another storm, a reporter Claire Aldridge awakens to a similar snow and is asked to write a story on the unsolved abduction. She investigates with unexpected family consequences. Claire herself is undergoing a difficult time with the premature death of her child and estrangement of her husband.

There is a gentle mystery with interesting character development and an uplifting resolution of family threads. I enjoyed the historical details and found the lives of the present day families moving.  Illustrating the power of hope and dreams, this is a heartfelt and engaging novel, perfect for that lazy summer weekend. Don't miss her newest novel The Last Camellia.


Every child deserved a taste of cake, even poor ones.

…just one button remained. At 5 cents apiece, it seemed frivilous to think of replacing the ones that had gone missing.

Seattle seems to have an insatiable appetite for condos and Starbucks

His life was like a tragic novel missing the final chapter, a beautiful one. We’d found it, dusted it off, and now it was time to read it.

Your heart never forgets your mother.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Seraphina (2012) This is a marvelous debut YA science fiction/fantasy novel by Rachel Hartman which has received numerous awards including:
Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel
Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada)
Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK)
Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (UK)

If you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, here is a beautifully intricately, crafted new kingdom, Goredd, where humans and dragons have tentatively, coexisted for nearly 4 decades. Dragons attend court in human shape as ambassadors, and are noted for their rational, mathematical minds which makes them attractive to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, tensions increase when a member of the royal family is murdered in suspiciously draconian fashion.

Seraphina Dombegh fears both humans and dragons. An unusually gifted court musician, she is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queens Guard, the perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they uncover a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina must protect her own secret, the reason for her musical gift. For Phina is half dragon and half human and totally unforgettable.

This heroine’s struggle, coming of age, is one readers will remember long after they’ve closed the book. The original world (new dragonlore), fun, fascinating and complex characters also demand the sequel to be written soon! I was captivated by the story, entranced by the beautiful, evocative writing. It was a pleasure to reread sections – a delight to return to highlighted passages (thank you kindle for the ease of nondestructive highlighting!). I found myself wishing I had had this book as a teenager with its strong characters, depth of story, creative thinking and interesting example.

There is a wonderful glossary of terms and a cast of characters (examples:)
Binou – breton bagpipes
Aurochs - extinct European cattle wild
Quine – 4 sheets of parchment (medieval paper)
Saarantrai - Dragons in human form

The main character is Seraphina Dombagh, often called Phina
Claude is her father and human
Orma is mentor and uncle and dragon
Prince Lucian Kiggs – is Princess Laurel’s bastard, and fiance to Princess Glisselda
Kiggs is also Captain of the Queen’s Guards
Viridius is the court composer

Most of these quotes are from the first half of the book: the pages flew and I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t interrupt it with anything. Magic quickly overtakes the reader.

Dragons have no souls and must wear a bell in human form unless they are scholars. They have silver blood, no beards, a peculiar smell not normally detected by humans. ...They have sulphurous breath.

The Music…was the answer to a question I had never asked, the way to fill the dread emptiness into which I had been born.

Superstitious fakery or not, the psalter’s message was clear: the truth may not be told. Here is an acceptable lie.

My love of music eventually lured me from the safety of my father’s house, propelling me into the city and the royal court…I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light, illuminating me from behind.

They needed heaven’s peace. I knew little of Saints, but I knew about sorrow and about music as sorrow’s surest balm. That was comfort I could give. There are melodies that speak as eloquently as words, that flow logically and inevitably from a single, pure emotion.

Her Uncle Orma had…the scholar’s exemption from the bell, so few people ever realised he was a dragon. He had his quirks certainly: he never laughed; he had little comprehension of fashion, manners, or art; he had a taste for difficult mathematics and fabrics that didn’t itch.

“…dispensing with any greeting. Dragons never see the point.”

I barely noticed loneliness anymore; it was my normal condition by necessity if not by nature.

I was half lawyer; I always noticed the loopholes.

It was good to see a dragon’s teeth. A dragon with his mouth closed was far more likely to be working up a flame. That seemed completely obvious.

Under the white winter sky the dragons looked rusty, a disappointing color for so fabled a species, but I soon realised their shades were subtle. The right slant of sunlight brought out an irridescent sheen in their scales; they shimmered with rich underhues, from purple to gold.

I had practicing to do, a book on Zibou sinus-song I’d been dying to read.

The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now.

Speculus, the longest night of the year, as the saying goes: when the days lengthen, the cold strengthens.

Once I had ceased to be terrified, I was awed….pipes fitted in neat rows, making a palisade fortress of chanters; it looked like the unnatural offspring of a bagpipe and a …. A dragon.

There was no music on the stand; surely no music had yet been written for this monstrosity. Was this cacophony his own composition? I suspected it was. It was brilliant, the way a thunderstorm across the moors or a raging torrent is brilliant insofar as a force of nature may be said to have genius. (the megaharmonium – or organ!)

