Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wordless Wednesday --- frog

I found this little guy by accident --- almost didn't see him there!   :)

See more Wordless Wednesday here

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era.

Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous
young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.

And here's what I thought:  I thought the author did a really nice job of bringing together not only interesting and well-developed characters, but also in how she included so many details of life at that time, in Paris.   I found the story completely engrossing, and felt like I came away with a real understanding of what life could have been like for one of those dancers, and also, for the ones who weren't successful as dancers.    The choices facing young women in that time weren't that varied, and it was really interesting to read about the decisions that Marie and Antoinette both made, in order to survive.   I felt the author brought Degas' paintings to life --- and did it beautifully.

The pacing is pretty even, and there is tension throughout the book, so I felt like I was connected to the characters and really cared about what was happening to them, and it kept me turning the pages.

There is an author's note at the back of the book which explained that this book "is largely in keeping with the known facts of the van Goethem sisters' early lives."  She relied on historical information about not only these girls but also about other aspects of the story, like work life, and life in general in Paris at the time.

First lines:  Monsieur LeBlanc leans against the doorframe, his arms folded over a belly grown round on pork crackling.  A button is missing from his waistcoat, pulled too tight for the threads to bear. Maman wrings her hands- laundress' hands, marked by chapped skin, raw knuckles.  "But, Monsieur LeBlanc," she says, "we just put my dead husband in the ground."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Review - NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Charlie Manx burned a man to death in his black 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, but that’s not the worst of it. Rumor has it that he kidnapped dozens of children, taking them to a place he calls “Christmasland.” The only child ever to escape was a very lucky girl named Victoria McQueen.

Vic has a gift – she can ride her bike through the Shorter Way bridge and she’ll come out the other side wherever she needs to be, even if it’s hundreds of miles away. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her ability; no one would understand.

When Charlie Manx finally dies after years in prison, his body disappears...after the autopsy. The police and media think someone stole it, but Vic knows the truth: Charlie Manx is on the road again...and he has her kid. And this time, Vic McQueen’s going after him.

And here's what I thought:  I have read other books by Joe Hill, but this was the one that I think I enjoyed the most.   It had the perfect mix of scary-ness, compelling characters, and a steady (or was it relentless?) pace that had me turning the pages .... and staying up way past my bedtime.   And, in fact, it had enough scary-ness that one time, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I had a hard time getting back to sleep because I started thinking about the book.   Did I mind?  NO!! That's the sign of a really good book!!

I thought Hill did something really interesting by taking a beloved holiday and turning it into something sinister.  Not only is there "Christmasland," which, by the way, is nothing nice at all (and of course, the first time I saw the word, I was thinking all about Nightmare Before Christmas' version).   He gives us The Gasmask Man, who uses gingerbread-scented gas to knock people out. After a short while, Christmas takes on a pretty unpleasant feel.

Here is one spoiler, but I don't think it's a huge one: Joe Hill is the son of author Stephen King.  The reason I'm mentioning this is because I think that in this book, Joe Hill gave me a lot of what I have enjoyed in some of Stephen King's later books, like The Stand, and Insomnia.   Hill gives us an average-appearing person who seems to have a gift ... but the gift is really more of a curse.  Vic's ability to have the Shorter Way bridge appear comes in handy when she's looking for something, but there's a terrible price to pay for using this ability.    She does meet other people who have gifts, such as a librarian who uses Scrabble tiles to see into the future ---- and this character, in particular, was very well-written.   When Vic first meets her, this young woman really seems to have a spark to her, but later in life, when Vic meets her again, it's clear that her gift of using Scrabble tiles has also become a burden and a kind of curse.    

The interaction between the characters was something else that really struck me.  I thought Hill did a wonderful job of writing everyday kinds of people, as well as the really frightening ones.  Vic's parents seem realistic, for example.  The way that they speak to each other, and relate to each other, is completely realistic.   I think that's why it's so horrible when Vic meets up with nasty Charlie Manx again --- because he's kind of realistic, too, in a completely frightening way.

If you want to read another review of this book, which I think is particularly well-written, check out the one by Will Byrnes on Goodreads.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and anticipate a re-read at some point in the future.   Well done, Mr. Hill!

This book goes towards fulfilling my commitment to the Chunkster Challenge (yay!).  Weighing in at 689 pages, it will go towards my set goal of Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big?  which is a goal of 6 Chunksters.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville. While growing up, Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual at every funeral: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words, "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."

Now Maylene is gone and Bek must return to the hometown—and the man—she abandoned a decade ago, only to discover that Maylene's death was not natural . . . and there was good reason for her odd traditions. In Claysville, the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected—and beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D. From this dark place the deceased will return if their graves are not properly minded. And only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Byron, can set things to right once the dead begin to walk.

