Monday, May 30, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 31st, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 544 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on a myriad of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.

An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time."

Neil Gaiman non-fiction? Yes please! Also looks like they fixed that pesky typo on the cover too!

The Legends of River Song by Various
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: May 31st, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"‘Hello, sweetie!’

Melody Pond, Melody Malone, River Song…She has had many names. Whoever she really is, this archaeologist and time traveller has had more adventures (and got into more trouble) than most people in the universe.

And she’s written a lot of it down. Well, when you’re married to a Time Lord (or possibly not), you have to keep track of what you did and when. Especially as it may not actually have happened to both of you yet.

These are just a few of River Song’s exploits, extracted from her journals. Sometimes, she is with the Doctor. Sometimes she’s on her own. But wherever and whenever she may be, she is never far from danger and excitement.

This is just a tiny portion of her impossible life. But it will reveal more than you’ve ever known about the legend that is River Song."

While I couldn't have cared less about that stupid Ashildr tie-in, this is definitely something I'm interested it! Even if Alex Kingston looks a little crazy on the cover... Oh, it also makes a thematic post too!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Book Review - Stella Gibbons's Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: November 29th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

The Christmas pudding at Cold Comfort Farm will foretell the doom that is to happen in the coming year. Just pray you don't get the coffin nail. In sixteen stories staring everyone from the Starkadders to a young rich girl obsessed with a dancer, to a librarian who thinks she's in love with a writer who happens to be not what she thinks, to people with double standards who ruin the lives of others, Stella Gibbons's short stories are sweet but insightful and thankfully back in print. Fans of Cold Comfort Farm will revel in this chance to finally read some of her other writing and read the long unattainable Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.

There is nothing more frustrating to a book addict like myself but to completely fall in love with an author and then find out that basically everything else they've ever written is out of print. Also note, that if you're an Anglophile who lives stateside, this is far more common then you'd think. Almost all of Dodie Smith is out of print here, unless you really want to read 101 Dalmatians, and you'd think by her shelves at bookstores and libraries that Daphne Du Maurier only wrote two books, Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. Usually Amazon UK can rectify these problems, but not always. Some authors are out of print across the board. I read Cold Comfort Farm so long ago that I quite literally don't remember when, but I knew I instantly wanted to read more by Stella Gibbons. Was this likely to happen? No.

I pined to read the two follow up books. How dare there be sequels, yes, plural, to Cold Comfort Farm that I couldn't get my hands on! I would literally do anything to get my hands on Conference at Cold Comfort Farm and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, but neither trolling the used stores or the internet yielded me results. When I  finally went to college the main library had a copy of Conference at Cold Comfort Farm so part of my dreams came true. I was able to read and enjoy the story but I had to return it sadly. Interesting fact, I "forgot" to return it on time and had a $200 fine levied against me and my grades for the fall semester held because I had totally "forgot" to return it... luckily I called the library, begged forgiveness and they had the book that night. And my bedside table was a little bereft.

Because, they had the book and I didn't... Quite some time later on AbeBooks I finally found a reasonably priced copy of Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, and at least that book was now accounted for in my collection. That only left Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm. I would never even see this listed anywhere for months on end and then a copy would come up for sale for about $300 and then disappear the same day into the library of a collector with deep pockets. All this leads to the joyous day when Penguin Books decided to re-release Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.

It was around the time of this announcement that I first realized that it was not a full book about the Starkadders but a collection of short stories. This made me actually really happy that even if I had had deep pockets that I hadn't splurged on this book. Collections of short stories are a mixed bag. When I finally picked this book up over the holidays to get into the festive mood I was even more grateful for my discretion. The truth of the matter is that the story "Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm" was a dud. I did not like it one bit. Well, maybe one bit, and that bit was the Reverend visiting on the first page, after that, straight downhill. Plus, it was a prequel! Ah, prequels, how often have you gone wrong? The answer is very.

And now you're thinking, she hated the story and yet four stars? The reason is the mixed bag theory. The story I most looked forward to was a big letdown, all the rest I had no expectations for and while all entertained, there were a few that were so sublime, so perfect, they should be up there with some of the finest short stories of Daphne Du Maurier. While some of the overtones of the stories are a little anti-feminist for today's readers, seeing that a home and a man is what makes your life settled, they still have a depth that is surprising for such short tales and it really gets you thinking.