He released the last chord like a boulder off a trebuchet (medieval catapult)

We were friends; he just didn’t know it yet. He had a nose like a compass needle; it pointed with purpose.

Viridius planned to rehearse us within an inch of our lives.

There is danger in humanity. Do not lose yourself to the wet brain. Tempted by the chemical intoxication of emotion, dragons forget what they are.

I’d had more than my share of beautiful today. Tomorrow I’d give some back, restore and replenish the world.

4.5 stars (5 if the sequel comes soon!)
Read as an ebook from the Library, must purchase for my own library (done!).

Read on:If you liked Graceling, Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, you will love this.
If you like the dragons of Eragon (Christopher Paolini), His Majesty’s Dragons (Naomi Novik).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book of the Moment - Letter from Skye

June 2013
The Bookmore Cottage

Dear Gentle Reader,

Summer is almost upon us and I am not sure what happened to spring. I somehow didn’t have enough time to read with all the gardening, travelling and packing, to say nothing of shoveling unexpected May snow. But planes are perfect places to read, so I have always loved summer travel. Cars invite audiobooks across miles. And of course, the chaise lounge on the back deck can take you so many places. Last week I ended up in Scotland, alternating between present day, WWI and WWII.

Letters from Skye is the charming debut novel by Jessica Brockmole. Dear Reader, you will love this beautiful portrayal of old fashioned love in the time of war, the nuances of letter writing, the captivating period detail, and the two cultures (American and Scottish) which will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Through these letters, I met a new friend that I think you will also adore, the lovely Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn from the island of Skye. Her letters sparkle with her love of countryside, youth, family, her fears and dreams and her compass. I felt the same sea breezes, gazed at the stormy seas, despaired for days and years, questioned my own journey and just so enjoyed her erudite company. The letters of her daughter Margarite, her American friend and lover David Graham, along with various family memebers reveal secrets, friendships, bravery and trials, but as with the very nature of letters leave some experiences to the reader’s imagination. There was a satisfying resolution which celebrated joy, something worth remembering in turbulent times. “I have never stopped loving you.”

I have always been a letter writer, an anomaly/anachronism more so with the passing to the electronic age. The graceful correspondence makes for easy reading and is punctuated with lovely humour, wit and passion. I loved the development of the realistic characters (I have a number of Scottish friends I recognised instantly) over the years but also through the eyes of other family members. I enjoyed being reminded of my Grandmother’s time, and also reminding me of how grateful I am to live in this time. And of course, I want to go back home to Scotland now.

Most Sincerely,

A British Bluestocking

PS  Be sure to Read on to:
Yes it has been compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), but it reminds me more of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, or her Pigeon Pie Mystery and Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simon (see previous reviews!).

“Like any whose blood runs tartan, I adore W.S…. his poetry really does a fine job of capturing Scotland in all of her changeable moods.”

“ All a person really needs to get them through the vagaries of life are the Bible and W.S. (both of them).”

“I like a good western too and reading things like Zane Grey when I want to take a break from ‘literature’.”

“Our world has already vanished," he said. "I can’t get it back, but I’ll sure as hell try to keep the rest from going to pieces.”

“The night was so pregnant, so poignant, one of those Scottish nights that make you understand why some still believe in spirits and wee folk.”

“Did you know that your eyes are the exact brown-green of the Scottish hills in wintertime?”

Read as an ARC
4 stars for a delightful summer read
Published July 9th 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Hermit in the Garden

From Imperil Rome to Ornamental Gnome by Gordon Campbell
Oxford University Press (October 2012, recently on book tour in the USA)

Campbell is a noted historian, distinguished Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester and has an impressive list of literature, art and history books authored and edited. (I thoroughly recommend his book “The story of the King James Bible”)

This is a magnificent historical account of Hermits, Hermitages and English Garden design, especially Georgian. Hermitages have recently enjoyed a minor renaissance recently, with old ones restored, new ones built and even job offers with increased tourism. I think the popularity of hobbits might have helped too. Although he claims that gnomes are a logical evolution of the hermit they are still banned at Chelsea Flower show! “Garden hermits evolved from antiquated druids and eventually declined into the garden gnome.” He illustrates four types of hermitages- religious, secular or court, Elizabethan and earlier British hermits (he often states English hermits, while showing them in Scotland and Ireland). Many early garden hermitages were in southern Europe, Italy, France from the 1400s, although the first might have been at the Roman villa of Hadrian. Campbell also recounts the fascinating history of hermitages in Spain.