And here's what I thought:  I've been a fan of this author for a long time, so I was looking forward to this book when it came out.   I think she's done a good job here, with an adult fiction novel that has appeal to young adults, and with a story that she wraps up in one book (although I'm sure this could be expanded into future books).    She has a good idea here, with the two worlds of the living and the dead, and the connection between the two, and she even throws in some family conflict, for good measure.

Marr's writing is as lyrical here as in her other books, and I thought she did a nice job of creating the setting, and almost making it a character unto itself.   Claysville has a tinge of the American South in it, and the slow pace that comes with it.  I found the story developed a bit slowly, but with an even pace, which I liked.   The one thing I really found interesting, and which I kept thinking about, is that while Marr gives enough description of the characters to give you an idea of who they are, there is nothing super-specific about how they look.   Which means that it isn't specific as to the race of the characters --- they could be Black, or White, or anything else ---- it doesn't matter.   It might sound odd to say that I found this refreshing, but I really liked that this wasn't focused on -- I could imagine whatever people I liked as the characters, and the story completely worked.   It also meant that I could imagine people as regular people; Rebekkah isn't thin, and pretty, and smart ---- she's just a person.   Byron isn't the spitting image of Taylor Kitsch; he's just a person.    There were no distractions from description, which meant I could just focus on the story.

What I found a bit regrettable was that I found parts of the book to be very predictable.  I don't know whether this is due to Marr's writing, or because I just read a lot of books, and as a result, found the plot (and characters) to lead to places I could predict.  

Overall, I think this is a good book.  It's not amazing and it's not awful --- it's a solid, right in the middle, plain good book.   Personally, I think Marr can do a bit better than this, but it's a pretty good effort.


First lines:  Maylene put one hand atop the stone for support; pulling herself up from the soil got harder every year.  her knees had been problem enough, but of late the arthritis had started settling in her hips.  She brushed the soil from her hands and from her skirt and pulled a small bottle from her pocket.  Carefully avoiding the green shoots of the tulip bulbs she'd planted, Maylene tilted the bottle over the earth.  "Here you go, dear," she whispered.  "It's not the shine we used to sip, but it's what I have to share."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ok .... now I really AM going to be back on track on this blog

I feel like I dropped off the earth for a bit ..... and while I didn't originally feel like I was missing my blog, or everyone else's blogs that I visit, as it turns out ..... I have been missing this.

And now that I'm done with my online class, I have free time again!!!!   I just spent some time taking photos yesterday afternoon and feel completely re-invigorated.   Hopefully, the books I have lined up for reading will prove worthy of reviews.   The last one did, so I'm thinking positive.

Happy May, everyone!

This is Bibbit .... he's new.
Bibbit and dogtooth violets.JPG

Review: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind? 

The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from a childhood spent exhuming corpses through his medical training, his travels with carnivals, and the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, aGray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.

And here's what I thought:  Dark and delicious.  That may sound odd. but this book was the perfect combination of beautiful writing and dark subject matter that made me savor every page.  

Now, that's not to say that there are parts of this book that aren't a bit disturbing.  Some of the descriptions of Dr. Black's experiments aren't for squeamish readers (and I will admit that a few times, I skimmed ahead slightly because of this).   However, as much as I was repelled by Black at times, I felt compelled to keep reading.  I suppose I was curious to see what he would do next, as he apparently was descending into madness as time went on.

I felt the author did a nice job of combining historically accurate elements, such as some of the attitudes in the medical community during the nineteenth century, along with fantastical creatures.  Black's decision to join a carnival, with his "Anatomical Museum" is also in keeping with that time period.  he writing style is also interesting --- the story of Dr. Black is told as if by a researcher, who has come upon Black's papers and research.  It lends an outsider point of view, which I liked.  Something else that's really cool about this book is that the second half is filled with detailed drawings of creatures such as harpies and mermaids.  I found myself poring over these, marveling at all the intricate detailing and labeling ---- and then wondering about this Dr. Black and the lengths he would have had to go through to make such illustrations.

While I don't think this book will appeal to all readers, if darker fiction (and perhaps, even TV shows like CSI or Hannibal) appeals to you, you'll most likely find it a good read.  I enjoyed this book, and was very grateful to receive a copy for my review (thank you!!).  I've had this book on order for my library's collection, and had been eagerly anticipating it hitting the shelves, so it was a treat to see it ahead of time.   

First lines:  Dr. Spencer Black and his older brother, Bernard, were born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1851 and 1848, respectively.  They were the sons of the renowned surgeon Gregory Black.  Their mother, Meredith Black, died while delivering Spender; her passing caused a great unrest in both boys throughout their childhood.
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