Saturday, February 28, 2009

Monthly Reading Totals Posted

Now that I’ve got my book reviews up to date, I’ve posted my February reading list over on Lists and Such. Also up are my cumulative totals for the year so far.

Interesting things of note:

  • I’ve finished my first challenge for 2009, with the eBook Reading Challenge. I needed to read 10 books in the year and I completed that on 24th February when I finished The Eye of Night. I’ve now read 11 eBooks so far this year.
  • Out of curiosity, I’ve kept track of my ratio of paper books to eBooks read. I’ve always plucked a figure of 50/50 out of the air for how much I read of each. So far, that seems to be holding true with my ratio after two months sitting at 45 : 55 (that’s paper : e).
  • I haven’t kept track, but just worked out because I wanted to know, that of the 45% reading of paper books, that’s 2 of mine (both hardcover new releases by “keeper” authors) and 7 borrowed, mostly from the library. So the ratio of paper : e for books that belong to me is more like 13 : 87, which is kind of scary for a bibliophile, as much as I love eBooks.

Bone Crossed – Patricia Briggs

Briggs, Patricia - Bone Crossed Bone Crossed is the fourth book in Briggs’ excellent Mercy Thompson series, and her first novel to be published in hardcover. While that’s a big “yay!” for Briggs that she’s been moved to hardcover, it did make my bank balance squirm when I hit the “order” button. Ah well, hardcovers might take up more space, but they do look nice on my bookshelf.

Mercy faces up to the consequences of her actions as the local vampire Mistress comes after her – and her friends – after discovering that Mercy has killed two of her vampires. Not only that, but a college friend (or more accurately friend of a friend) comes asking for Mercy’s help with a ghost that is haunting her house. On top of all that, Mercy – and Adam – have to deal with the aftermath of what Tim did to Mercy at the end of Iron Kissed.

This is a book in which past actions came back to haunt current characters.

Firstly, Mercy is still dealing with what happened to her in the previous novel, Iron Kissed and this book picks up right where the last one left off – in fact, they overlap by a few minutes – meaning we find out exactly what happened next after Mercy made her commitment to Adam. Nothing annoys me more than characters who miraculously recover from trauma – usually through the love of (ie sex with) a good man or woman. Briggs is too good a writer to fall into this trap and Mercy makes slow progress towards healing. She isn’t “magically” healed by any means, but she has made progress through the course of the book that helps her with living her life every day. It also helps that as she lets Adam closer and closer to her she gets help and assistance, not only from him but from the whole pack, to deal with her demons. (Even if acceptance from the pack isn’t an immediate or easy thing, but again, thank you Ms Briggs, a realistic one.)

But the main plot in Bone Crossed is vampires this time, not werewolves. Back in the second book, Blood Bound, Mercy was “convinced” to stop a vampire that was making demon-ridden vampires. Mercy not only did that but killed another vampire that was involved, and her vampire friend Stefan helped cover it up. Marsilia, Mistress of the Tri-Cities seethe, has not been happy to discover the truth of the latter. Now, Marsilia is out for revenge and her plan is to take it out not directly on Mercy, but on her friends.

Mercy is slowly accepting Adam’s claim on her as his mate and this has her considering whether she should back out to protect Adam and the pack. She also finds herself getting further connected to Stefan, which Adam is not exactly happy about. While there is nothing romantic in this case, Adam is not happy to have a vampire closely involved with his mate. But it turns out Stefan may be the lesser evil.

A trip to Spokane to help her friend Amber out with her ghost, leads Mercy to cross paths with the single vampire in Spokane, one called “the Monster” by other vampires. As Mercy tries to juggle all the disasters just waiting to happen to her, she learns more about herself, about Adam and the pack, about vampires and even the fae. The magical walking stick makes another appearance (yay for me, I figured out what it was going to do, if not exactly how) and in the end Mercy learns that there is nothing wrong with accepting help when it is honestly offered and makes another connection with the fae.

There are neat little cameos by the Baba Yaga (whose actions may well resonate through more books) and Ymir (who goes around identifying himself as a snow elf) and we see Zee and Uncle Mike again, if only briefly. Mercy’s world, most specifically the supernatural parts of it, just keeps on expanding and it will be interesting to see what other supernatural creatures come out of the woodwork as Briggs keeps writing.

There’s also an interesting throwaway line to about a werewolf character that Mercy was part of getting to safety with Bran in Montana. The was it was made makes me wonder if this will become one of Anna and Charles’ stories, as their timeline is currently still behind that of the Mercy books.

This was another excellent entry in Brigg’s Mercy series and I really enjoyed my time in her world yet again. While not part of the main plot of the book (which was excellent and interesting) I think my greatest delight in the book was the slow and realistic progression in Mercy, and in her relationship with Adam, as she deals with what happened to her in Iron Kissed. Thank you, Ms Briggs, for not taking the easy way out. But I think I already knew that you’re too good an author to do that. I’m looking forward to Silver Born, which Briggs teases us will focus a lot on Samuel. While I was very happy Mercy chose Adam, I do like Samuel and I’m glad he’s getting a book about him.

Bone Crossed
Patricia Briggs
Mercy Thompson, Book 4

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge

Mercy Thompson

  1. Moon Called
  2. Blood Bound
  3. Iron Kissed
  4. Bone Crossed

Angel’s Pawn – Nalini Singh

Singh, Nalini - Angel's Pawn This little story was published as an ebook exclusive to tie-in with the imminent (3rd March) release of Singh’s first book in the new Guild Hunter series, Angel’s Blood. Being the completist kind of person that I am, of course I bought it and read it. Now I’m waiting for the actual book to arrive.

Ashwini is a Guild Hunter. In this alternative Earth, that means she tracks down rogue vampires to return to their masters, the angels. Ash has tracked Cajun vampire Janvier three times so far, but he has always managed to fix his problems before she gets a chance to capture him. Now, she finds herself asking him for help as she gets caught up in a dispute between two vampire factions that their ruling angel wants resolved without getting involved himself.

This is only a little story, introducing the set-up of the world Singh has created. She has already proved herself an excellent world-builder with her Psy/Changeling series and it looks like she is going to have done it again with this series. Here we find out that angels are powerful and intimidating creatures who inspire fear rather than awe and like to play often malicious games. Whatever the background of these angels, they are not the ones of religious lore in our world – or not Western Christian lore anyway. I don’t know enough about other religions to comment on those. In this novella, we learn that the angel in it, Nazarach, is 700 years old. The implication is that other angels are older, but in terms of the history of the world, that’s still not all that old. It makes me wonder where the angels came from. I am hoping that as the series and the world develop we’ll learn more.

Humans petition the angels to be Made into vampires and only a few are accepted. Vampires offer the angels their first 100 years in service and the hunters track down those that break their contracts. It seems that century is rarely pleasant, but the indication so far (and it’s a small sample of one short story and the first three chapters of Angel’s Blood that I’ve read) is that vampires come in a variety of types, probably indicative of who and what they were in life. Certainly, Janiver is an appealing character, if clearly far from perfect. I enjoyed him in this story and I can certainly understand why Ash is attracted to him. The other vampires in the story range from mean to petulant, and petty to scheming. Discovering whether there will be more like Janiver or if he’s an aberration will have to wait on the full series.

Ash is a well-rounded character, intact with a harsh past that is explained in a few moment’s of Ash’s remembrance rather than expounded on in detail, which is perfect for this kind of story. Kudos to Singh for having faith in her own story-telling ability (which she has already proved is excellent) rather than belabouring the point. In a pleasant change from many stories, Ash has already made a certain kind of peace with her past and chose to accept she isn’t exactly ordinary. She has made a virtue of her differences and if some things (like meeting an angel whose very house as well as his person is seeped in the pain caused by his past actions) are difficult to manage, she finds a way to do it.