But the heyday of Hermitages was arguably in 18th century Britain where grand garden designs brought follies into the landscape. Follies often included hermitages with or without hermits (not religious but secular). Britain has had hermits since pilgrims of Christianity, but I was astonished at the list of 750 cells and names of 650 hermits in the 1800s (Rotha Mary Clay). These were places of contemplation, which allowed “pleasurable melancholy” and deep thought, sometimes following a retreat after personal crisis. Hermits have been romanticised but in actual fact the austere living conditions were primitive at best – and sometimes had required conditions of not cutting hair or nails (for up to 7 years). Not all hermitages were spartan. They were also fads/fashionable as recounted by nobility (hermit and lady hermit) “pretending to be peasants” enjoying the simple life. The OED defines simple life as ‘doing without servants and luxuries’! The affinity for nature and solitude had a quite different expression in America with Muir, Thoreau and Emerson. NB. The plantation home of Pres. Andrew Jackson nr Nashville is called the Hermitage, but refers to the original log buildings. I had over 25% of the book highlighted with interesting facts (and “oh” moments).

I found the descriptions both beautiful and tragic, for so many gardens and hermitages lost over the centuries.  I have space in my garden: gnomes need not apply.

Appendix has a list of interesting hermitages, several I have visited: Dunkeld, Dalkeith park, Craigieburn, Taymouth castle
Some good illustrations, mostly black and white photos and drawings in my e-copy (contents say 63 color plates, 304 pp)
Bibliography and List of Hermitages in the World (country and county)
Now I must visit the Ermitage at Arleshein, Switzerland – it sounds idyllic and has the last surviving ornamental hermit.

Read on to (preferably in your garden)
Edith Wharton (short story) Hermit and the Wild Woman
Tom Stoppard Arcadia
Seamus Heaney (1984) poem The Hermit

Read as an ARC
4.5 stars

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Beach Reads - NonFiction


It is time for beach reads again, although I read anything and everything over the summer. I am really looking forward to a chance to read, having spent months packing, sorting, pitching and moving. Well, I have continued to read, but haven't had a chance to write, yet so want to share some wonderful reads. Hopefully that will happen over the next month or two.
I have a list of authors I follow antcipating their next book, that I simply must read. Locate that sun umbrella, the chaise lounge, the iced tea and then lose myself in another world. Sometimes it is a place (Paris, London, Yellowstone), sometimes it is a person (Shakespeare, memoirs, presidents), sometimes it is a time (medieval Scotland, Puritan New England, the 1960s) and sometimes it is a taste (single malts, organic foods, what to eat next). Entertaining, educational and edifying, these authors never fail me.

Nonfiction writers

Heavily weighted towards history and natural history.

A. Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood (Payback), Stephen Ambrose

B. Nick Bunker, Bill Bryson, Geraldine Brooks, Iain Banks, Alan Bennett

C. Rachel Carson, AJ Cronin, Winston Churchill, William Cronon

D. Bernard DeVoto, Michael Dirda, Richard Dawkins, John Gregory Dunne

E. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Edward

F. William Fiennes, Niall Fergusson, David Hackett Fischer, Shelby Foote

G. AAGill, A Greig, Stephen Jay Gould, Doris Kearns Goodwin

H. Edward Hoagland, Tony Horwitz, William Least Heat-Moon, Bernd Heinrich, Stephen Hawkins

I. Ian Frazer

J. PD James, Clive James

K. Verlyn Klinkenborg, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Kennedy Jr, Tracy Kidder

L. Louise Leaman, Robert Leckie, Aldo Leopold

M. David McCullouch, John McPhee, John Muir, Farley Mowat, William Manchester

N. Stephen Nelson, Cynthia Ne
O. Edna OBrien
P. Michael Pollan, Nancy Pearl, Annie Proulx

R. Oliver Rackham, Tim Russert, Teddy Roosevelt

S. Marjori Santani Persepolis, Simon Schama, Ernest Thompson Seton, Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., TC Smout

T. Studs Terkel, Thoreau, Alisdair Taylor,

U. Robert Utley

V. Voltaire
W. Patricia Wells, Simon Winchester, Daniel Worster

Monday, March 11, 2013

Green Readings!

Practice Random Acts of Green!
Read a green book, buy a green book, give away a green book!
Read a book on green issues, or a book on gardening (green thumbs)!
Or, read an Irish Book: Irish authors, books on Ireland, or Irish poetry!
Enjoy St Patrick's Day.
Here are a few Irish mystery authors I enjoy:

A. Thomas Adcock  Drown All the Dogs, Liz Allen Deborah Parker Solicitor

B. * John Banville, Colin Bateman, Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture, Rhys Bowen,  John Brady Sgt. Matt Minogue, Mary Bringle Man in Moss Colored Trousers

C. * John Connolly Charlie Parker, Freeman Wills Crofts Insp. Joseph French

D. Mark Daniel Ireland and Horses, Theodora DuBois Shannon Terror

E. Randy Lee Eickhoff Fallon's Wake

F. * Tana French In the Woods series

G.* Bartholomew Gill Chief Insp. Peter McGarr, Andrew Greeley Blackie;

