Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Over Sea, Under Stone - Susan Cooper

I actually reread this only a year ago, and I was planning to move on to the next book in the series, The Dark is Rising, when my library got both books on CD. The temptation was too great and I went back to the beginning again to listen to Over Sea, Under Stone before moving on to the second book.

I admit that I don't think this is the strongest book in the series. It's a good place to start - more of a children's adventure/treasure hunt than the detailed exploration of good vs. evil and deeper powers that the later books become. But it's a great story all the same as Simon, Jane and Barney spend their summer holiday searching for the Holy Grail in Cornwall. It's a well-written, well-told story that stands the test of time nicely. Yes, you can tell it isn't written about modern children, but that just helps set it into its own place in history rather than making it either old-fashioned or unreadable.

By listening to the audiobook (very nicely narrated by Alex Jennings), it took me a lot longer to get through than it would have done if I was reading the book. That made the story a little disjointed for me and I lowered the grade for that, but the story itself remains excellent and I highly recommend both Over Sea, Under Stone (I just love that title) and the entrie Dark is Rising sequence to any reader.

Over Sea, Under Stone
Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising, Book 1

Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase

This is a book that is always at the top of "Best Romances" lists, and I suddenly decided I wanted to read it. Hooray for the library, that speedily filled my request.

I really liked the book. I think the heroine, Jessica, is the strongest draw for me. She's smart, fun and strong. She stands up to Dain and is willing to take him on, yet she's also vulnerable in her own way. The chemistry between the couple is excellent and the story progresses very nicely.

I'm sorry that I don't seem to have lots to say about the book, except that it deserves its place on all those lists and if you haven't read it but want a good historical romance with a great couple, then give this one a try.

Lord of Scoundrels
Loretta Chase

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Triple Irish Chain

Feeling totally stir crazy the other day, but not like reading or stitching, I got out my patchwork and took over the dining room table.

I have now (with the assistance of my feline helper) completed the 32 blocks with the "X" pattern on them and one of the blocks with the background centre. I went out with Marcus and Dave today, so haven't done any more patchwork, but I hope to get the other 31 background blocks done in the next week or so. There's still a lot of work to do, so I don't know if I'll get the top finished this round of sewing or not, but I'm enjoying myself and that's the most important thing.

More photos on Flickr.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

First Time Outside

Background paper from "Memories are Made of This" by Tracy Ann Robinson; flowers from "Sherbert" by Tracy Ann Robinson; circle brush from "Brushwork Circles 2" by Tracy Ann Robinson; leaves from "Vintage Antiques" by Jen Ulasieweicz; alpha is "Grass Alpha" by Jen Ulasieweicz; font is SF-Happiness.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I decided to tweak my rotation yet again - after struggling with a week on Defender of the Kingdom I decided to make that week a "free choice" week so that I can do Defender if I wish, or something else entirely if I don't. I suspect that I'll be choosing from Defender of the Kingdom, Book of Ink Circles and Cinderella (with the temptation to possibly start some hand applique quilt squares (or more accurately rectangles) for a total change of technique). With that in mind, I decided to check all my little WIP thumbnails in the sidebar were up to date.

It turned out that they were almost all out of date and not only was the thumbnail for Cinderella very old, so was the latest picture I had up on Flickr. So I've taken a photo of where I'm currently up to. (I've no idea when I got to that point except that I'm pretty sure I did at least a few stitches on her this year.) Here's my most current photo of Mirabilia's Cinderella.

Sampler del Lago Maggiore

Here's my progress after another week of stitching. I've finished the first motif, which I'm delighted about. It is looking really pretty and I'm enjoying stitching it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

At the Bride Hunt Ball - Olivia Parker

In many ways, this is a standard romance as the heroine gets caught up in a house party where she is a potential bride for a duke's younger brother. Of course, she catches the attention of the duke instead, he catches hers, and things go from there. All the same, new author Olivia Parker provides a witty and sparkling read that is a cut above the average.

Madelyn is an engaging heroine, far more sensible than many even if she suffers from that fate that has beset more than one heroine who isn't a model of society - clumsiness. Gabriel is also a good hero and their story is a lovely read.