I honestly don’t know if this is the idea start for Singh’s new series. I think it helped me to have already read the teaser chapters of Angel’s Blood, but it is certainly a good little story and well worth reading. All the same, coming from that Western Christian background I mentioned earlier, I find the concept of angels that are all about pain and power and cruelty a little uncomfortable. How well Singh makes it work for me is still to be discovered. I guess Angel’s Blood will be the true test, although those first three chapters suggest its angel may be an exception rather than the rule.

Angel’s Pawn
Nalini Singh
Guild Hunter short story

Guild Hunter:

  1. Angel’s Pawn
  2. Angel’s Blood (March 2009)

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever – Julia Quinn

Quinn, Julia - The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever

I first read this book back in 2007, not long after it was published. Lately, I found myself feeling like giving it a reread. I had good memories of it as a light, fun book and after The Eye of Night – an excellent book but one that took a bit of work – that’s exactly what I was wanting.

Miranda Cheever has been in love with her best friend Olivia’s older brother, Turner, since she was ten. Now, at almost twenty, she and Olivia are off to London for their first season, Turner is a bitter widower since his cheating wife died in a riding accident while going to meet her lover, and really, the scene is perfectly set for romance.

I’ve just reread by original review of The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, and I find that my reaction this time was pretty much the same. I’ve given the book the same grade and enjoyed Quinn’s sparkling romance without needing to take it too seriously.

Miranda is a most engaging heroine, not exactly pretty but striking, the quiet one who stands beside her conventionally beautiful friend who has all the admirers, and watches. She steadies Olivia’s more thoughtless nature and for that her friendship is especially welcomed by Olivia’s rich and titled family. But, as Miranda points out firmly at one point:

“Don’t confuse levelheaded with meek, Turner. They’re not the same thing at all. And I am certainly not meek.”

Miranda is a strong and steadfast heroine, but not a fiery one. And this makes her all the more appealing. She has been in love with Turner for a long time, and if she still sometimes tries to tell herself it is only a schoolgirl infatuation – usually when Turner is being particularly annoying – she knows that isn’t the case. She loves him, and he doesn’t see her as anything beyond his little sister’s little friend.

Of course, this is a romance novel, and as the book progresses and Turner and Miranda find themselves spending more time together, he does indeed begin to notice her. They make mistakes, Turner does some dumb things, but they are married before the book’s end and in love by the last pages, winning a deserved happy ending.

Neither is ever too stupid, which is a relief as that can be particularly annoying. As Miranda says at one point. “I’m not an idiot” and indeed, she is never an idiot. Turner comes closer, but it is in character and appropriate within the set up of the story line. It takes him a long time to realise and accept that he does indeed love Miranda, but after his experience with his wife, it is understandable and it works. Turner might be bitter, but it never makes him mean; he thinks he’s lost all kindness but at bottom he’s a man with a good heart and that fact remains, which makes him much easier to like than some “heroes” in romance, who have less reason to be bitter and angry than he does.

All in all, this was exactly the book I wanted to read. It’s light, it’s fun and the characters are nice people to hang out with for a while.

I never found Olivia a particularly intriguing character, but her showdown with Turner over Miranda is wonderful and I think it is more that the book doesn’t focus on her than anything else. Julia Quinn’s next book is Olivia’s story and while I was a bit lukewarm about reading it, having just reread The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever I find myself much more inclined to find out what happens to Olivia.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever
Julia Quinn

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Romance Reading Challenge

The Eye of Night – Pauline J. Alama

Alama, Pauline - The Eye of Night

Author Ann Agurirre read Pauline Alama’s The Eye of Night earlier this year and loved the book so much she wanted to share the experience. She held a giveaway on her blog, offering five commentators a copy of the book. I was lucky enough to be one of the winners and I have recently finished it. While I don’t think I loved it quite as much as Ann did, I thought this was an excellent fantasy that I would never have read without her giveaway, so I’m very grateful to her.

Seven years ago, Jereth joined the  Tarvon order, seeking some kind of peace after the death of his entire family in a shipwreck. Now he has chosen not to take his final vows and is in the town of St Fieren, hoping for a guiding vision from the sacred pool there. Instead he finds Hwyn, a deformed and battered young woman with a beautiful voice and a quest. He finds himself following Hwyn and her companion, Trenara, to the ends of a world that may be ending itself.

This is epic fantasy at its best, where epic means rich and soaring, rather than long and never-ending. I’m really not sure if I can write something that does justice to this book, as there is so much in it, so much I want to comment on and I’m still not sure if all those pieces and ideas whirling around in my head have settled down into something with some kind of coherence. But I’ll give it a go and we’ll see what happens. There are also a few things I’d like to comment on that are spoilers, so when I get to those I’ll put in a link to my spoiler blog and you can decide if you want to go over and take a look at what I’ve said or not.

The book opens beautifully, with a great hook of an opening line:

I little thought, when I begged shelter at Kelgarran Hall one rainy night, that I should take part in its downfall.

In that single sentence we learn a whole host of things; there is a first person narrator telling the story, he or she is in a position of needing to beg for shelter, condition are not ideal and Kelgarran Hall – whatever and wherever that is – is going to fall by the end of the night. Alama’s prose continues to impress throughout the book. It’s well-written, neither sparse nor over-blown and filled with information that is all there for the reader – but the reader might sometimes have to pay attention to find it.  As the early passages of the book continue, we learn the basics we need to pick up the story. This is a world in difficulties, suffering “Troubles” in its north that are never completely spelled out, but we come to understand them as the companions travel ever further northward. We learn of the religious system – four gods on a World Wheel that keep the world turning. Again, they are not spelled out for us in detail, but we come to understand them as the book progresses.

We also meet the main characters. There is Jereth, a part of him broken by the death of his family, he has failed to find the peace he sought in the Tarvon order and is now searching for a vision to guide him. He is a man of hidden strengths he himself doesn’t yet know and of a fierce and faithful loyalty that, once given, won’t be swayed. Then there is Trenara, beautiful and graceful, but simple of mind, she is the one to attract immediate attention, but it is Hwyn, damaged and deformed who truly captures Jereth and it is her he follows on her quest to the north. Hwyn is a fierce and brave, made strong by her imperfections and yet with a beautiful heart and voice. Also a character is its own way is the Eye of Night, a strange, egg-like artefact that appears to hold life inside it and that Hywn has undertaken to take northwards so that it can hatch into whatever it holds, be that the saving or the doom of the world.

The story unfolds slowly as Hwyn, Jereth and Trenara make their way north. They are well-met and ill-met by the people they meet along the way. In some places they make friends, in others enemies, but always they continue northward towards some kind of ending. I don’t want to spoil the story by detailing much more than this, but while sometimes, reading a book full of travel, I feel like some of it is just here to fill out the pages. This isn’t the case in The Eye of Night, although sometimes it wasn’t until the end of the book that I began to understand the why of things – or at least that there was a why, even if I didn’t fully understand it.

The book if full of themes and a truly wonderful love story that is never sappy or silly, but beautifully inspiring and perfectly part of the story, always there as an underpinning of actions and events, but never taking over to the detriment of the rest of the whole.

This is a book of many themes – as evidenced by the variety that are mentioned on Ann’s blog by different readers (beware – there be spoilers), but for me it was about balance. It was about light needing dark, day needing night, and endings being required for a new beginning. Early on, Hywn says about the Eye of Night:

“Whatever hatches from this egg,” Hwyn said, “will be a child of night. It may be terrible; I may be cursed for releasing it. I fear it as a child fears the dark. But I know this much: it cannot be held back. Like the night, it is necessary.


Then maybe you can understand,” Hwyn said, “why I’m running headlong into the Troubles; why I have to release the hatchling from the Raven’s Egg, even though I feel it. Why I’ll consent to be a midwife to the Night.