Yet the story that just blew me away was "The Murder Mark" about two men in a town who get together and talk. One of them is a chemist and is running a failing business and happens to be obsessed with palmistry (yeah, Gibbons's characters do tend to be an obsessive lot), the other is a writer of crime fiction. The two are talking over a horrid crime that happened recently across the street and discussing the theory that murderers always come back to the scene of the crime. With a wink and a nod to crime writers and overtones of Jack the Ripper, this story made me stay up way past my bedtime to finish the tale. I would recommend you buy it just to read this one story... seriously, it is that good. "Golden Vanity" though is a strong contender for second place! Nom de plume shenanigans! But check your copy before you buy it, mine had a whole bunch of pages fall out near the end of the book. Bad Penguin, bad! You should know how to do binding right!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Reveiw - Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1847
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mr. Lockwood has rented Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire as an escape from his hectic London life. Being an amiable man he is perplexed by his landlord, Heathcliff who is standoffish and lives a remote life with an odd household at Wuthering Heights. After being trapped the night at Wuthering Heights Lockwood beseeches his housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean, to tell him the tale of Heathcliff and the other residents of Wuthering Heights. Nelly agrees, because she remembers it all, starting thirty years earlier when Mr. Earnshaw lived at Wuthering Heights with his son Hindley and his daughter Catherine. After a trip to Liverpool he returned with Lockwood's landlord, Heathcliff, a foundling to incite the jealousy of Hindley and the love of Cathy. When Mr. Earnshaw finally died and Hindley returned home with his new wife it was time to enact his revenge on Heathcliff, banishing him to the stables as a lowly servant. Before Hindley's return Cathy thought that she and Heathcliff would never be parted, but soon she is betrothed to Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange claiming she could never marry Heathcliff because it would degrade her. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights and only returns once he is a wealthy man and seduces Edgar's sister for revenge. Death soon claims Cathy and then Hindley and the feud goes to the next generation fueled by Heathcliff. But can love come back to a place where hate has flourished?

The problem with reading a book like Wuthering Heights is that this is a book that has been adapted to death, and I've watched them all. From the Laurence Olivier adaptation that eliminated the second generation for expediency and a stab at a happy ending, to the 1998 version solely watched for Matthew Macfadyen as Hereton Earnshaw, to the badly bewigged Tom Hardy in the only version I actually like. I've seen them all. Each one brought a new perspective and a twist with the interpretation of the text, so that going back to the source I found that nothing new was brought to the table. I'd seen it all and not to throw too much shade at Emily Brontë, but her framing device of narrators within narrators akin to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein feels a bit forced. But yet I needed to read it. The reason I finally decided to read Wuthering Heights was that I had been meaning to for so long it seemed like a glaring oversight and might be considered as the book in longest residence on my "to be read" pile. I had years earlier picked up the book and made it through a few chapters of Lockwood's overwrought rambling only to put it down and forget about it. In the intervening years I had read all of Anne Brontë's work, re-read Jane Eyre more times than I can count, and started viewing Anne as the most talented of the Brontës, but I couldn't secure her the title without finally giving in to a reading of Emily's one prose piece. PS, if the star rating didn't tip you off, Anne wins.

The main problem with Wuthering Heights is that you quite literally hate everyone. These are not nice people. I mean they are SERIOUSLY NOT NICE PEOPLE! They are threatening to murder each other daily and that's what, OK? Is that supposed to show the strength of their attachments? And that is somehow supposed to translate into one of the greatest love stories ever? Hell no. It's dysfunction city. There's a reason why when Thursday Next is assigned to help council the characters in Wuthering Heights in her third adventure, The Well of Lost Plots, that it is a comedic highlight, because these people SERIOUSLY need counseling. All books need you to have someone worth rooting for, and I can't think of a single character I would like to spend one minute with. Even the "nicer" characters at Thrushcross Grange are lured into Heathcliff's world of revenge and hate and tainted by association. The second generation doesn't get a pass either, they are so passive that by letting this happen they are continuing the cycle. Yes, with Heathcliff eventually gone there's a tiny little ray of hope at the end. But is it really hope? Hundreds of pages of hate and rage and passion, because I don't think we can call it love, and once the house has been exorcised of Heathcliffe everything can be fine? Nope. Burn that house to the ground and move far far away.

Yet there is a reason this is a classic. And no, I don't think it's because of anything to do with the characters or the plot. It might have to do with the passion, because it was rare for a book then to show such cruelity and be so harsh while in the throes of so-called love. But I think the only real reason it survives is two fold, one is the connection to this great literary dynasty that is the Brontës, but secondly, in among the dross, there are lines of sheer beauty. Emily was a poet, she was not a prose writer, so it makes sense that she can capture beauty and emotion in a single line that she couldn't accomplish with chapters and chapters of storytelling. In chapter nine is perhaps the best example of what Emily could do when giving full reign to her powers: "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire... I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being"