H. Lyn Hamilton Celtic Riddle, *Erin Hart, Nora Gavin; Jack Higgins, Dougal Munro; *Declan Hughes Ed Loy

I, J, K. * H.R.F. Keating Insp. Ghote; DCI Harriet Mart, David Kiely Angel Tapes

L, M. Eugene McEldowney Stone in the Heart, Ralph McInerny Andrew Broom;

O. Gemma O’Connor

P. * Sheila Pim Irish Gardening Mysteries

Q, R, S. *Ian Sansom Case of the Missing Books, * Leonie Swann Three Bags Full

T. * Peter Tremayne Sister Fidelma

U,  V, W, Y. Yeats is Dead - Joseph O'Connor, ed. - Various Authors

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Read Across America - Children's Books

In honour of Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2nd, the National Education Association (NEA) has set aside a week to honor the birthday of one of the world’s most beloved children’s author *beginning 1 March in 2013. The NEA's Read Across America began in 1998 and is an annual reading motivation and awareness program celebrated to encourage reading and literacy and create lifelong readers.

This year NEA is teaming up with Renaissance Dental to deliver an important message: 2 x 2 + 20 = good oral health and literacy habits. “We’re asking children and their parents to brush for two minutes, two times per day plus read for 20 minutes each day,” said Rob Mulligan, president and CEO at Renaissance Dental. “That’s a daily total of 24 minutes focused on developing good oral health and reading skills.” American students miss over 51 million hours of school every year due to oral health problems. Students miss critical instruction time—especially in early grades where reading skills are a critical focus. This partnership will bring books and toothbrushes to kids in need on the eve of National Children’s Dental Health Month (February).

There are so many wonderful Dr. Seuss books that inspire and encourage reading, and there is nothing like reading with a child. Joy can be found not only by sharing the story, but also by sharing their reactions and discussing their thoughts.

Don’t forget to read to your adult loved ones as well. That special poem, silly rhyme, moving passage, joke that you can’t wait to share, or just the book you are reading now.

"You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child."

Here is a listing of some of my favourite children’s and young Adult Authors (that I am still reading!)

A. Chris van Allsburg (Polar Express), G.A. Aiken (What a Dragon Should Know), Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)

B. J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Frank Baum, Alan Bradley (Flavia deLuce), Thornton Burgess, Gillian Bradshaw (Camelot series)

C. Lewis Carroll (Alice), Chaucer

D. Kate DiCamillo, Roald Dahl, Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), Jeanne DuPrau (Embers series)

E. Julie Andrews Edwards, Michael Ende (NeverEnding story)

F. Ian Fleming (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Anne Frank, Fynn (Mister God, this is Anna)

G. Neil Gaiman, Kenneth Graham, Jean Craighouse George

H. Mark Haddon (Curious Incident Dog in the Night), Rachel Hartman (Seraphina), George Haley

I. Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie), Washington Irving (Rip van Winkle)

J. William Joyce (Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore), Brian Jacques, W.E. Johns (Biggles)

K. Rudyard Kipling, Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew)

L. Andrew Lang (Blue Fairy Book), Madeleine L’Engle, Munro Leaf (Story of Ferdinand), Edward Lear (Owl and Pussycat), C.S. Lewis (Narnia)

M. Walter Moers, Gregory Maguire, Andrew Motion (Silver), Brandon Mull

N. Edith Nesbit (Railway children), John Newbery, Mary Norton (Borrowers)

O. Scott O’Dell

P. Terry Pratchett (I shall wear Midnight), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Gary Paulson


R. JK Rowling (Harry Potter), Arthur Ransom, Marjorie Rawlings, Rick Riordan (Perry Jackson)

S. Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped), Maurice Sendak, Lane Smith, (It's a Book), Louis Sachar, Dr Suess, Lemony Snicket, Brian Selznick (Hugo)

T. J.R.R. Tolkein, Nigel Tranter, Mark Twain, Tasha Tudor

U. Anne Ursu (Shadow Thieves), Florence Upton (golliwoggs)

V. Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji)

W. T. H. White (Sword in the Stone), E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web), H.G. Wells


Y. Laurence Yep (Golden Mountain Chronicles), Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, Wizard’s Hall)

Z. Paul Zindel (Pigman), Pamela Zagarenski (illustrator)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book of the Moment

Susanna Kearsley The Winter Sea

I read Shadowy Horses, Mariana and the Rose Garden, quite quickly in succession, charmed by the writing and locations. Historical Scotland, medieval England, magic as well as reminding me greatly of reading Mary Stewart as a teenager. Then I discovered Mary Stewart was one of Kearsley’s favorite authors growing up, and I couldn’t wait to read more. Her first novel Mariana won the Catherine Cookson literary prize, all of her books have become bestsellers. She also writes classic thrillers under the name Emma Cole.