“Childbirth, after all, is a fearful trouble. Women suffer pain in childbirth that would undo strong men. Women often die in childbirth, or labor in vain to bring forth a dead child. But what if some magician had the power to hold back this deadly pain, to keep the troublesome child trapped in the womb? Both mother and child would die, and not alone, but the human race with them. No less with the Troubles in the North. The might cast down from their pride, the dead cast up from their graves: are these the pangs of death, or of birth?”

This need for balance, especially as relates to the ending and beginning of the world, is a recurring idea, which isn’t really surprising considering it makes up a significant part of the plot of the book. What will happen when Hwyn releases whatever is growing in the Eye of Night? Will the world end, or will it be the start of something new? And if it is the beginning of something, what will happen to the old ways and the people who have been living them?

Another major part of the book is its magic. This is something organic, fundamental to people and how they live more than some kind of wielding of spells that is so common to fantasy. And the book is so much the better for it. Hwyn and Jereth both carry some kind of magic and each is vital to the course of their journey and their final fates. Hwyn, desperate for a vision threw herself into the lake shrine of St Fierin and has been a seer ever since, but her sight is vague and sometimes unsure. Jereth has the Gift of Naming; this is a universe where true names are important and Jereth can know the true names of the living and the dead. His is a useful talent as they encounter more ghosts as they travel towards the Troubles, and it will be absolutely necessary to the world’s fate.

The book also contains, woven within it, a beautiful love story. Unlike so many people before, Jereth sees the person inside Hwyn’s damaged shell and finds himself drawn to follow her, sometimes even in spite of himself. At one point he talks about the legend of the firebird:

The Magyans have a legend,” I said, “of a firebird that makes its nest in the heart of a burning mountain. There is only one in all the world, so if you see it once in your life, you can be sure it will not come again. Its plumes, they say, are like the fire at the heart of the world. And some see the firebird and let it pass, holding it in memory, while they live out their lives as before; but maybe afterward everything they see seems dim beside that single fiery vision. Others see it and follow after it; they leave the live they have known and inherit a world of trouble, and hardship, and danger, and wonder, and joy.” I fixed my eyes on Hwyn as I spoke, but I could not tell from her expression what she heard in the story. “Only by journeying into trouble can you find the joy at the heart of the world – if you survive the journey. For some, it is better to stay in the known life. For others, the journey is the only life.”

Hwyn is Jereth’s firebird and he will follow her wherever she takes him, into trouble and hardship and danger, and happily find wonder and joy among them. Their love story develops slowly; the tale of two uncertain people finally finding the courage to be open enough with each other the show the truth of their hearts. Jereth’s declaration to Hwyn – in a dungeon no less – is intense and risky, but worth that risk when Hwyn makes her own declaration in return. And as someone who was never one of the pretty or favoured ones, it’s always nice when the ugly girl gets the boy for her beautiful soul without having to turn into a beauty first.

It’s also nice that the book doesn’t end with the end of the world. Instead, we continue to follow Jereth as he tries to find his way in the new world he and Hwyn have birthed. Some of the loveliest moments are as he discovers the Sea People and begins his new purpose by using his Gift of Naming to call Hwyn back from the sea, the first of the new Sea Born. Yet, for all his own importance in the end of the old world and the developing of the new, Jereth still sees himself as an adjunct to Hwyn and not a hero in his own right. He hurts, he despairs, but always in the end, he picks himself up and he does what needs to be done. What else could be such a fundamental description of a hero? It is easy to read this book and be tricked in the same way he is, to think we are reading the story of Hwyn’s quest, when really, we are reading about two journeys that weave together. Yes, this is the story of Hwyn’s determination to birth the Eye of Night, but it is Jereth’s story too. He is the everyman who finds himself caught up in wonders and doing his share to bring them about.

Sometimes, Jereth’s story tells us, we set ourselves on a path that we think suits us, only to find the path we a truly following is something quite different, even if it takes us to the same places. Jereth leans this as he chooses to follow the Rising God, never understanding his opposite, the Falling God. Yet it turns out, that always, he has been following the calling of the latter, as he says in the very last paragraph of the book, “always falling, never certain, but always in hope” and maybe, in the end, that is what all our lives come down to.

To finish, there are a couple of things I wanted to comment on that contain major spoilers for someone who hasn’t read the book. The last thing I want to do is spoil any of the pleasure of discovering this book page by page for a new reader, so I’ve put my comments over on my spoilers blog. When you’ve finished The Eye of Night, if you want to see what I said, take a look.

The Eye of Night
Pauline J. Alama

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Magician’s Gambit – David Eddings

Magician's Gambit

I’ve nothing bad to say about this book; I just didn’t feel like continuing. The narrator has been annoying me ever since I started listening to Pawn of Prophecy and once Ce’Nedra stayed at Prolgu and I had to listen to Relg ranting at Garion, rather than Ce’Nedra and Garion squabbling, I found I’d simply had enough. It was all travel, the occasional fight and more travel, and it was getting rather boring. I know the story picks up, and if I continued I’m sure I would have started enjoying it again. However, my health is currently bad, I’m very tired and have started listening to The Grey King as a read along with a couple of other bloggers, so this one has kind of been squeezed out.

Magician’s Gambit
David Eddings
The Belgariad, Book 3

The Belgariad:

  1. Pawn of Prophecy
  2. Queen of Sorcery
  3. Magician’s Gambit
  4. Castle of Wizardry
  5. Enchanters’ End Game

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book of Ink Circles Completed

Tracy released the final part of Book of Ink Circles on her site today – or more accurately, Barfy the corner cat took over the site and did it for her. Check it out.

But Tracy and Barfy were very kind and let up-to-date stitchers have the last part early. So I finished mine a few days ago, even if I couldn’t share pictures until now, when the final part was released.

In all it’s glory, here’s my Book of Ink Circles. It’s stitched 1 over 1 on 28-ct Quaker cloth (sorry, I don’t know the colour as it was an off-cut, but I think it is either Desert Sand or Biscuit) using “Tracy’s Colors” from Carrie’s Creation Threads.


And a close up of the last square:


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Prophet of Yonwood – Jeanne duPrau

duPrau, Jeanne - The Prophet of Yonwood

The Prophet of Yonwood continues my read of Jeanne duPrau’s series, The Books of Ember. After The City of Ember and The People of Sparks, this book takes a different look at duPrau’s world, going back to a time before the Disaster.

11 year old Nickie travels to the small North Carolina town of Yonwood with her aunt. Together, her mother and aunt have inherited an old house from their late grandfather and Nickie and Crystal are there to prepare the house for sale. Nickie, caught in the big city of Philadelphia with her mother in troubled times, while her father is off somewhere secret working on an equally secret project, dreams they will get to move to Yonwood and live in the rambling old house. Once in the town, she gets caught up in the resident’s quest for “goodness” to fight the encroaching bad times. The are following the words of Yonwood’s prophet who has had a vision of the end of the world and seems to be offering advice on how to avoid it. As the world faces a showdown between superpowers and waits to see if it is going to end, Nickie fights her own battles to learn what is good and what is evil.

For a short little book with a strangely meandering plot-line that doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth, it is surprisingly full of themes, something I only began to see as I stepped back a bit from reading it. I came into the book expecting something that was going to tell me about the apocalypse and the founding of Ember. Well, it doesn’t. We do find out some things about Ember (for example, at least which US state it is located in) but really, Ember is only a side-line which distracts us from Nickie’s story.

For this is a coming-of-age story about a young girl living in a frightening world and trying to discover her own sense of right and wrong. Her world is a scary place, full of potential war, terrorist threats and continual tension – everyone leaves their televisions on and congregate around any shop where one is running as the president gives regular bulletins about the state of things. Nickie comes to Yonwood seeing it as a place of refuge, safer than Philadelphia, where the troubles might be further away and she and her mother able to live in safety.