Though for all the beauty, all the evocation of emotions in this one section, easily the most quoted of all, there are pages and pages of limp prose. Just unintelligible horrible writing. In particular there is Joseph; an elderly servant who lacks all humanity and is therefore very religious. The problem with Joesph is his stupid dialect. Yes, dialect is important, it gives the reader a feeling for the time, the place, and the character. But bad dialect, or dialect used improperly can ruin a novel. Look to The Secret Garden, the children use the broad local dialect to mock the servants cruelly, yet for some bizarre reason we're supposed to view this as cute. I don't. It made me hate that book. Joseph's dialect is 100% unintelligible. I quite literally have no idea what he was saying. A dialect should be a compromise to some extent. You need to capture all that I said above, time, place, BUT you have to make it accessible to readers. If you've seen the Red Riding Trilogy you'll understand where I'm going here. Like Wuthering Heights, these are films set in Yorkshire. Now some of the actors went too far with their accents, making them too heavy and unintelligible, then there was Sean Bean, who knows the acting business and made a nice compromise between accent and accessibility. Look to Sean Bean! Because really, Joseph became a joke, like in Hot Fuzz where Karl Johnson as PC Bob Walker is pretty unintelligible and needs a translator, usually Nick Frost's Danny Butterman, but there's the one scene where Bob has to translate for David Bradley as a local farmer because even Danny can't understand him. That's what it felt like here! But it wasn't meant to be funny!

Yet even without all this, even if I hadn't watched all the adaptations and hadn't hated all the characters there is one thing the this book lacked, and that was the element of surprise. At the beginning of the book there is a family tree. This tree gives everyone's birth and death and a quick perusal shows you, wow, yes it shows you everything. All their kids and the marriages, everything. I'm like Patrick Stewart on Extras. Yes, genealogy is to me interesting in books, especially when you start going Game of Thrones epic, but here, with such a small cast of characters, the book is spoiled from page one. Which makes me wonder, was this in the first printing? Because this comes after Charlotte's introduction to the book, so did she maybe add it for spite? Everyone knows Charlotte wasn't a fan of Emily's writing, with rumors being that Emily actually had another finished manuscript that Charlotte burned... so was Charlotte trying to just alienate the readers? Or was it Emily who just felt like everything was a foregone conclusion and that we should know from the start we're in for death and misery... because that's what this book is, death and misery. It has become a classic just by proximity to other great works and really, classics do need to be challenged and re-evaluated, because a hundred plus years later I don't think this book has anything left to give us whereas Jane Eyre and even The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are constantly surprising.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Ghosts of Karnak by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: May 24th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A woman is found dead on the streets of New York, ancient Egyptian symbols carved into her flesh. A ghostly figure is seen floating over the rooftops of the city. And an expedition returns from Cairo to exhibit their finds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gabriel’s old friend and lover, Ginny Gray, was part of the expedition, but when Gabriel goes to meet the ship, Ginny is not on board.

Ancient forces are stirring and the Ghost, Ginny and Gabriel’s friend Donovan are caught right in the middle…"

How long have I been waiting for this book? It technically FEELS like forever, I know it's not, but it feels that way. Also Egypt Muppet arm flail! 

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cornin
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 24th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 624 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"You followed The Passage. You faced The Twelve. Now enter The City of Mirrors for the final reckoning. As the bestselling epic races to its breathtaking finale, Justin Cronin’s band of hardened survivors await the second coming of unspeakable darkness.

The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?

The Twelve have been destroyed and the terrifying hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew—and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy—humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate."

Just me, sitting here, waiting for the final book to start the series... yes, it's time to start it!

Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure by Nancy Atherton
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: May 24th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"While exploring the attic in her cottage near the small English village of Finch, Lori Shepherd makes an extraordinary discovery: a gleaming gold and garnet bracelet that had once belonged to Aunt Dimity. When Lori shows the garnet bracelet to Aunt Dimity, it awakens poignant memories of a doomed romance in Aunt Dimity’s youth in London after the War. Regretfully, Aunt Dimity asks Lori to do what she could not: return the bracelet to her unsuccessful suitor—setting Lori off on an adventure through London—and through history—to put a piece of Aunt Dimity’s past to rest.

In the meantime, a new family has moved to Finch. The villagers are thrilled because their new neighbors are avid metal detectorists. Metal detectors soon become all the rage in Finch and the villagers unearth a lot of rubbish (some of it quite embarrassing) before one of them stumbles upon a trinket that could hold the key to the origin of Aunt Dimity’s bracelet.

Is the bracelet a priceless and protected national treasure? Was Aunt Dimity’s lovesick suitor a common thief? If so, how will Lori break the news to Aunt Dimity? And what will she do with the bracelet? As Lori searches for answers, she discovers an unexpected link between the buried treasure in the village and the treasure buried in Aunt Dimity’s heart."

I really need to read beyond the second book to find out how this series is still going strong and book twenty-one! 