The Winter Sea is her most recent book, and rumour has it her next one is a sequel (you have time to read this one before Firebird is released in June). Prepare to be enthralled: this is a beautiful and engaging work of historical fiction, with a dash of romance, tragedy, mystery in an engrossing story. She has done her research, both in richly detailed history but also in the present day settings – interesting characters, a moody sea, enchanting scottish village and local customs.

Summary: Carrie McClelland moves to Scotland to continue to research her next book on a relatively unknown Jacobite rebellion of 1708. She is drawn to Slains Castle, rents a remote cottage and begins to dream of her characters, creating a parallel story.

If you like Barbara Erskine (Lady of Hay), Diana Gabaldon and Mary Stewart, read on.

Monday, February 18, 2013


The Midwife's Tale by Samuel Thomas

The midwife in this tale is Lady Bridget Hodgson, and her newly acquired servant and apprentice Martha. Lady Bridget is a 30 year old twice widowed woman, whose very real sorrow is the loss of her 2 children. She lives in St Helen’s Stonegate Parish, York, and best of all, is based on an actual character. The author discovered this woman from her will written in 1683, perhaps the only document to list her occupation as midwife instead of status as widow. These were streets I know well, and the pull back in time was intense : the setting perfectly depicted the harrowing days of a siege (by the Scots, described here as barbarians, during the political and religious strife of King Charles and Parliament). This story has an intriguing list of characters, all well developed, with distinct differences and functions. Many classes of people are represented from city officials, soldiers, jailers, gentlewomen, working women, wives, tailors, to street urchins, in churches, government, bars, apothecaries etc.

Martha is also a fascinating character, useful to the household, but with unusual set of skills, not so much house cleaning as house breaking. She has a few secrets of her own.

This is primarily a book about women, but there is an interesting assortment of men:

brother-in-law (Edward), dominating, political, ultimately trustworthy

nephew (Will, son of Edward) tormented individual (club foot) but supportive, helpful

Italian (Bacca) mysterious bordering on violence and deadly

husbands, sinful men of god, 'the godly'

dwarf jailer (Samuel Short) – humour in odd places, goodness

mayor - powerful, secretive, ruthless chess player

rebels and kingsmen in bombardments (to be avoided!)

This is not a fast paced thriller. It is filled with death and the grim reality of the struggle for life, such that you wonder how we as humanity made it out of the 17th century. There is scathing social and religious commentary, interesting portrayal of the conniving and desperate lives of most women, the corrupt power of local politics all the while presenting everyday life. If you think you'd like time travel, read this for the gritty, grimy gruesome detail that will make you revel in central heating and plumbing. My nose wrinkles just thinking of her descriptive reeking passages. The contrast with her life (with linens, extra clothing, food) to the poor and unfortunate is uncomfortable at best. The writing is evocative - reel from the scents (stinking smells really), the sounds (cannons, horse screams, rain) but also the torment and sorrow of loss of children, babies, diseases, and the precariousness of life. There are full descriptions of several types of births but also the customs and camaraderie of the gossips (those women who helped with birthing)

But the characters were intriguing and interesting and every page turned effortlessly. I so enjoyed this book that I seriously hope that it is the beginning of a series. That Lady Bridget will continue to deliver babies and solve mysteries satisfactory, especially with Martha now taken on as deputy (midwife in training).


"I was struck once again by the artist's inability to portray him as any less pathetic than he had been in life. In truth it was a peculiar kind of masterpiece."

“Phineas (her second husband) had taught me the hard lesson that contentment in marriage could not be taken for granted. I preferred the certainty of my work to the unknown of married life.”

'I never forget a mother, the fathers were a different matter."

“It is said that in his youth Edward ordered his sleeves cut an inch longer than was fashionable in order to hide the pommel of his dagger. This seemed right to me.”

“Edward was a voracious reader, and the walls of the room were covered with bookshelves containing works on every subject imaginable. There were books in English and Latin, of course, but also French and what looked like Greek. Massive folios of Shakespeare’s plays sat comfortably next to cheap pamphlets detailing a monstrous birth in Sussex….his desk was a riot of correspondence and commonplace books in which he scrawled notes…despite all this the room exuded not chaos but a sort of controlled energy.”

4.5 stars
read as an ARC

If you like Ariana Franklin, CJ Ransom and Vanora Bennett this is a book for you.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Climate and Conservation Eds. Jodi A. Hilty, Charles C. Chester and Molly S. Cross

Island Press (publishers) May 2012 392 pages

I anticipated an interesting and informative read as Island Press is a leading non-profit environmental publisher which specialises in ecology, biodiversity, conservation and natural history, all subjects I love. They publish 40 titles each year (with a library of over 800 titles) trying to reach a broader audience with scientific information. One of their books "Unnatural History of the Sea" by Callum Roberts (2009) was declared one of Jonathan Yardley's top ten books of the year, a formidable accolade. EO Wilson's memoir was another mesmerizing, unforgettable title for me.