Before Nickie and her aunt’s arrival, Althea Tower, one of the local residents collapsed in her garden, seeing a vision of the world ending in fire.

The trees and grass and birds faded away, and in their place she saw blinding flashes of light so searingly bright she staggered backwards […] Billows of fire rose around her, and a hot wind roared. She felt herself flung high into the sky, and from there she looked down on a dreadful scene. The whole earth boiled with flames and black smoke. The noise was terrible – a howling and crashing and cracking – and finally, when the firestorm subsided, there came a silence that was more terrible still.

She was found by Mrs Brenda Beeson, who heard her despairing words and took it upon herself to become the Prophet’s interpreter to the world. Althea has remained trapped in her vision ever since and Mrs Beeson is the town’s only conduit to the Prophet’s wisdom. Certain Althea is hearing the voice of God, instructing the town how it can be saved from the end of the world, Mrs Beeson has passed on the instructions as she interprets them, encouraging the town to give up such things as Althea has murmured - “no singing” for example – in the idea that such strength of will will encourage goodness and save the town.

Nickie comes to learn of all this and finds herself fascinated by Mrs Beeson and her determination to be the defender of goodness and to root out any and all sinners. Surely, especially in such difficult times, being good and standing for goodness is the right thing to do.

Nickie nodded, imagining it: everyone kind, everyone good, no creepiness, no wars.

“So the more of these trouble spots we can find, the better off we’ll be,” Mrs Beeson went on, her voice becoming very stern. “Remember what I said about how one moldy strawberry can ruin the whole basket? We’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to make this a good and godly town through and through.”

But in trying so hard to do Mrs Beeson’s version of good, Nickie finds herself hurting others in the town and ends up struggling to understand for herself just what good and evil means.

Mrs Beeson herself is a very, very creepy character. She’s so caught up in the struggle she sees herself fighting that she’s actually lost all sense of what really is good and right. As she sees it, God is talking to Althea, therefore what the Prophet says must be right and must be acted upon and all thought or compassion be damned. She’s not actually a bad person, but she’s a very, very scary one, and she’s carried the whole town with her, to the point that anyone Mrs Beeson labels a sinner is forced to wear a bracelet that makes a piercing hum at all time, making the wearer shunned and surely driving them crazy. In a way, the whole situation reminded me of the 1980’s book, The Wave (wikipedia link), which also showed the way a seeming good idea can get seriously out of hand, although the idea in question there turned out to be fascism rather that fundamental religion.

As the world situation reaches critical, so too does the one in Yonwood as Mrs Beeson realises Althea has been saying “no dogs” and insists that all the residents must give up their dogs. Nickie has adopted a dog in secret and, already uncertain after what happened to her friend Grover due to her well-intentioned tale telling, finds this the final straw. After her dog it taken and she is unable to rescue him, she decides to face down the Prophet directly and ask how she could possibly mean for the townspeople to give up their dogs.

Nickie’s confrontation with Althea is very nicely written and sets in motion the conclusion of the book. The town is brought back from the brink (as too is the world, at least temporarily and largely due to another Yonwood citizen who was on Mrs Beeson’s hitlist) and, while she never gets to live in Yonwood, Nickie’s family is reunited as she and her mother go to join her father at his secret project in California. I was a little surprised that everything settled down in the end and suddenly the book seemed to have only the slimmest of connections to Ember and the first two books.

It was a nice touch to see that maybe apocalypse isn’t inevitable and we can come close without stepping over the line, which is what happens in The Prophet of Yonwood. The problem is that once you do hit that line, it’s game over and no second chances. The world escaped this time, but what about next time?

But I came to realise that the point of the book wasn’t to set us up for Ember (although that is done in the background), but to investigate the idea of doing evil in the name of good and watching Nickie’s character grow over the course of her time in Yonwood. In doing those things, the book succeeds, and I think succeeds well, largely through the creepiness of Mrs Beeson and the revelation the Prophet brings at the end. But the book is disadvantaged by its labelling as one of The Books of Ember, because really, it isn’t.

There is an epilogue at the end, titled What Happened Afterwards that gives a quick summary of the next fifty years of so, partly to let us know what happened to the rest of the characters, but really to tie us back into the Ember storyline. One one level I found it annoying as the heart of the book didn’t need it. But at the same time, I also appreciated it as it did keep this book at least lightly tied to the others. I can see Ms duPrau finding herself in a dilemma – she had a story she wanted to tell that could be best told in a troubled world and she had one of those already created, so she used it. But the book then had to be forced to tie in the the rest of the Ember books in a way that didn’t really suit it. If the references to Nickie’s father’s project (go on, guess what he was working on!) and the epilogue were dropped, the book would have stood nicely on its own, exploring its own themes. Instead it was shoehorned into being a story that didn’t suits its heart so well, and I suspect many readers, me included, came into it expecting an Ember book and getting something different. Because of that, I gave it a low grade of 6/10. If it had been a totally standalone book, it would easily have got a 7 and might have even talking me into giving it an 8.

So I guess my final word is to say please try to read this without any preconceived ideas. It’ll work a lot better if you do.

The Prophet of Yonwood
Jeanne duPrau
The Books of Ember, Book 3

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Young Adult Reading Challenge

The Books of Ember:

  1. The City of Ember
  2. The People of Sparks
  3. The Prophet of Yonwood
  4. The Diamond of Darkhold

The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bujold, Lois McMaster - Horizon

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m a Lois McMaster Bujold fan-girl. I’ve read almost everything she’s written (I think the only things I haven’t read are The Spirit Ring and the book of essays, Dreamweaver’s Dilemma). I’ve read the first three books in her Sharing Knife series and it was always a foregone conclusion that I would be buying the last one when it came out, and in hardcover at that (ever since I kind of accidently bought Memory in hardcover, Bujold has been a hardcover author for me).

The previous instalment, Passage, ended when Fawn, Dag and company ended their journey down the Grace River to the sea. Horizon starts shortly afterwards, with the marriage of Fawn’s brother Whit, to boat captain, Berry. As Whit, Berry and their family make plans to return to the north, Fawn learns of a groundsetter in a nearby Lakewalker camp and persuades Dag to ask if the man will teach him to use his growing but untutored Maker skills. Reluctantly, he agrees and they set out to see if their welcome will be any better from Southern Lakewalkers.

By the end of Passage, Dag had come to realise that while his plan to educate and treat Farmers is definitely possible, he has no real idea what he’s doing and is making it all up as he goes along. All the same, he’s not quite sure what to do about it. Fawn, being Fawn, has her own ideas and sets about putting things in motion. She learns that a local Lakewalker camp has a renowned groundsetter and medicine maker and convinces Dag to approach the man to learn more. Not unexpectedly, Dag’s strange set of companions – his Farmer wife, Barr and Remo – are not immediately welcomed, but Dag’s refusal to go anywhere without Fawn is ultimately successful and they are invited into the camp.

This section of the book is infinitely more successful that the Lakewalker camp sequence in Legacy. I’m not exactly sure why, unless it is that here, Dag is making progress towards a desired goal, rather than trying desperately to fit into a place that is no longer the right place for him. All the same, it remains a puzzle to me why I was fascinated in this novel where in the previous one I was bored. Fawn is still initially ostracised by the Lakewalkers, and again slowly begins to win a selected group of them over. But this time there is an overall positive feeling, while at Hickory Lake, there wasn’t. It seems that there is a growing possibility that Dag and Fawn will be offered a place in the camp when Dag ruins it all by going to treat a Farmer child with lockjaw.

In consequence, Fawn and Dag find themselves riding north again, accompanied once again by a motley entourage of both Lakewalkers and Farmers, that continues to swell as they travel. This is a credit both to Dag’s innate charisma (something he has no idea he has) and Fawn’s calm, level-headed good sense. They are a beautifully balanced couple, each balancing and enhancing the other, and by the end of the book they have found a place they can build a new future together, carved out of their different but meshed backgrounds and lives.