I thoroughly ejoyed this book and recommend it, for all that I don't have a lot of detailed comments to offer. If you want a nice Regency-set historical with a pleasant cast of characters and a solid plot, don't be put off by the title and give this one a look.

At the Bride Hunt Ball
Olivia Parker

Pleasure Unbound - Larissa Ione

While this book sounded interesting (demon hospital; demon getting involved with demon slayer) it turned out to fall absolutely into the "meh" category for me. I read it to the end, and it was okay, but it totally failed to rise about the average for me. In fact, once a couple of days had passed I downgraded its rating by a point and accepted that it probably slipped to under average.

I know there have been a goodly number of people around the blogsphere who really enjoyed it, so don't take my word for it. If it sounds interesting to you, give it a go, but it didn't do anything for me. I'm glad I bought it as an ebook and didn't pay New Zealand prices for it. That would have made me unhappy, but as it is I can just brush this one away as a fail.

Pleasure Unbound
Larissa Ione
Demonica, Book 1

The Stars Down Under - Sandra McDonald

I read the first book in this series, The Outback Stars, earlier in the year, and while I enjoyed it, it didn't totally overwhelm me with its brilliance. All the same, I liked it enough to reserve the sequel from the library. I think part of the reason I wasn't totally captivated by the first book was that it focussed largely on the running of the Stores section of a large starship, with a small diversion into a larger, more mystical plot. It was interesting, but all the details on shipboard practices were not totally my thing (on the other hand, I have a friend who just loved the book for exactly that reason).

In this second book, the main protagonists from The Outback Stars are now married, stationed on-planet and trying to ignore their bizarre trip through the alien travel spheres that happened at the end of the previous volume. Of course, things don't work out that way, and before long both Jodenny and Myell find themselves caught up in both unwilling research on the spheres and combating an alien invasion.

There was so much more to this book, I felt. McDonald goes further with Aboriginal mythology, infusing the vanished aliens who built the spheres with the Dreamtime as their history. They remain enigmatic figures about which little is known, but we do learn more about the sphere system and how Myell's destiny is linked to it. Jodenney on the other hand, is left behind in the more prosaic "real" world, dealing with alien spaceships in orbit around Earth.

McDonald threw out a lot of names, ideas and concepts in the first book without providing a lot of detail about what they meant or how they fitted into the landscape of her books but here she goes into more detail - unfortunately not in consideratin of the reader but because the plot requires it, but all the same it made the world she has created a lot deeper and more real which helped with my understanding of the story. I now wonder if I would get more out of the first book if I went and reread it.

It's a much tighter, faster paced story too, as both Myell and Jodenny deal with their problems and Myell finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the Dreamtime, much against his will. The ending is downbeat, but there's another book coming (The Stars Blue Yonder, due out in July 2009) and my gut feeling is that Jodenny and Myell's story is far from over. The ending fits with the tale, and doesn't really feel like an ending at all, so while it wasn't exactly a happy ending, I wasn't left feeling totally depressed about it either. Instead, I found myself hanging out for the next book.

Two lost characters from The Outback Stars reappear, and while I'm totally on board with what happened to Sam and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to him in the next book, I found the whole thing on the planet with the crocodile women and the return of the tech (sorry, I can't remember her name) to be kind of weird. It didn't seem to fit with either the mysticism or the science aspects of the book as it tried to cross between both and was really the only place the book failed me.

All in all, The Stars Down Under is fascinating and different both for its use of Aboriginal mythology and its generally neat blending of science fiction and fantasy. Jodenny and Myell remain fascinating characters and I want to know what happens to them next. I also desperately want them to have a happy ending, although I have no idea what I expect that to be.

The Stars Down Under
Sandra McDonald
Outback Stars, Book 2

Sunday, July 06, 2008

One of those book memes

I don't usually do these, but I thought I'd do this one (except for the underlining part as I think that just made the list more confusing).