Climate and Conservation consists of 19 case studies presented from many of the world's ecosystems: temperate, polar, equatorial, montane etc. The studies are presented by 'people on the ground' primarily academics and scientists, many working for the Nature Conservancy, WWW or similar NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Although this is published in 2012, it feels dated with much information from 2002-2006/9. At the very least some of the climate data from 2011, 2010 should have been included, especially updating the introductory chapters, which were otherwise excellent.

This book contains some very interesting habitat / ecosystem studies from Madrean Sky Islands to Albertine Rift (Africa) or closer to home with the Appalachians or Yellowstone. Each region has a detailed map of the area, with a few good quality photographs also illustrating some regions. The chapters have specific details to vast generalisations, with multiple authors reflecting different styles, although there is an overall message of providing recommendations to DO something in each local environment, which ultimately will have a global benefit. Some of the pictures painted are dire (the Amazon with illegal land appropriation and deforestation always comes to mind and is represented here).

Having worked in many of the areas represented here the overall portrayal of conditions, expectations and assessments are accurate. I felt confident that regions I knew little about were also presented well, and enjoyed learning more about Mongolian Grasslands and Arctic Alaska (ecosystems I know I will not study myself).

My initial impression on reading this is who is the audience: students? colleagues? professionals? general public? As this book does not just show problems of biodiversity and climate change, but also involves problem solving, de-emphasizing the doom and gloom of many popular presses, I think the book is intended to reach a broad audience, providing scientific facts to people on the ground, such as for planners and managers. I think it could have a much broader audience with this remit. I can't see many of my neighbors reading this book, but I would like to buy each of them a copy. It would also be an important reference for community and high school libraries which should provide accurate information on an important current topic. 2012 was the warmest year on record, when are we going to wake up?

My kindle copy had annoying grammatical errors, typos, weird hyphenation, lack of capital letters for author names, poor indexing, ... The Bios of contributors / authors were interesting, and provide reassuring credentials (scientists and academics with good experience). I confess I read that chapter first before assessing the case studies. The index, however, was basic and incomplete, not including the authors or all the locations. There is an impressive list of references or publications, but I feel these would have been more useful and appropriate at the end of each chapter/case study.

I do think this is a valuable reference book, and applaud the kindle format for additional accessibility, with potentially a wider audience. Anything that can get facts into people for educated and informed opinions as this is critical in determining our environmental future. This is a timely book in our current political climate but also before degraded ecosystems are the only habitats we can have. I applaud Island Press for partnering with EcoAdapt who launched CAKE - Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange website in 2010, an online community with database of case studies, literature and professionals.

3.5 stars
Read as an ARC

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Lists - Romance

February is I love to Read Month
A Good Book and Chocolate, flowers optional

Romantic Authors

Following the library's (and Facebook) alphabet lists of either books or authors, here is a list of authors that write romance fiction. I personally never knew that Jane Austen or Garrison Keillor were considered romance writers (searching Kindle selections). These are some of the authors I have enjoyed reading, especially classics and Regency or historical novels.

To quote Robertson Davies, 'It is dangerous to condemn stories as junk which satisfy the deep hunger of millions of people. These books are not literary art, but a great deal of what is acclaimed as literary art in our time offers no comfort or fulfillment to anybody.’  from For Your Eyes Alone; the Letters of Robertson Davies, ed. Judith Skelton Grant, Viking Press

A. Jane Austen, Jennifer Ashley, *Laurie Anderson

B. Mary Balogh, *Angela Benson

C. Gail Carriger, *Jennifer Crusie, Mary Chase Comstock

D. Christina Dodd

E. Suzanne Enoch

F. Jane Feather

G. *Diana Gabaldon, *Roberta Gellis

H. *Madeline Hunter, *Deborah Harkness

I. Iris Johansson

J. *Eliosa James

K. Lisa Kleypas, Susanna Kearsley, Lynn Kurland

L. Stephanie Laurens

M. Karen Marie Moning, *Lucy Muir

N. Brenda Novak

O. Constance O’Day Flannery

P. Mary Jo Putney, *Elizabeth Peters, * Nina Coombs PyKare,

Q. Julia Quinn, Amanda Quick

R. Karen Rose, Karen Ranney, Deanna Raybourn, *Pamela Regis

S. *Christina Skye

T. Adriana Trigiani

U.V. Joan Vincent

W. Susan Wiggs, Lauren Willig, Edith Wharton, Kathleen Woodiwiss

X,Y. *Jane Yardley, Rebecca York

Z. Mia Zachary

* Denote authors who have Phds in various subjects and take the romance novel to a new level.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book of the Moment

Dan Fesperman The Double Agent

I love discovering a new author to read: his list of awards for previously published novels is delightful. The Double Agent is an old-fashioned spy thriller, well researched (well read!) and well written. His style (descriptive, intrigue, pace) pays homage to Cold War espionage novels and made me quite nostalgic for those books. Especially with the multiple literary references from the masters of this genre: Le Carre, Deighton, but also recognising several of my personal favourites: Geoffrey Household, Helen McInnes, John Buchan and Alan Furst. The Appendix has a list of 222 books from 48 author, 18 of whom were in intelligence. 57 were published before 1957. All will provide hours of entertaining reading if you haven’t already perused this literature.