I sometimes find myself wondering if they are a little too perfect. They don’t seem to quarrel – or even sulk a little – and they work together so beautifully in ways that always seem to work out, even when they shouldn’t. I have never felt either was too perfect an individual – each has his or her faults and they make them all the better as characters. It’s just that as a couple they don’t seem to have any faults. Of course, we’ve only seen a small part of their lives together, but surely if anything was going to bring out the worst in them, it would be some of the things they’ve encountered in the time since they met. I’m not even sure how much this bugs me or if it does at all, but it is certainly something I’ve thought about.

All the same, Bujold has tied up the series very nicely. It certainly deserves it over-reaching title, as this is really one story, cut into more easily readable pieces. It is the story of the birth and growth of a marriage, one that by the end is firmly and beautifully established. It is also a tale of the mixing of two cultures, something that is never easily achieved, but if the participants do not shatter, builds something new and stronger than the sum of its parts. It has also been an interesting glimpse into a fascinating world that I will be happy to visit again.

But you do need to begin reading at the beginning (with The Sharing Knife: Beguilement) to truly appreciate the story. Trust me, as is virtually always the case with Bujold, it’s worth it.

I know this isn’t one of my better reviews – I’m rambled on about plot much more than I ever intended to, and I don’t know why I’ve struggled with it so. It’s certainly a case of me rather than the book, as my health is rather under the weather at the moment. So don’t rely on my meanderings, go out and find the first book and decide for yourself. I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.

The Sharing Knife: Horizon
Lois McMaster Bujold
The Sharing Knife, Book 4

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge

The Sharing Knife:

  1. Beguilement
  2. Legacy
  3. Passage
  4. Horizon

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Starcross by Philip Reeve

Reeve, Philip - Starcross

After thoroughly enjoying Larklight, I immediately requested the next book from the library and made a suggestion to buy the third, since it wasn’t yet in their catalogue. Happily, they took up my suggestion (so far, I think they’ve bought nearly everything I’ve suggested) so I have now read Starcoss and have the third volume, Mothstorm sitting on the shelf in the bedroom, waiting for me to get to it.

In this adventure, Art, Myrtle and their mother leave Larklight while it is getting a top to bottom (or, as Art points out, top to top, since it has no particular up or down) refit. They are invited to visit Starcross, a new holiday resort in the asteroid belt. There, they discover Jack Havoc undercover, mysterious goings on, time travel, sea bathing and nefarious top hats. Soon, Art (and Myrtle of course) are fighting another threatening invasion, rescuing friends and family and, naturally, saving the great British Solar Empire.

This was another light, fun, and slightly crazy adventure. Art’s narration remains a lot of fun, Cross’s steampunk-y world is still full of clever and sometimes sly ideas and the illustrations are again lovely. Again, there are silly throw away lines - my favourite was about locations in the asteroid belt:

…and Abnegation, which was woven out of brown string by Presbyterians.

Larklight’s obvious pop-culture reference was from The War of the Worlds. This one from Starcross should be even more recognisable:

“He dreamed of founding a Rebel Alliance which would strike at your Empire from a hidden base…”

All the same, I didn’t enjoy Starcross quite as much as I did Larklight. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t have quite as much sparkle. Maybe it was that the world wasn’t so new to me, or maybe it was the story itself. While the Moobs were a neat idea, I’m personally afraid of spiders, which may be a factor in why I found the Old Ones in the previous book to be a much more successful enemy. Or maybe it’s just that, even in a book that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously, I simply couldn’t take evil top hats as a valid villain. (No, they’re not actually top hats, but I’m not going to spoil it.)

That said, I still enjoyed reading it a lot and I’m looking forward to reading Mothstorm. If you haven’t read anything in this series by Philip Reeve before, start with Larklight, as their are spoilers in this book for the previous one, especially relating to Art and Myrtle’s mother. Otherwise, settle back for another fun adventure and spend a pleasant afternoon or two adventuring across the solar system.

Philip Reeve
Larklight, Book 2

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge


  1. Larklight
  2. Starcross
  3. Mothstorm

Progress on Second Chances

I’ve been making some slow progress on Second Chances, but I’ve been slack about posting photos, so here are a few. This is so pretty – the photos don’t begin to do it justice. Once I’ve finished the first page I’ll actually scan it and see if that gives a better picture.

sc03 sc04 sc05

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Listing of Reviews

Last night, I had a Good Idea (TM).

Since I started adding the other books in a series to my book reviews, I was finding I was having to troll back through my blog to find any previous reviews to link to. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a listing of all my reviews over on Lists and Such? And of course, if I was going to do that, wouldn’t two lists be better – one by author and one by title?

It’s taken me all day, but 247 books later, the lists are up.

I use the word reviews, but they vary from full blown reviews to a short single sentence.  A few (like one that simply read “Ditto”) I left out altogether. Most are a short comment or paragraph as often I got behind and did a summary at the end of the month. But at least it’s a way to check a rating or get a quick feel for what I thought about a particular book.

This year, I’m hoping to (or maybe dreaming of) managing a full review for each book I read. Here we are at the middle of February and so far, so good. I’m only one behind and plan to do that tomorrow.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair

Sinclair, Linnea - Shades of Dark

I really enjoyed Linnea Sinclair’s first book about Chaz Bergren and her growing relationship with Gabriel Sullivan (not to mention her involvement with political intrigue, ex-husbands, monster breeding programmes and difficult family relationships). So when I heard there was a direct sequel coming out that would continue Chaz and Sully’s adventures I was delighted. But then the reviews started coming out. They were pretty much uniformly positive, but most talked about it being a dark book and about Sully making bad choices and stupid decisions. My book fear (where I worry desperately about the characters and/or how much reading about what happens to them is going to stress me) came rising up and I kept finding excuses not to face up to reading the book. But the third related book (not about Chaz and Sully, but about Chaz’s ex-husband Philip) is due out in a couple of weeks and the random number generator picked Shades of Dark for me, so I figured it was time to take the plunge and read it.

Chaz and Sully have escaped after destroying the Jukor breeding lab on Marker, but they know there is another lab out there on a ship. While trying to track it down, they find themselves caught up in high politics. Chaz’s brother Thad, who helped them on Marker, is arrested by the conspirators behind the Jukor labs (and more) as bait to draw out the fugitives. Whether he co-operates or has his mind scanned, his knowledge that Sullivan is a hated telepath or Kyi-Ragkiril is sure to be discovered. Chaz and Sully have to deal with the reactions of their crew to this news, the discovery of traitors in that same crew, not to mention the potential fall of the Empire itself (along with the arrival of Chaz’s ex-husband, Philip) and the intrusion of an alien Storloth Kyi-Ragkiril onto their ship. The latter, Del, can train Sully, whose power is growing at a rate he can’t control, but his mentorship comes with oaths, traditions and complications that will strain Chaz and Sully’s relationship to breaking point.

For once, my fears about a book proved to be true. By its end, this was a disturbing book. A very good disturbing book, but a disturbing book all the same. Sinclair doesn’t ever choose to take the easy way out and she explores the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely with a clear and unwavering gaze. Sully needs to come to terms with what he is, but as the only human Kyi-Ragkiril that he knows about, he has no guidelines except for scanty research about Storloth Kyi-Ragkirils. When Del enters the scene, he thinks he’s found a tutor and mentor, but the very things that make him human are not things Del, as a Storloth, sees as necessary or important. Chaz sees Sully changing and has to come to decide for herself how much of this is a good thing and how much, if any, is a bad thing.

Sully does indeed make some very bad and stupid choices, and Chaz’s responses are strong, brave and sometimes heart-breaking. I’m still processing exactly what happened and both Chaz and Sully’s choices. I’m not 100% clear how much of what happened was freely Sully’s choice and how much was Del manipulating him. Even if Del influenced things, the power inside Sully is a hungry, demanding thing and he must, as the story progresses, discover if he can stand up to it or if it will devour him too.

