Sunday, November 22, 2015

Halton Cray:The Shadows of the World, Book One

I've just finished reading "Halton Cray" for the second time, and I still love this story! I didn't want to put it down. I loved it most because, while it shared elements with 'Jane Eyre,' it wasn't just a modern version of it. It is it's own story and full of surprises! I also loved the development of the relationship between the characters. Their banter with each other is exquisite. This is a perfect rainy-day novel, but it is more than that, too. Scenes from this book will stay with me, independent of the way 'Jane Eyre' has influenced it (though I did love those echoes when I noted them!). I am so looking forward to reading the sequel. Thank you, N. B. Roberts, for deciding to continue Thom and Alex's story.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

The Cobweb Bride is a mysteriously strange but fascinating cross between The Masque of the Red Death, Cinderella, and  a Tolkien-esque quest.

Death, or the lack of it, prompts a number of stories--two royal houses (one plagued by revenge) and two warring dukedoms, a peasant household full of pettiness and broken dreams . . . sometimes with amazing surprises, and often with the stark straightforward narrative of a novel from Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.
This is a macabre fairytale that haunts the reader, and in the end of the first book of this trilogy, the writer leaves you with a sense of endless possibility.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade by Nicole Galland

I loved this book! As a medieval historian, I thought the take on this moment in history was superb, but also laugh-out-loud funny--like a marriage of Eugen Weber with Monty Python. Galland's character development is wonderful! While the events highlighted in the story present the sometimes tragic stupidity of western thought (and the voracious hunger for western power), the story remains hopeful and optimistic. I will definitely be recommending this to friends and library patrons!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Acceptable Loss: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry

It has been a while since I've posted anything.  The "new job" and life just kind of took over, but I did want to share with you a novel that I've just finished reading.  It is one of a long line of Anne Perry's William Monk novels, Acceptable Loss.  This is the 17th novel in the series.  Who would think that an author who writes 4 series (and a number of books within each of those!) could keep the storylines so fresh, intriguing and exciting.  This time, things have changed between some of the major characters in the series, so the interest in the story goes up for me even more.  The question is, will the quest for truth and justice prevail, or will that quest be overruled by an unbending adherence to family loyalty?  There were times when the dilemmas that Oliver Rathbone faces made my stomach drop to the floor.  I cannot wait to read the next novel to see how the shift in dynamics will continue to influence these characters that I have come to love.  I've decided that Hester Latterly Monk is a wonderful role model, even if she is at times awkward and too outspoken (or maybe she is so wonderful because she is awkward and outspoken!).

Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Top Ten Underappreciated Novels or Series--Part One: Precious Bane by Mary Webb

The thought that there are "so many books to read, and so little time in which to read them" is not a new idea.  Bibliophiles the world over have lists of books to read and re-read, and the lists keep getting longer (or the piles of books deeper).  Prepare for the list to to get longer, because this is a list of the top ten novels or series that are under-appreciated.  Some have been overshadowed by the popularity of other books in a similar genre and some have just remained obscure.  The purpose of this series of reviews is to explain why they should see the light of day (or be illuminated by a reader's book light).
1. Precious Bane by Mary Webb, first published in 1924, is a novel set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, but is very different from what readers tend to think of as a "Regency novel."  It is the story of Prudence Sarn and her brother, Gideon, who are left to make something of the farm their father leaves behind when he dies.  Gideon becomes obsessed with ambition and wealth (his 'precious bane').  He pushes Prue to work even harder than most men.  She obeys because he promises that he will give her the money she needs to correct her hare-lip when the farm is a success.  The story is full of harsh realities, but in the midst of hardship arises a precious love story between Prue and Kester Woodseaves, the local weaver.  By the time the story is finished, Prudence and Kester, and even Gideon have taken residence in the reader's mind, and it is a story that is impossible to forget.
The characters in the story are a quirky bunch and the harsh realities of life in this time and place are punctuated by the mystical beliefs of the people who populate it.  Gideon becomes a 'Sin Eater' at the death of his father; Prue takes part in a plan to 'raise Venus' for the local lord, and Sarn Mere is a giver of both life and death.   All of these moments capture the reader's imagination and memory.  Stanley Baldwin, Britain's Prime Minister at the time, was so taken with the poetic beauty of the story that he wrote the introduction to the 1928 edition.  In the University of Notre Dame Press edition (1980), Erica Duncan writes, " . . .what is finally evoked in us [by Precious Bane] is more than the fairy tale longing that our inner beauty will be seen so clearly it will make us beautiful before the world, it is the longing to be known and loved for all our blemishes, our warts and wens and contradictions, to be 'let in' whole.  Thus Precious Bane becomes the secret gift, our deepest dream."  This novel becomes personal to the reader in an almost holy way, simply because the characters are human, but driven by forces that they cannot see.  Their world is real and magical at the same time.  Any reader who does not take the time to dwell within the pages of this book is missing an opportunity to experience true beauty.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