These spy novels provide literary clues throughout this book, which I relished discovering and remembering (yes, I got sidetracked into several books after reading this one). I loved the references to plots, international locations and historical events.

This story is narrated by Bill Gage, as he tries to uncover the truth behind an earlier incident in his career which decades later has left him a rather sad PR agent instead of journalist. The past, with his father, his son, a previous girlfriend, and the eastern European locations of his youth,  is unravelled with steady pace action, but thoughtful intelligence. This is less high tech/buff agents and more reality on the ground. It wasn’t as dark and dangerous as I remember many spy books, but it was also less desperate and more entertaining. A very good read.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Recently, we had a fun WWW (Wit, Wisdom and Wine) fundraiser event for the Library. I probably donated half of the books that went with the silent auction items as I am radically cleaning my bookshelves and downsizing. It hurts. But it has reacquainted me with so many books and authors and as always the desire to share the next good read. It’s a new book if you haven’t read it. 
Shadow of the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

This is her debut historical novel, in a planned medieval trilogy about Queen Emma. At 400+ pages is it a richly detailed, well written account of a relatively unknown period of English history. The author has thoroughly researched Emma, although some of the characters are rather loosely involved in events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (891 to 1154). (NB several of the unexpected events in this novel didn't actually happen. Also, I was surprised by the love interest as well as the guilt/haunting episodes.) The author was intrigued by the silence of 15 years in the Queen's autobiography (Encomium Emmae Reginae 1040) which triggered this novel. I did find it engaging reading, with accurate family history and political intrigue although the use of four voices often interrupted the flow. She includes glossary, map, and a chart of names which are quite useful to keep everyone straight. It is evident that Bracewell has done research on everything from swordplay to parchment, clothes to loos, and reveled in every minute of it (the detail, but also well written).

Emma was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, essentially sold in a treaty to provide allies to protect the shores of England against the marauding Danes. She married King AEthelred II (the Unready) in 1002 when she was 16 and he was 35 (considered old, but he had been reigning for 20+years by then, in turbulent times.) His nickname was given 150 years after his death and is a pun on his name (noble counsel) which would have been better translated as "ill advised or evil counsel", referring to his royal Council the Witan. History has accorded him a powerful king, one of the most forceful kings of the 10th century who created the Kingdom, ending individual control of all the magnate families. The author, however, depicts AEthelred as cruel, old, haunted, although most of the story is told from Emma's viewpoint. She matures and becomes one of the most powerful women of the 11th century, 40 years behind the throne. Her story is fascinating, as she leaves the innocence of childhood, navigates court intrigue, falls in love, endures and creates political rivals and generally survives a rather brutal world. Given how little we know of women in history, she is a fascinating character.

Her son, Edward (who becomes King, the Confessor, d. Jan 1066) is born at the end of this book (1006). Her story will continue with additional portrayals of a life in which two of her sons (by each husband), two stepsons (by each husband) and a great nephew (William the Conqueror Oct 1066) became kings of England. Her life story as detailed here, is an enjoyable, interesting, historical read.

If you like Phillippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy or Elizabeth Chadwick you will enjoy these novels. I also recommend Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series, and Edward Rutherford's Sarum.
3 stars a lot of detail, but editing would help.
Shadow on the Crown is due to be published February 2013.
Read as an ARC

Book of the Moment
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I read books for a variety of reasons. I could have read this because Nancy Pearl highly recommended it, because it was one of the top ten YA books of the year, or because it is an interesting historical genre that I like. But I started it because the author is a writer living in Scotland and a Pilot. And she has a Phd (in Folklore from UPenn). These days I am astonished that most of the authors I love have Phds. I love them for the sentence structure, the plot, the research, and the storytelling. And the experience upon closing the book that I must share it, immediately.