Friday, May 20, 2016


Fiction is like the umbrella or tent pole under which almost all other imaginative writing falls, sometimes even biography if we're being honest. So be it science fiction, fantasy, romance, those are just the species under the genus that is fiction. Therefore I could claim that fiction is my most read genre... which isn't actually true, but you get what I'm saying. In fact, in my mind bookstores often just throw a book in fiction if they are at a loss as to where it should go. In my mind Diana Gabaldon should be romance and Gregory Maguire should be fantasy... but do bookstores listen to me? No. Which is why sometimes, yes, I will move the books around while muttering under my breath. But usually only in used bookstores because they don't have computers that would thwart my plans. Oh, and I ALWAYS turn books I love face out. But enough about me and my weird bookstore quirks. I've chosen what I hope will be an interesting cross section of fiction, a little classic, a little modern, and all worlds to get lost in.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Published by: Saga Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love in this haunting debut novel from “a remarkable young writer” (Neil Gaiman).

What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of?

Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire."

Even if Neil Gaiman wasn't touting this book the description alone makes me want to read it!

Boar Island by Nevada Barr
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 17th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Anna Pigeon, in her career as a National Park Service Ranger, has had to deal with all manner of crimes and misdemeanors, but cyber-bullying and stalking is a new one. The target is Elizabeth, the adopted teenage daughter of her friend Heath Jarrod. Elizabeth is driven to despair by the disgusting rumors spreading online and bullying texts. Until, one day, Heath finds her daughter Elizabeth in the midst of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. And then she calls in the cavalry---her aunt Gwen and her friend Anna Pigeon.

While they try to deal with the fragile state of affairs---and find the person behind the harassment---the three adults decide the best thing to do is to remove Elizabeth from the situation. Since Anna is about to start her new post as Acting Chief Ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine, the three will join her and stay at a house on the cliff of a small island near the park, Boar Island.

But the move east doesn't solve the problem. The stalker has followed them east. And Heath (a paraplegic) and Elizabeth aren't alone on the otherwise deserted island. At the same time, Anna has barely arrived at Acadia before a brutal murder is committed by a killer uncomfortably close to her.

BOAR ISLAND is a brilliant intertwining of past and present, of victims and killers, in a compelling novel that only Nevada Barr could write."

My mom has become a Nevada Barr addict, so this book's for her!

The Fireman by Joe Hill
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 17th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 768 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.

The fireman is coming. Stay cool.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke."

I read my first Joe Hill book recently, Heart-Shaped Box, and it interested me enough to want to check out another book he's written... perhaps this will be the one.

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz
Published by: Mariner Books
Publication Date: May 17th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When college roommates Anna and Kate find Georgiana Leoni passed out on a lawn, they wheel her to their dorm in a shopping cart. Twenty years later, they gather around a campfire at a New England mansion. What came between—the wild adventures, unspoken jealousies, and one night that changed everything—is the witty, poignant story of our strongest friendships, the people who know us better than we know ourselves. Anna is the de facto leader, as fearless as she is reckless. Quirky Kate is the loyal sidekick, until she’s pushed too far. And stunning George is always desired, but just as frequently dumped. Alive with Lutz’s crackling dialogue and propulsive storytelling, How to Start a Fire pulls us into the tangled bond shared by three intelligent, distinctive, and deeply real women and pays homage to the abiding, irrational love we have for the family we choose."

I USUALLY don't feature paperbacks of previously released books on my "Tuesday Tomorrow" Posts. But this is an exception. Firstly because it's Lisa Lutz, secondly because it amuses me to have two books with "fire" in the title one after the other, but finally, because look at that awesome new cover!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review - Victoria Finlay's Color: A Natural History of the Palette

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
Published by: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Publication Date: January 1st, 2003
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Long before our modern world of chemicals dyes, all the hues and colors came from something found in nature. A tangible object, a plant, a bug, somewhere in nature's paintbox there was something that could make our ancestor's lives more richly hued. Victoria Finlay goes around the world in search of these "lost" colors and where they came from. Part travelogue, part memoir, and part history book, this read definitely isn't for everyone with her casual writing style relying on anecdotes and suppositions. This is by no means a perfect book, the author admits so herself. But for me, there was just the right combination of my interests and fields of study that I was sucked in. Though I will never look at maraschino cherries the same way again. Icky bugs.

I have never been one for history books or nonfiction for the most part. I find it dry. Hence my interests lean toward historical fiction. In this medium I thrive. I am able to get the history that I am interested in without the dry discourses. The characters bring a human element that connects me to the subject in a way that I never would otherwise. This has had odd ripples in my life, especially in history classes. I would always love the books that told a story. I remember in one class discussing the book King Leopold's Ghost about Africa in the 19th Century. The book was riveting to me, I just really enjoyed it; but during the discussion in class everyone was ripping it apart because it wasn't scholarly enough and made history too accessible. Well, you know what classmates in a class I very quickly dropped, history should be accessible. It's little anecdotes and stories that add a bit of the human factor into history and help me connect like I do with historical fiction. It makes me actually care about history.