When a new job comes along in a new city, there are a lot of things to consider: where to live, where to shop, how to travel . . . it can all be overwhelming.  This is the shortlist of things movers need in new cities--a bit of advice to take a little of the stress and worry out of one of the biggest changes life can throw at you.
  • Even when renting, find a property agent.  Avoid "apartment locators." Stick with a property agent who will show you what you need to see--not just what they want to sell.   Renters need several options--not just the one apartment complex that will pay a locator a commission.  It is worth paying for.
  • Have a good GPS system that will navigate well through the new city streets.  New inhabitants often find treasures when they take an unnecessary turn, but they should be sure they can get back on the right path again.
  • New inhabitants should never move on their own.  They should have some support with them in the days of apartment hunting, information gathering, and settling down, even if the support system is temporary.
  • The newly-employed should always have time to undertake a move.  A month is a good period of time to find an apartment, pack and get things transported to a new location.  Any less time, and the stress will build to intolerable levels
  • Pack an iron and ironing board in an accessible place.  The movers may not make it to a new residence by the first day of new employment.
  • Take the bus in a new city if it is available. New and needful things may pop up that would not be noticed otherwise.
  • Take extra underwear and stay in a less expensive hotel.  Apartment/house hunting may take longer than expected.
  • Find the public library.  Librarians know everything and can help a new patron to find a good grocery store, a local theater and all kinds of other delights.  They also know about things going on in the community, and friends may be found there, too.  Use the opportunity to get involved and become part of something larger than life.
Also published at

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"

Utopia. Paradise. Perfect society.  What is it about "blissful" societies that cause so many dystopian images?  And what is it about these dystopian images of society that draws readers in?  There is an attraction.  The Hunger Games and many of the trilogies that follow it in popularity are definite evidence of that.  The readership is captivated by worlds that are altered from current existence.  As these societies begin, their goal is perfection, but in seeking perfection, existence for their inhabitants becomes frightening and unbearable.  The strange thing is that readers are as enticed by these horror stories as they are by fairy tales and happily-ever-after--especially when these stories are as well-crafted and personal as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
First published in 1986, Atwood's story is as gripping and poignant now as it was over 25 years ago, because its outcome is more possible now than it was then.  It is a world where reading, especially for women, is prohibited.  The narrator of the story, Offred, is not an activist.  She wants to live quietly, keep her head down, and survive.  She thinks constantly of her past, of "the time before:" her husband and daughter.  For her, there is no future that she can readily imagine.  She hopes only for a glance of her former family.  As a handmaid she gets caught in the politics of a world that has become Biblical by Old Testament measures--there is no Christianity anymore.  It has been wiped out by the sect wars and the government has been wrenched from the hands of open-minded reason and grabbed in a manner reminiscent of Hitler's rise to power.  Society becomes idealized in a way that is bleak, colorless.  Individuality is swallowed up in rites, uniformity of dress, and down-cast eyes.
Though the story is dark, the reader comes to love Offred.  She had dreams of love and a career, of family and home.  She rebels in small ways.  Her narration is an act of rebellion.  She constantly tells her reader that she is not brave and looks at those she perceives as courageous with mild envy.  The reader loves her, and is caught up in her story, because the reader is led to ask what he or she would do in the same situation.  That is what draws the reader in. She sees Offred and she sees herself.
The ending of the story is indefinite, and this reader believes that Atwood composed the ending precisely this way so that the reader can decide what happened.  At the end of Offred's record, there are notes from a conference of scholars, from a future generation that deliberates the possibilities of what happened to her, why it happened, and how.  Any of these possibilities are feasible. Was she taken?  Did she escape?  Did she survive?  Readers can choose, and choose their own destiny as well.