Quite simply, Code Name Verity is one of the best books of the year – this year, last year, whatever. Don’t be put off by the YA classification, this is a great book in any genre. It is stunning, breathtaking, horrifying, thrilling, terrifying, heartbreaking, and absolutely breathtaking. You can not remain unmoved during this story, and the last two chapter might rip out your heart (especially as an adult). It has several very important messages for teens too. It won’t hurt adults to remember the fragility of love, the meaning of hope, the power of courage, and the grace of true friendships.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book of the Moment

Thomas Perry The Boyfriend (publication March 2013)

Thomas Perry is an award winning crime writer (see especially Metzer’s Dog). He has a Phd in English, and news to me, is a producer of primetime network television (21 Jump Street, Star Trek: next generation, etc). His novel The Butcher’s Boy, which won the Edgar in 1983 for best first novel, was truly disturbing to me, where the nice man living next door can actually be a ruthless assassin. I have never looked at my neighbours in quite the same way. That series includes Sleeping Dogs and the Informant and kept me awake into the small hours of the night, with all the lights on. This time, in The Boyfriend, we have an ex LAPD well respected homicide detective, now PI, as a thinking protagonist. I never felt that Jack Till would be killed, but I was on the edge of my seat in the action packed rather brutal ride. He is tracking a serial killer, whose victims are all strawberry blondes, but who also happen to be in the high end call girl profession. The secret agenda provides another race against time. The concise writing and detail on each story level is all too real/plausible/possible and quite depressing, but adds to the credibility. Yes, I read it on one sitting, well into the early hours, heart in throat, wondering how it was going to end. In fact, it ended too abruptly for me! Dare I hope he will write a sequel?

Of similar interest: the John Sanford Virgil Flowers series, Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series or Craig Johnson Walt Longmire series.
Of note: If you haven't read the Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry, start at the beginning! I thoroughly enjoyed the initial series, which was very inovative, creative and fascinating. The last novel Poison Flower was a return to his best writing.

Read as an ARC, pre-order on Kindle or ask your library to purchase this (they have most of the rest!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


The Beggar King by Oliver Potszch
(3rd in the series The Dark Monk and The Hangman’s Daughter all translated by Lee Chadeayne). These books were published earlier in Germany, with several more installments expected. Interestingly the story is based in part on the author’s family history as descendents of a Bavarian executioner. The Beggar King follows on from The Dark Monk which also follows almost directly on from the Hangman’s Daughter, and while each can be stand alone I also strongly recommend reading them in order as I had a much more vivid picture of the Hangman from the first tale, which resonates throughout The Dark Monk. You don’t forget the humanity of the man from the first tale. And you need to know that especially in the predicament of the Beggar King. The Dark Monk takes place in the winter of 1660 with the three main characters (the executioner and healer of Schongau Jakob Kuisl, his daughter (newly apprenticed Midwife) Magdalena and the physician’s son Simon). They interpret a trail of riddles and myths after a local priest is poisoned (beware sticky donuts) while untangling their social lives. This is a fun historical ride through the Knights Templar (more along the lines of the Da Vinci Code) balancing mystery, historical detail, romance and drama. Medieval life is rather accurately (brutally) portrayed (I still feel cold), the tale is a bit convoluted, while also being somewhat predictable. In the Beggar King, it is 1662 and the action takes place in the Imperial City of Regensburg where Jakob travels to visit his sister whom he believes gravely ill. He finds her dead and is framed for her murder. And while he faces the torturous devices he knows all too well, there is honor among hangmen. Fortuitously Magdalena and Simon arrive, having run away together after tumultuous village life. It is only through the underground network of beggars and thieves that they all uncover a larger plot. You experience the reality of life in medieval times, and this is a fascinating account of an amazing historical city. This installment felt a little more contrived than the previous: for smart characters they do some very inconsistent things. I winced at a few anachronism/slang terms. I did enjoy meeting the characters again and look forward to each case. Note that my copy had a teaser of the next installment and I am already hooked.
Three and a half stars.
Read as an ARC.

Jakob reminds me Gaius Petreius Ruso (a Roman army medic and amateur sleuth) of the Medicus series by Ruth Downie (but an earlier Roman time period primarily set in England). I am impatiently awaiting the release of the fifth book Semper Fidelis in January 2013.

Book of the Moment:

Every January for the past three decades I have read poetry of Robert Burns. The 25th is the second largest Scottish holiday, not only in Scotland, but around the world. I have held a Burns Supper for many years ranging from family dinners of 10 to over 80 friends and family. This year is no exception. So I was delighted to see a new edition of Burns Poetry and Songs to peruse as I prepare for another celebration. The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns has a new forward and a concise factual description of his life (and times) which most people will find useful and I was relieved to see was less opinionated/dated and more practical with a perspective of his work, his ‘scottishness’ and his accomplishments.

Many of the poems are familiar to the reader, from Auld Lang Syne to Tam O'Shanter. Importantly there is a glossary of many of the Scots words which will help in translation! Most people don’t realise how important Burns was to rescuing Scottish folk music, but also creating it. As such, the printed versions here, while lovely, do no even begin to do the songs justice. Please find the music/cds of Jean Redpath (awarded OBE for her astonishing and beautiful musical renditions of Burn’s work), or Andy M. Stewart’s CD of a selection of Burn’s best known works (I still think of this as a definitive album). And the song/poem rendition of Scots Wae Hae by the New Zealander Steve McDonald still gives me chills. This current volume does provide an easy access to Scotland’s National Poet - there are many more kindle books out there too. As well as a huge number of scholarly works.