The history and art history geek in me likes the more living narrative that Finlay infused in her book versus the dull dry facts and figures that she could have presented us with. Sure, this does lead to some problems, mainly invention, speculation, and supposition on her part that might drive those pedants in my history class to tear their hair out. But I read this book knowing that it wasn't a straight up history, though really, is any history cut and dry? This book is her take, her insights, her opinion. While I might disagree with her, I was never not entertained by her and the anecdotes she used to highlight the different colors.

The book has a rocky (pun kind of intended) start with the chapter on ochre and the aboriginals. Finlay seems unable to successfully merge her personal experiences with the historical origins of the ochre medium. It feels as if she almost doesn't know what her own intentions with the book are. Therefore we are left with a muddy mess that made me fear for the rest of the book. Yet in the very next chapter on black and brown she finds a natural balance that she is able to maintain through the rest of the book. By taking real people and imagining their hunt for colors that mimic her own, she is able to create a tangible, though fictional, link to the past.

Finlay is telling us stories that bring the materials to life. There is a part of me that wishes that this was a TV Documentary so that I could see all the pictures and places she went to, as this book is lacking on the visual side. But there's another part of me that is glad this is a book. The stories about Turner and his laissez-faire attitude to the permanence of his medium choices making him the Jasper Johns of his age, with his cats and their flap on the door made from one of his paintings would have come across as a bad reenactment in a documentary. And Ruskin's slam against Turner that no picture of his "is seen in perfection a month after it is painted" is not only humorous, but brings into account something I had never really thought about. Before chemical dyes color would change. There was a flux with it. The color you paint on the wall today will be a different color in a week, a month, a year, who knows, if there's enough arsenic in it it might just kill you.

I think that is what I will take away most from this book. It made me think. I am an artist and designer and with this comes a heritage, one I haven't in a long while thought about. I now want to go out into the world, go to museums, go to artist supply stores, meet Victoria Finlay and tell her to embrace Pantone. I want to go out and explore the paintbox of the world, which, while I find it a cliched and dumb phrase, same as "the world is my canvas," but, you know what they say about cliches? There's something right about them. Now let me see the earliest flight I can get to England to check out that Winsor and Newton museum...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Review - Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 1956
Format: Paperback, 273 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Gerald Durrell, the famous naturalist, zookeeper, and conservationist, recounts when at the age of ten his family moved to the island of Corfu because they couldn't deal with yet another cold and damp English winter. Gerry and his three siblings, Lawrence, Leslie, and Margo, all fall for the island in different ways. For Gerry it's the abundance of creatures that he can capture and observe, many making their way into the family residence and causing quite a kerfuffle. With the help of their self-appointed guardian, Spiro, they start to view Corfu as their true home, even if they have to move house several times to accommodate Larry's parties or in order to escape more relatives. One thing is clear, if they could they would never leave.

Before the explosion of British television shows onto our screens in recent years Masterpiece Theatre was where you got your Brit fix and, inevitably, added books to your reading list. Almost ten years ago I was transfixed by the Sunday late night showings of Masterpiece Theatre which started around midnight. This is how I discovered some of my favorite shows, from Bleak House to He Knew He Was Right. On the lighter side I discovered My Family and Other Animals. It stared Matthew Goode from He Knew He Was Right and Downton Abbey as the only Durrell I had heard of at that time, Lawrence. The movie was funny and exotic, and even if the music occasionally grated on you, there was something magical about it. At about the same time Peguin was re-releasing several of Gerry's books with gorgeous new covers by Mick Wiggins, so needless to say they all came to join my library, and have sat waiting for me to have the time to read them even since.

I recently added a second book club to my monthly activities, yes, what can I say, I'm a sucker for reading and love to have someone to talk to about a book once I finish. At my mother's suggestion for post holiday blahs My Family and Other Animals was chosen as a respite from reality and the dreary nonfiction suggestions of other members of our group. The book does provide a lovely escape to warm climates and happier carefree days that one needs to be reminded of during the bleakness of a Wisconsin winter. But at our discussion I felt as if I was the only one who was transported to another place and time. Everyone was hung up on little nonessentials, like where the Durrells got their money and why a friendship with an older father figure was encouraged for Gerry. They were unable to escape their reality for a moment and inhabit another place and time.  

Though in fairness to my other book clubbers, the book does have an unevenness to it that almost inhibits you being able to engage with it for quite a few chapters. The problem is that Durrell doesn't quite grasp how to balance his family and his "other" animals. He struggles to reconcile the two and therefore much of the beginning of the book is two parallel narratives, that of his family and that of his animals. Durrell at this time had actually written five previous books but they all dealt with his expeditions and his trips collecting animals. These books were popular, but it wasn't until My Family and Other Animals that he wrote a book that became an instant classic. By adding in the eccentricities of his family the reader has someone to relate to versus just observations of the natural world.