Chaz does not love blindly, and this makes her a strong and brave character that the reader can only admire.  She’s fantastic as she walks her own path through the minefield of her relationship with Sully, further confused as it is by the presences of Del and Philip. She knows where her moral boundaries lie and she will stick to them despite what it costs her – and who can’t love a woman who’s prepared to shoot her lover because he’s crossing a line he shouldn’t cross and it’s the only way to get through to him?

Sully is lost and confused and his pain is heart-breaking, but at the same time both he and Chaz know, and Sinclair doesn’t let the reader forget, that we are still responsible for our actions and we must take the consequences for what we do. We must fight to stay human and in touch with those things that are the best in humanity. Sully tries and, in the end, he stumbles, but still he tries. And always, always he loves Chaz with all that he is.

There’s a lot more plot in this book as the Empire disintegrates and the Jukor breeding lab is found – and it’s very good plot that weaves neatly though the focus on Sully and Chaz’s relationship and Sully’s growing power in the Kyi and what responsibilities that does or doesn’t place upon him. But at bottom this book is an study of love, as it seeks to explore its limits and its limitlessness. Sully says frequently to Chaz that all that he is is hers. But sometimes we have to draw lines in the sand, and where Chaz chooses to draw hers and how much she loves despite that make for a painful and uplifting conclusion to the book.

The ending is downbeat, yet beautiful in its own way. It’s painful, but it’s right. These people and their situation and experiences could only end here. And despite everything, the reader can still believe in their happy ending. It might not be happy right now, and it might be totally different from what they (or we) originally imagined, but there’s a rightness to their relationship that nothing has yet destroyed and we can believe nothing will.

Like I said way back at the beginning of this review, this is a disturbing book. It’s disturbing because, through Sully, we are forced to face some of the darker shades to human nature – and we don’t have a hero who can automatically be assumed to stand strong against them, because real people often fail and if Sully is anything, he is very real, despite his great power. So it’s disturbing, but it is also very good. If you have book fear like me, don’t let it stop you. This is a book worth reading, and there’s a love here that is strong and true yet real in its complications and its pain. Trust in Linnea Sinclair; she’s taken on a hard challenge here and she’s succeeded.

All the same, I’m hoping the next book, Hope’s Folly, won’t be so hard on its readers. I can’t take books like this all the time.

Shades of Dark
Linnea Sinclair
Dock 5, Book 2

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Romance Reading Challenge

Dock Five:

  1. Gabriel's Ghost
  2. Shades of Dark
  3. Hope's Folly (to be published 24th February, 2009)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two pretty designs

I can across these while browsing today. I do rather like them both – although I acknowledge I am unlikely to stitch either.

Beach Cottage – Country Cottage Needlecrafts


Traveling Stitcher – Little House Needleworks


14 days

The Sharing Knife: Horizon arrived today.  So guess what I’ll be reading next?

It took 14 days to get here, which is much, much better than the 50 days Acheron spent in transit. Here’s hoping Bone Crossed will arrive just as speedily.

I’m a few chapters into Shades of Dark now, so rather than messing up my momentum, I’ll finish that, then start Horizon.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Oh pah!

In line with my plan to start listening to The Grey King, I pulled out my cross stitch tonight and settled down to get some done.

It was going along very nicely – I was enjoying the book (even if I did side-track to buy it as an ebook so I could add notes to it as I listened) and getting back into the swing of the stitching.

But I’ve just found that the section I’ve been working on doesn’t join up properly with the bit before.  Darn it, I’ve got myself a single stitch out – and quite a way back too. I’ve now got a whole lot of red (of course it had to be red) thread to pull out that has been stitched 1-over-1 on 32-ct lugana.

Excuse me while I go and curse and use lots of rude words.

I am totally not going to try to do it tonight. I’m going to bed. Hopefully I’ll feel up to frogging it tomorrow. If not, it can wait until I’m good and ready.

Sigh. And it was looking so pretty too. In fact, it still looks pretty, but since it’s a symmetric and circular design it has to be right or it won’t meet up at the end. I have no choice but to pull it out.


The only good news is that I got about an hour into my book so hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with Sue and Nymeth.

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas, Lisa - Secrets of a Summer NightLisa Kleypas is very well recommended around the romance community. There’s a friendly competition between many readers to decide which of two of her heroes is the best. One of the candidates turns up in book 3 of her Wallflowers series. Being me, if I was going to read it, I had to start at the beginning of the series, so I bought Secrets of a Summer Night a while ago and the random number generator picked it for me just at the time when a romance felt like just the break from other books that I needed.

Annabelle is running out of time. She’s at the end of her fourth season and she still hasn’t found a husband. Her family is well born but poor and this fact has stopped anyone from offering her anything so respectable as marriage – although there have been indications men are willing to offer her something less respectable. At balls, she finds herself a wallflower, sitting on the sidelines along with three other young women who, like her, are never asked to dance. The four of them, Annabelle, two American sisters Lillian and Daisy, and the shy Evie, form an alliance, planning to help each other find husbands. One man who has shown interest in Annabelle (but not in marriage) is Simon Hunt. He’s a self-made man, a butcher’s son who is grudgingly welcomed into society due to his wealth. But Annabelle is looking for a peer, not a commoner. All the same, she keeps coming into contact with Simon and slowly, finds herself developing an interest in him despite her plans.

I can see why Kleypas is well regarded. She tells a good story with great characters and she can take standard romance tropes and either take them in a new direction or tell them with a vigour and freshness that makes you forget you’re reading something you’ve seen in other books.

Her characters shine. Annabelle and the other wallflowers are a delight to read and their interaction is lovely. Personally, I’m not one for romances that focus so tightly on the hero and heroine that there’s no room for other interactions. In real life, that’s unhealthy, and while I acknowledge that generally romances have little to do with real life, I still like some authenticity if possible. Kleypas provides that here. The chapter that includes the flow of letters around the four women is delightful. Equally fun to read is the frequent banter between Annabelle and Simon. Neither is willing to bend, or not at first anyway, and their fencing in clever and witty.

As feelings between them develop, that banter continues, but there is an underlying concern for each other as well. Simon’s care for Annabelle when she is sick – and his uncompromising determination to help her himself – is a delight to read. This is a romance after all, and seeing the tough alpha hero showing his softer side for the heroine is a large part of the fantasy. A fantasy Kleypas writes with skill.

I readily admit this is a personal thing, but the frequent romance trope of a virginal heroine who has several blistering orgasms the first time she has sex drives me totally batty. I know it’s another kind of fantasy, but unlike the caring alpha hero, this one really doesn’t work for me. So I particularly noticed when Annabelle, while not having a bad experience, didn’t feel heaven and earth moving either. Thank you Ms Kleypas; that alone raised you high on my list of romance authors to read again.

Annabelle isn’t perfect in any way, but she came into her own during her honeymoon and as I read I looked at how much of the book there was left to go and found myself worrying. Clearly, with that many words left, something had to go wrong and things were coming together so nicely. Again, Kleypas impressed me. True, there is a misunderstanding between Annabelle and Simon, but it is a small and reasonable one that is reasonably worked out with time and experience, not something big, unrealistic and at bottom, stupid. The end of the book is a rounded resolution rather than high adventure and it worked beautifully for me. The problems are solved – or at least to the point that is reasonable within context – and the end comes neatly.

Another difference between this book and many historicals is that it is set a little later, in the mid 1800’s. This allows Kleypas to study the fading power of the gentry and the rise of the new industrialists. Simon is one of the latter and Annabelle, initially believing in the superiority of the former and looking for a husband among them, comes to see that there’s a new way coming. In the end, it is Simon and that future that she chooses to embrace and while the gentry look down on her for it, she comes to understand that she’s the one who has made the most forward thinking choice. And of course, she’s found her happily ever after, and that’s a huge part of why people (me included) read romance.