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE. (not going to do this one)
4) Reprint this list in your own LJ so we can try and track down these people who've read 6 and force books upon them ;-)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnet
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

That comes out at a total of 29 read and 1 planning to read

Friday, July 04, 2008

Me and Marcus

Taken at a friend's wedding last weekend. Isn't Marcus a cutie.

Dawn Star progress

Here's my progress (full shot and close up) on Dawn Star as at last Sunday. I finished that half page and I'm really pleased as how it is coming along.

Can you see her hand?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lover Enshrined - J. R. Ward

Okay, I admit it. I'm addicted to these books. I know they're not perfect, but they're very readable, the characters are over-the-top but compelling and I just love going along for the ride.

There have been complaints about Ward's world building, and I have to agree with those. It's like she keeps having "better ideas" (TM) and immediately has to use them, even though the world didn't previously have a place for them. Some authors (I'm especially thinking of Marjorie Liu here) can expand their universe organically and it all feels like it always fit. Ward doesn't manage this. Instead, there's a lot of clunking and ripping and tearing. I can look past this and enjoy the story, but I know there are readers for whom this is a breaking point. In fact, with the exception of the Jane-as-a-ghost thing, that was bad world building and bad plotting, I think the world is better now. The problem is that it is no longer totally consistent with what it was in the first books.

The other complaint I've seen is that there isn't enough love story. If you are looking for a book totally focussed on Phury and Cormia, then this is true. This book takes the world and all the characters and their various plot-strands as the priority. It is Phury and Cormia's story - Phury's more than hers - but it is also about the other brothers, about Rhevenge, about John Matthew and his friends and others I'm not going to mention to avoid spoilers. Personally, I love this. I like romances, but I'm a fantasy/SF reader first and a romance reader second, so an emotionally staisfying plot that includes a good love story is perfect for me. This book gave me those things and I'm a happy camper.

Phury and Cormia's love story is lovely. Surprisingly gentle (and also not particularly explicit, especially considering some books in the genre; all the same don't go into this expecting lily-white because you won't get that) and well told. It isn't just about them falling in love, something they're already doing as the book begins since their story began in Lover Unbound, but in finding a way to reconcile themselves to what they feel and how they can possibly fit it into the situation they find themselves in. I found it very touching for all that it wasn't centre stage and hot, hot, hot.

But this is Phury's book too. Ward's talent is definitely in the Brothers she has created above and beyond that of describing their love lives. Phury, the perfect one, is perfectly screwed up and it is in the course of this novel that he finds himself facing up to this and finding a way to begin healing. I liked that everything isn't fixed at the end; instead Phury, with Cormia and his side, is finding a place to begin healing and that is so much more realistic (if you can say that about as over-the-top a series as this one). I'd never been that fussed about Phury, being more attracted to the other brothers, but I loved him to bits by the end of the book. I was desperately sad for him as the story progressed and warmed by the light at the end of his tunnel. I think Ward did much better by him than she did by V in Lover Unbound which, after reading this one, I look back on as being a disappointment.

John Matthew's story continues, and since I love him all over too, that worked beautifully for me. He's finding his place in the world (even if he's screwed up too like the rest of them), finding his own brotherhood and clearly we are moving towards a book that will focus on him.

Ward has taken to doing a lot of setup in each book for the next one, and this is true here. We see very much more about Rhevenge in this book, who is to be the hero of the next one, Lover Avenged. Like every one of Ward's heroes, he's totally messed up and in this book we begin to see just how much so. He's also caught in a very nasty situation - between a rock and a hard place describing it perfectly - and I find myself hanging out for his book just so I can find out how it is going to be resolved. I'm loving the story-telling and don't mind the reduction in the romance storyline this causes, but I can see die-hard romance fans being very frustrated by it.

There's also a bunch of new characters and/or revelations about old characters that look to make future books very interesting. If Ward can just keep her world building at the place she's got it now and avoid the temptation to add any further major shakeups that require extensive retconning, we can concentrate with getting on with more great stories. Damn it, I think I'm going to be buying the next book in hardcover after all.

Lover Enshrined
J. R. Ward
Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 6

If you've reviewed this book and would like me to add a link to your review, please leave me the link in the comments and I'll add it.