And while Durrell's observations of Corfu can at times leave you breathless with it's beauty, it needs the juxtaposition of something relatable for us readers. And oh my, his family is relatable. From the vain sister, to his two brothers, either concerned with artistry or how much he can kill in a day with his guns, everyone can find something or someone in his family to sympathize and relate to. In fact the turning point for me in the book is when Durrell moves from just observing the animals to treating them as members of his family in their own right. While Larry might bemoan the anthropomorphism of the animals in their household, it is this very thing that made the book click and took it from mediocre to nearly marvelous. The animals being treated as humans, as family, is one of the reasons the book starts to succeed, it's the interaction between these newly "human" animals and Durrell's very human family that result in comic gold.

While everything from random birds to reptiles in the tub are sources of amusement, to me the two magpies that Durrell "rescued" result in some of the best moments in the book. Thanks to Spiro they become known as the magenpies and they develop a rather strong hatred of Larry. They spend most of their time flying around the house, indoors and out, but they long to see Larry's room. Much like my cat when he was a kitten, it's wherever they aren't supposed to go that they long to. Needless to say they destroy Larry's room when given the chance. But it's their life in the cage attached to the house that brings their personalities into true focus when they use their knack for imitation to taunt and tease all the family. Then there are the family dogs, Roger, Widdle, Puke and the bitch Dodo, whose going into heat sends the house into chaos, especially during a big dinner party. Marx Brothers levels of chaos ensues.

But as you close the covers of the book you are left with one question. What is the truth? Because if you look into the Durrell's lives, things don't quite add up. Larry was married during this time, so where was his wife? How much of this is autobiographical and how much is conflation to make the book more humorous and fun? Could anyone really remember things in such detail from when they were ten when writing it twenty years on? But, does it really matter? The truth is we make ourselves out of the stories we tell every day. I think Durrell said it best: "It was a wonderful story, and might well be true. Even if it wasn't true, it was the sort of thing that should happen."

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney
Published by: Solaris
Publication Date: May 10th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A novel that will enchant readers of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman. The fantastical appears in the middle of 1920's Oxford as a young refugee looking to escape her grim reality rubs shoulders with two of the founding fathers of modern fantasy, Tolkien and Lewis.

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know."

It's like someone read my brain that time I was watching that awesome episode of Lewis about the literary luminaries of Oxford and turned it into a book! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Book Review - Beverly Cleary's A Girl from Yamhill

A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
Published by: Yearling
Publication Date: April 22nd, 1988
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Long before Beverly Cleary became a household name to generations of children who love her books, she was just a girl who grew up on a farm in the small town of Yamhill, Oregon. When she was a little older her family leased the farm and moved to Portland where Beverly's life took on a more typical existence. Instead of wandering through meadows looking for wildflowers, she had school and friends. She was a voracious reader and one of her greatest joys was graduating eighth grade and getting an adult library card. Growing up during the Great Depression with stresses at home with her father scraping by on work that was unsatisfactory and a mother that was controlling, Beverly escaped into the world of books and soon showed a talent for writing herself. While she was encouraged in her scholarly pursuits, her mother tried to maintain a firm grasp on the shape of Beverly's life, even guilt-tripping Beverly into a chaste relationship with a man named Gerhart for many years. If Beverly's mother had had her way Beverly would have ended up just like her, a frustrated housewife with ambitions of having been a writer, luckily for her, and us, things turned out differently.

When I was in sixth grade I became more then a little addicted to the Scholastic Book order forms we'd get at school. Prior to sixth grade I'd order a poster or two, most likely of a cat, maybe a book, but in sixth grade I started to pour over them with religious fervor, trying to pick just which books I wanted. My parents were accommodating, there weren't may bookstores in town and the fact that I showed an interest in reading beyond my few books I'd read at least a hundred times made their publishing hearts happy. The core of my book collection is still all these books I ordered from Scholastic, from Beverly Cleary to Judy Blume. But when I discovered Roald Dahl's Matilda, many of these books languished on my shelves. I spent most of sixth grade reading and re-reading Matilda, secreted in my desk at the back of the classroom near the sink. A Girl from Yamhill was one of these books that was brushed aside for Matilda. I have a vague recollection that I was sad it was a biography, and put it on my shelf to wait. Interestingly enough at some point my grandmother must have taken it down and started to read it. How could I intuit this almost thirty years later? My grandmother had a habit of using whatever was to hand to use as a bookmark and about a third of the way through this book I found a Queen of Hearts playing card. While not her common Halls wrapper, a playing card was as sure a sign she had been there as an "x" on a treasure map. She must have abandoned the book, and, seeing the book from her jaded POV I can see why. It's simplistic, lacks depth, and at times can be deathly boring. But there's something there that still makes it worthwhile.