This change in Annabelle’s thinking is neatly described in this exchange with her brother Jeremy:

“Don’t be so severe on her, Annabelle. It wasn’t so long ago that you had the same disdain for those on the lower rungs.”

“I did not! I…” Annabelle had paused with a ferocious scowl, then sighed. “You’re right, I did. Though now I can’t see why. There’s no dishonor in work is there? Certainly it’s more admirable than idleness.”

Jeremy had continued to smile. “You’ve changed,” was his only comment, and Annabelle had replied ruefully.

“Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.”

I was impressed by my first historical by Lisa Kleypas and I strongly suspect I’ll be reading more. I wasn’t hugely won over by my first Kelypas novel, which was the contemporary Sugar Daddy, but Secrets of a Summer Night was very much more my kind of book. I think it was a case of one subgenre (historicals) being more my thing that the other (contemporaries) because Lisa Kleypas is an excellent author and one to which I’m sure I’ll be returning.

Secrets of a Summer Night
Lisa Kleypas
Wallflowers, Book 1

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Romance Reading Challenge


  1. Secrets of a Summer Night
  2. It Happened One Autumn
  3. Devil in Winter
  4. Scandal in Spring
  5. A Wallflower Christmas

I knew this would happen

Marcus has been at school for four days.

Today, his teacher asked me if I had any summary reports from his daycare. When I said no, she said that she’s concerned about his distractibility. When they had an assembly he couldn’t stay still and she has trouble getting him to focus. She also said not to worry, that at the moment she’s essentially gathering data to develop a plan to work on the problem.

I’m very sad to hear it, but I’m not in the least surprised.

Marcus does have real trouble focussing and he is very easily distracted. Dave and I knew it could be a problem at school. We made a choice not to tell the school about it or that he’s an ex-premature baby because we didn’t want to set up any preconceived ideas, but we were ready to add that information into the mix if there were issues about it.

I expected there to be. But I did expect it to take longer than four days.

One of the things the developmental psychologist told us when he had his four year old checkup, was that we weren’t to let teachers try to tell as he had ADHD as if he had those sorts of problems, they would be from his prematurity instead. But that clearly implied that he was likely to have some of the same symptoms. We’d been hoping he was about the same as other kids, but if the teacher has noticed it already, I guess that hope hasn’t been realised.

Marcus is such a bright, intelligent kid that it breaks my heart to think he might not be able to reach his great potential because of prematurity issues. (The teacher did add that he knew lots about letters and numbers and not to worry about those – I knew that too.)

So I’m feeling a little sad this evening. I hope we can work on this and develop strategies for him so that he can overcome this, but it still makes me sad.


I find myself intently following the news of the bushfires in Australia, especially Victoria. We lived in Melbourne for six years (on and off) when I was a child/teenager and I did my undergraduate degree at Melbourne University. There’s a part of me that feels very invested in what’s going on.

I recognise the names of the places they mention and find myself thinking, “I’ve been there.” Not the places that have been burned to the ground, but some of the places where the survivors and evacuees are being taken, I’ve been to those.

I remember one family holiday to Beechworth, a name that I’ve heard on the news and seen in the online newspapers. We stayed in a home stay house there that had this little tin annex out the back that was the bathroom. There was a sign hanging beside the toilet (I suppose on the assumption that more people would read it if it was there) that listed in great detail all the things you were supposed to do if there was a bushfire. At the time, I read it with a kind of morbid curiosity, but with no thought about ever needing to use the information it contained. I keep remembering that notice now and wondering if it is still there and if the person currently using the toilet thinks they might need to follow its advice.

People of Victoria, my thoughts are with you.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Changing my audibook

Cooper, Susan - The Grey King

While checking out blogs this morning, I came across a very interesting post by Susan, talking about an essay from Ursula Le Guin’s The Language of the Night about why we read fantasy. She also talked about Susan Cooper’s books The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch. I listened to both recently and planned to start the next book in the sequence, The Grey King after I finished listening to Magician’s Gambit.

I made a comment to that effect and Susan commented back to ask if I would like to join her and Nymeth in reading The Grey King. It sounds like a great idea, so I emailed her to say I’d love to join in. I’m going to start The Grey King today as I was getting bored with Magician’s Gambit anyway. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up listening to the book (I listen I lot more slowly than I read), but if necessary I can nip downstairs and grab my copy off the shelf and speed up the process by doing some reading as well. The audio is 5 hours and 40 minutes long, so it certainly isn’t as long as some books. I hope I’ll be able to play along.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

George, Jessica Day - Princess of the Midnight Ball

I have admitted before that I’m shallow. I find myself forced to admit it again – it was the cover that attracted me to this book. I saw it in the ‘upcoming releases’ section at Fantastic Fiction and the pretty cover encouraged me to check out the blurb. While it was actually the blurb that persuaded me to track down the book, I wouldn’t have read the blurb without the cover, so in the end, the credit for my enjoyment (because I did enjoy it) has to go to the cover.

Princess of the Midnight Ball retells the story of the twelve dancing princesses whose father the king is driven to distraction by the way their dancing shoes are worn to pieces every night and they refuse to tell him why. George’s telling doesn’t vary into new territory, in that she sticks to the basic, familiar tale, but she breathes life into the characters in a way that makes you care about what happens to them and want them to triumph over the curse that is woven around the princesses. She also provides a backstory for why the girls must dance for the King Under Stone every night that is perfectly reasonable and fits with the kingdom and characters she has borrowed and/or created.

Galen is a young soldier, returning from a war that, finally after twelve long years, Westfalin has won at great cost. With all his family dead, he makes his way to the capital city of Burch and the aunt and uncle he has never met. Along the road he meets an old woman and takes the time to share his meagre supplies with her. In return, she gives him a cloak of invisibility, some balls of wool and words of advice. Puzzled by the gift, he continues on his way. He finds his aunt and uncle and goes to work for his uncle, who is the king’s gardener. In the palace gardens, he meets Princess Rose, the eldest of the kings twelve daughters and gets caught up in the mystery of why the princesses wear out pairs of dancing slippers every night.

Galen is an endearing hero and his adventures as he tries to break the princesses’ curse are deftly told. The language has a light touch that matches the fairy tale setting of the book. There are moments of humour and of great tension, especially at the end as Galen and the princesses flee from the underground kingdom. Rose and her sisters are well drawn, and if I got a bit confused about which sister was which, there were twelve of them so I think I can be forgiven. The littlest princess, who has been forced to dance since she could walk, is a lovely character and her interactions with Galen are lovely.

I enjoyed the king too, a character who can be poorly treated in the tale. He’s a loving father trying desperately to help his daughters but not understanding the smallest thing about what is happening to them. His dead wife is a surprisingly strong character considering she has been gone for years; but she is the one who set the curse in motion (not a spoiler as we learn this in the prologue) and so her influence hangs over the entire story. But even she is misguided rather more than anything else, and we come to understand her and her actions by the end of the tale.

The magic is subtle, not spells and enchantments, but something quieter and more integral to the world itself. Galen knits, and his knitting is hugely important to the plot and it is herbs from the garden that protect him from the King Under Stone’s enchantment that sends everyone around the princesses to sleep as they ready for his Midnight Ball. I enjoyed this, as it fitted with the delicate touch of the prose and the tale’s feeling of gentle innocence.

This is a lovely little book, easy to read and filled with pleasant characters whose lives it is a pleasure to visit for a while. I’m glad I got seduced by the cover, as I enjoyed the story it was advertising.

Princess of the Midnight Ball
Jessica Day George

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Young Adult Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

Weekly Geeks 2009-05

Oh, this week’s Weekly Geeks is the one for me! It’s all about book covers. Now, I just love book covers – I can always be tempted by a pretty cover. Sure, in the final analysis it’s all about what’s actually between the covers, but a pretty package most certainly never hurts.