The key aspect that I needed to keep in mind while reading A Girl from Yamhill was who Beverly Cleary's audience is. I mean, it should be obvious because I ordered this book from Scholastic in sixth grade, but it's easy to forget that her writing is aimed at children or adults who grew up on her books and have a fondness for her writing style. If, like me, you haven't read any of her books in years and are expecting some amazing depth or insight with this book you are sadly mistaken as to what kind of book you are about to read. It isn't entirely simplistic, but the prose are straightforward and almost stark. She lays things out simply and tells her story without embellishment, and this leads to a lack of depth. But likewise this means that anyone can pick it up and read it and find something to connect with. Cleary also sticks to incidents that would be universal to her readers while having the barest framework of the historical era. She talks about struggles with her parents and touches on money problems they had without going into too much depth about the Depression. She has the typical worries of all kids, will she like school, what about friends, what about boys. She sets out her life to be relatable while also telling how she became a writer. Though I wish I had known going in that it's the second volume of her biography that deals with her writing career. Perhaps that's why A Girl from Yamhill starts to flag at the end? Maybe she was saving up the good stories for the next volume and just resorted to bland entries in her diary to sum up this section of her life. Why else would anyone resort to the sloppy writing of "looking in my diary"?

Overall it's the unflinching honesty that makes this book unique. She doesn't sugarcoat her life. Bad and good things happen and she doesn't hesitate to mention them. This is most seen in her relationship with her Mother. I have a feeling that Mrs. Bunn and Norma Bates would get on rather well. They both have a clinging need to be the center of their child's life, they aren't overly demonstrative with affection, and are just plain nightmares to live with. Beverly's mother has a pathological need to live vicariously through Beverly, whether it's in managing her friends, her boyfriend, her parties, or her "accomplishments" from dancing to the piano, whatever her mother says goes. She is a tyrant. Beverly has almost no say in her life and you can feel her yearning to break free. If it wasn't for her father laying down the law and saying that Beverly was going to go to California for college I don't think she would have ever broken free from her mother. The creepiest thing though is her mother's diary. Only, her mother doesn't write her own day to day exploits, oh no, she writes her daughter's dairy. Which she keeps secret from Beverly. This is just, what is she, psychotic? It's almost too creepy to discuss. I think at this point even Norma Bates would be shying away from Mrs. Bunn. There's being a controlling parent, and then there's this, whatever this is. In Beverly's defense, at least she didn't try to make her mother a saint and she didn't kill her like Norman Bates.

The one aspect of the book though that makes me question that Beverly is always unfailingly honest is the prophetic nature of her life. With teachers as early as grade school telling her to be a writer. I think the first mention is in third grade. I can get behind high school teachers advising her on her talents, she did so much writing for the paper and even wrote the school play, then it makes sense that her abilities would be commented on. A grade school teacher, when she's barely started to write telling her? Um, no. It's fairly obvious that she wanted to be a writer her whole life, despite saying that she wasn't sure what direction her life was going. So she foisted this belief onto other people so that she could be uncertain about her future, which most of her young readers would relate to, while at the same time laying down the law that a writer she was going to be. This felt all just too pretentious. Like a higher being shined a light from the sky and said "Beverly Bunn YOU ARE A WRITER!" Yes everyone might have a calling, something they are good at. But she just made too big a deal about this and I can't get behind the propaganda of it. Sure, it might have been inevitable. Was it prophesized? No. Not at all. If her mother had had her way Beverly would have been a homemaker, and NOTHING is set in stone. It just worked out and Beverly seems to think this was fate. Sigh.

The real question I wonder though is is A Girl from Yamhill still relatable to kids growing up today? I don't think it is. My generation is the last generation to grow up with kids running wild in the streets with their bikes akimbo on the playground as they played till dusk. There is a lack of freedom and a focus on technology that today's kids grow up with. To read about someone growing up during the depression when school concentrated on penmanship and how to diagram a sentence, it might as well be a foreign language. Personally, I think it's more important then ever to make kids read books like this because they can relate to some of the struggles but it is also a more tangible, understandable, history lesson. This is what the world was like not too long ago before everyone had cellphones when having a private phone line to your house was a luxury. I can relate to the book because it's the world my grandparents and my parents and to an extent myself, grew up in. The world is just changing so fast that we need to look back to a time when things seemed slower. But more importantly, you see the maxim of history being doomed to repeat itself, think of the Depression and our current recession... they are very similar, if decades apart. Kids today need a little wake up call.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


I've never been a big one for biographies. In fact, non-fiction in general has never been a big draw for me. There's just something that rubs me the wrong way, and occasionally makes me see that I could write better than a particular author given the drive. Yes, I've read my fair share of celebrity biographies over the years, but in truth I've always been turned off by learning the less glamorous side of things. As I've gotten older this has changed to an extent. Perhaps it's the rise of authors like David Sedaris and Jenny Lawson who bring humor to their writing but are also relatable in that damaged way that calls out to me. Or perhaps I'm now more willing to peak behind the curtain and see the great and powerful Oz for what he really is. Though despite this change I rarely pick up a biography unless it's for a book club. Therefore perhaps that's what's really changed, I'm willing to let my fellow book club members and fate decide what I should read. I think that is actually the best thing about my book club, not how awesome everyone is, though they are, it's that I'm reading books I would never pick up on my own and reading outside my comfort zone. So here's to something different! Here's to the biography!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Night Shift by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels - “the Mark Twain of things that live under your bed” - comes a new novel of Midnight, Texas, the town where some secrets will never see the light of day...