So what was our mission this week?

Judge a Book By Its Cover!
This week it's all about judging books by their covers! Pick a book--any book, really--and search out multiple book cover images for that book. They could span a decade or two (or more)...Or they could span several countries. Which cover is your favorite? Which one is your least favorite? Which one best 'captures' what the book is about?

I went through quite a few options before I picked my book. My first consideration was Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen, simply because I have a truly horrible cover while there’s a different one that I absolutely love. But when I went out and searched, I found that apart from the two covers in question, there are only about two others and that limited my opportunities for posting. Then, after seeing a couple of posts featuring the covers for Anne of Green Gables, I flirted with the idea of picking The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. Since it was first published in 1925, I figured there would be an interesting progression of styles (I was right, there are). But in the end, I chose Baroness Orczy’s classic, The Scarlet Pimpernel.


For starters, here’s the cover to my copy (or at least, to the best of my ability to recall, it looks like this – it’s actually packed away in a box under the house). It’s a hardcover from somewhere around the fifties or sixties I think. I wouldn’t be surprised if there used to be a dust jacket, but when I picked it up in a second hand bookshop, that was long gone. All the same, for all that it’s very simple, I love the embossed pimpernel on the front, to match the signet ring Percy uses to sign his Scarlet Pimpernel missives.

Like others, I’ve taken advantage of Library Thing’s collection of covers for each book to find some more to share with you (you can see all of LT’s covers for The Scarlet Pimpernel here).


This is one of my favourites. I think the figure mixes a good balance of the foppish persona Sir Percy affects much of the time, especially with the flaring lapels and pink waistcoat. But at the same time, his causal stance has a sense of waiting to it, suggesting that there is a man of action hidden underneath (as indeed there is). It’s easy to figure out that this must be a recent edition as poor Percy has his head cut off, and this is a current trend in book covers. I really like this one and I think it gives a good indication of the time the book is set and the character of the Sir Percy.


Obviously, this one is a much older edition, with the images stamped onto the boards of this hardcover. While it isn’t clear if the man is Percy himself or some other character, I feel this is another cover that gives a good indication of the contents inside. The man’s clothes and hat clearly give the time the story is set, and if we weren’t quite sure, the guillotine in the background through the doorway clinches it for us. I also like the font that has been chosen and the way the red and gold work with the more definite black of the drawing.


Okay, I’ll admit to a certain frivolity with this one. It’s Richard E. Grant from the 1999 A&E TV series based on the books, and I rather like Richard E. Grant. But the cover has a lot going for it all the same. Despite being in colour, it remains very monochromatic, being essentially black and white. Having the white misty background around the figure of Percy, it makes him stand out while still using the starkness of a black cover, and it is a very striking pose. I also like the font and the way a sword with a pimpernel on the hilt (I assume, the picture is a bit small to be sure) is used as the ‘T’ for the ‘The’ in the title.


This is the last favourite cover I’ve picked out. I like the way the man has his hand partially covering his face, indicating Percy’s secret identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel. The richness of the glove, ring and sleeve make for a lush cover with a hint of danger in the man’s eyes.

Here are a few more covers, again pulled from Library Thing, that are more indicative of the “average” covers for The Scarlet Pimpernel that are out there. After that, I’ll treat you to some of the ones that scream “bad” – to me at least.

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Okay, here come some bad ones. Personally, I think this ones wins the prize hands down for the worst ever cover for The Scarlet Pimpernel! If I saw that looking at me from a bookshelf, I’d run screaming in the other direction. Okay, I admit that it is taken from the early scene in the book where the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues doomed aristocrats from the guillotine while the old woman knit. But really, that is just horribly, horribly ugly and I would never want it on my bookshelf.


I readily admit that I loved the 1982 TV movie of The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Anthony Andrews (yum) and Jane Seymour. In many ways, I still do. But this is a particularly bad still to use for the book cover. Marguerite looks as if she can’t decide if she’s terminally bored or she’s already had her head cut off, while Percy at his most annoyingly supercilious. I enjoyed this TV version while I struggled to watch the 1999 version, but you’ve got to admit that they did a much better job putting Richard E. Grant on the cover than they did with these two.


Taken on it’s own merits, this is a pretty nice cover and in the tradition of a lot of modern covers that use a piece of classic art (almost always of a woman) on the cover. But what’s with using a woman in this case when the book is about a man? Yes, I acknowledge that Marguerite’s discovery of the truth about her husband is a significant part of the book. But if I say ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, do you think of Marguerite or Percy? For me, it’s Percy every time. And also, what’s with the repeated sleeve and arm at the top right? That just looks plain weird.


Putting this one with my collection of bad covers is, I admit, totally personal. In and of itself, it isn’t necessarily a bad cover – and I’d certainly be happy to listen to Hugh Laurie read The Scarlet Pimpernel (note to self - check library to see if they have it). But the lighting and the pose remind me of Horatio Caine in CSI:Miami and I absolutely cannot stand him (to the point I wish the sniper had killed him in the pilot episode) so that completely ruins the cover for me. Personal prejudice can be a funny thing.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic book that has had it's share of good and bad covers – and a whole lot more that are just mediocre. I hope you enjoyed this sampling.

To close, I’m going to give in to my original urge and show you those two covers for The Snow Queen.



You guessed it – I have the bondage-themed one on the left when I really wish I had the beautiful Michael Whelan art on the right. I do have a lovely, signed print of Whelan’s queen on the wall in my dining room, so I guess that will have to do. I’ve often been tempted to replace my second hand copy with a new one, but when it comes right down to it I can never justify spending the money. After all, it’s the story inside that counts, right?

Who am I kidding? Book covers rock!

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Well, after having to write my review for A Thousand Words for Stranger twice after I accidently overwrote my saved draft with another blog post, I think it’s time for me to go to bed. It’s relatively early – almost 9.30pm – but we had a night-time adventure last night and Dave and I both need to catch up on sleep.

I didn’t actually hear him, but about 3am Dave woke me to say Marcus was calling for me. I staggered out of bed, expecting the usual demand for a drink or a biscuit (or maybe just some attention) and was horrified to find him making horrible, rasping breathing sounds and barking a nasty, hacking cough. Dave came in to check on us both and we made a mutual decision to take him to the doctor.

To make what turned out to be a very long story (we got home again about about 6am) short, it turned out he had croup. The doctor at the emergency medical centre gave him some steroids to start relieving the swelling in this throat, but wanted us to take him to Starship (the children’s hospital) to be on the safe side. We got there (with a side trip included because on our usual route the road was closed – fortunately Dave found an alternative where I would have been totally screwed because I didn’t have a clue where to go next) and after being seen first by a triage nurse and then a registrar, they agreed the steroids had done the trick and he could go home again.

But we were assured we had done the right thing because if the swelling is serious enough and isn’t treated, the child can suffocate.

I don’t know how he managed it, but Marcus has been awake from 3am until he finally went to sleep about 9pm. Dave managed to get in about an extra hour’s sleep in the morning and I got maybe 2 or 3 over the course of the day, but we both need to do some catch up.

Sadly, since it’s a viral thing, Marcus’ excursion with his best friend (who he now doesn’t see as much because he’s at school and she’s still at daycare) has to be cancelled tomorrow, but so far he’s taking it very well and agreeing that we will plan something again once neither of them is sick (she’s been a bit under the weather too, so having two sick children with different sicknesses together seems like a bad idea).

So it’s off to bed with me now – after I check on Marcus – and hopefully Dave will follow me shortly. Even more hopefully, we won’t have a recurrence of it all tonight. We were told it was possible, but I’m hoping the odds will be on our side and we’ll all get to sleep through until tomorrow morning.