At Midnight’s local pawnshop, weapons are flying off the shelves - only to be used in sudden and dramatic suicides right at the main crossroads in town.

Who better to figure out why blood is being spilled than the vampire Lemuel, who, while translating mysterious texts, discovers what makes Midnight the town it is. There’s a reason why witches and werewolves, killers and psychics, have been drawn to this place.

And now they must come together to stop the bloodshed in the heart of Midnight. For if all hell breaks loose - which just might happen - it will put the secretive town on the map, where no one wants it to be..."

I have kind of fallen for Midnight, Texas and don't want this to be the last volume! 

Doctor Who: A Matter of Life and Death by George Mann
Published by: Titan Comics
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Collects the complete Eighth Doctor Mini-Series.

Eerie Victorian magic shows, living paintings, mysterious lost books, crystalline life-forms, space-barges crammed with the undead... Embrace all the Gothic Romance and interstellar terror of the Eighth Doctor in this new series starring the most-requested past incarnation!"

Of course I've been buying the individual issues of my friend George's foray into Doctor Who Comics, but now I can have them all in a pretty book too!

The Crown by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Kiera Cass’s #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series has captured the hearts of readers from its very first page. Now the end of the journey is here. Prepare to be swept off your feet by The Crown—the eagerly awaited, wonderfully romantic fifth and final book in the Selection series.

In The Heir, a new era dawned in the world of The Selection. Twenty years have passed since America Singer and Prince Maxon fell in love, and their daughter is the first princess to hold a Selection of her own.

Eadlyn didn’t think she would find a real partner among the Selection’s thirty-five suitors, let alone true love. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and now Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more difficult—and more important—than she ever expected."

Yeah, another year and I still haven't started this series. Shame on me.

A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock
Published by: Crown
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite's restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin.

Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus--the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation. Her days are an unbroken loop of empty, champagne-soaked socializing, while her nights are silent and cold, spent waiting alone in her cavernous apartment for a husband who seldom comes home.

Then Emil Hallan arrives at The Angelus to paint a mural above its glittering subterranean pool. The handsome French artist moves into the building, shrouds his work in secrecy, and piques Vera's curiosity, especially when the painter keeps dodging questions about his past. Is he the man he claims to be? Even as she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hallan's warmth and passion, Vera can't suppress her suspicions. After all, she has plenty of secrets, too--and some of them involve art forgers like her bold, artistically talented former friend, Bea, who years ago, at Vassar, brought Vera to the brink of catastrophe and social exile.

When the dangerous mysteries of Emil's past are revealed, Vera faces an impossible choice--whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we've always led is not the life we want to have."

Not only did this intrigue me, but a friend I trust read an ARC and recommends it as well! Also 1920s!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Backlog Bonanza

While I do love creating theme months and reading lists to go with these months, sometimes there's only so many Downtonesque books or Regency time period books one can take. The long and short of what I'm saying is that I read a lot more books than reviews I post here. On average I have about 104 reviews on my blog per year while I write anywhere from 50 to 70 more reviews... So I kind of have a backlog of book reviews that are just sitting around, collecting dust, being pushed further and further back in my blog queue. Therefore I was pondering, why not utalize this backlog for a theme month, or months... in fact I could throw in some books I've been dying to read and haven't had the time to get around to.

I was warming to this idea very fast when I concocted it a few months ago. And then I started playing with my blog calendar, and once I start playing with my blog calendar it's kind of a foregone conclusion that it's going to happen. Only once have a scraped an idea after it reached the calendar phase. So yes, Backlog Bonanza is happening. NOW! I've thematically divided the books up into categories from biographies to modern classics to science fiction. I'll also talk a little about each genre that is spotlighted and why I'm drawn to it. I'm also bringing back a giveaway! Because nothing says summer party like a free book? So let's get this party started!

Giveaway Prize:
A copy of the book of your choice from one of the books reviewed during Backlog Bonanza.

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too).

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Contest ends Wednesday, August 31st at 11:59PM CST

4. How to enter: Just comment on this post for a chance to win!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: What is your favorite genre?
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, instagram (miss.eliza), twitter (@eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post in each platform, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once from twitter). Also please leave a link! 
  • +10 for each comment you leave on other Backlog Bonanza posts with something other than "I hope I win!" 
Good luck!

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