Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June by Miranda Beverly-Whitemore

It tickled me to read this book in June (even though the June in this case refers to a girl named June rather than the month. The book uses a dual narrative, one past, one present, to tell the story of the summer of 1955 in a small town in Ohio, when Hollywood came to town, and the repercussions it had into present day for Cassie, a young woman still fresh from the death of the grandmother who raised her. As Cassie hides from the world in the grand old house she inherited, Hollywood again comes knocking, when she finds that she has inherited the entire estate of the star of that long ago movie. Even though there were a few plot devices and foreshadowing that was easy to spot,  Miranda Beverly-Whittemore surprised me on one element.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me this copy.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe (Publication date September 6 2016)

I believe in magic. I don't mean the hocus-pocus stuff, but in an underlying magic that is the song and beauty of our world, something, that, if we're very lucky, or very blessed, or maybe blind, stupid drunk, we can occasionally unlock. I think it's that belief that makes me like books that give secret histories-- a magic woven in between our own known world and history that, in the telling, doesn't necessarily change what we, the unmusical, know, but once we learn gives added dimension. I think this is also one of the reasons I like Alex Bledsoe's novels of the Tufa so much. The Tufa are magic hidden in plain sight. And in each of Bledsoe's four Tufa novels, we get a little glimpse of the song that carries them.

This novel, Chapel of Ease, is due out September 6, 2016. I am completely grateful to Diana Pho at Tor Books, for not making me wait that long, and getting me an ARC. Chapel of Ease stands apart from the first three books (The Hum and the Shiver, A Wisp of A Thing, The Long Black Curl) as it is partially set in New York City, but overlaps for a portion of the book with the familiar setting of Cloud County. My experience with the other three books was to get completely lost in the rhythms, melodies, and words laced throughout the story. With this book, though the novel is essentially about a musical written by a Tufa, to open off-Broadway, the music didn't carry me as much, but the telling of the story did. Maybe that's because I also happen to love books that weave two story-lines. And, if one is in the past, and one present day, even better. From the moment this story started, through to the very last lines, it held me. (See plot summary kindly provided by Tor Books here.)

Reading this in the wake of the horrific shooting in Orlando also helped a bit in my processing of that tear in our fabric of humanity. The explorations of differences in groups of people, in sexual orientation, in beliefs, and even in the biases of country vs city/city vs country that were so carefully, and eloquently developed within the plot helped with my own inner dialogue.  It all flowed quite naturally, as a piece of the plot, not like the remuddles I've seen plastered on other stories to bring them up to date. I'm so very happy to have a novel that presents a really interesting non-stereotypical gay man as a main character, not as a sidekick. I, as a straight woman, really liked being inside his head, and in his heart. I also liked yet another glimpse of the magic that may be hidden in our world, and how it may not be confined only to those mountains in Cloud County.

I have to wait a bit for the next novel in the series (even for an ARC) but I will try to be patient. We're headed to our mountain cabin in Rabun county, and I may even dust off my dulcimer. But, before that, I have a big decision to make: which of Alex Bledsoe's series do I explore next?


All Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frank

I like reading. I like Charleston. I like reading books set in Charleston. So, Dotty Frank's All Summer Long should have been a walk in walk in Waterfront Park, Slam dunk at the Joe (and maybe TD Arena at CofC for the dunk), day at the beach (Folly, Sullivans, Isle of Palms, and heck, even Kiawah, Seabrook, or Edisto) for me. Right?

Except it wasn't. The only things that engaged me in this book was the dedication to Pat at the beginning (assuming that Pat was Pat Conroy) and the memory of flying into Charleston from New York City, and reading  Frank's description of the same flight path. But even then, I shuddered. "Scarlett's ringlets"? Even as a joke? Nevah. The characters felt dead to me, and even my beloved lowcountry failed to breathe a spark of life (or interest ) into the story.

Dorthea Benton Frank's books tend to either be a hit or a miss for me, rarely lukewarm. But I keep reading them, because when the combo hits a homer into the marsh from The Joe, I wanna be there in my kayak to catch it. I am currently rethinking that plan. My apologies to the author and to her fans.

Tags: 2016-readan-author-i-readgive-me-my-time-backreadthank-you-charleston-county-librarythought-i-was-gonna-like

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Simply Calligraphy by Judy Derrick

I'm working hard to improve my hand lettering. Calligraphy has always mystified me, mostly because I am too impulsive to follow all the directions given. I wan instant results, and that just doesn't happen. However, this is the first book that has actually made calligraphy approachable to me, mostly because it is straightforward, and recognizes that though the idea setup will, with practice, produce ideal results, most people aren't going to build a calligraphy desk or acquire eleventy billion nibs and handles and inks. When Judy Detrick said to practice on notebook paper, I think I fell in love.

I'm still practicing, which is more than I've done with any of the other calligraphy books I've tried. My only wish is that there were more full alphabets for me to see and play with, but that's what the internet is for.

My thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending this copy my way. I have to keep it hidden so my granddaughter doesn't steal it from me when she comes over.

Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge by Ovida Yu

Set in Singapore, this cozy centers on the death of a tourist, the sister of the notorious "Puppy Killer", a British ex-pat who'd had a puppy euthanized, and caused a scandal years before. Aunty Lee, and her cast of characters, come into play because the Puppy Killer has returned (with her now-murdered sister) to sue the people who originally brought charges, and made the case an internet sensation. And of course, all those people know Aunty Lee.

This was my first foray into Aunty Lee's world. I found the dishes and descriptions of her cafe items interesting, though had to look up each and every one to make sure I had it right, as there was no glossary to help me distinguish Katong Laksa from Cheng tng, (I read an ARC, and a glossary may be included in the final.) There were a lot of folks involved on Aunty's side of things, which took some sorting out, and not that much description of the city beyond food culture. But still, I found it interesting. These internationally set cozies are good for giving snippets of culture usually not represented in mysteries, and a series allows the reader to learn at a leisurely pace.

As to the mystery itself, it soon became obvious where the story was leading in terms of one main element. The hints in the backstory just had me rather impatient for the reveal to know I was right. There also were enough annoying characters still left that I was wishing one or two of them might be picked off instead.

If another Aunty Lee story falls into my hands, I may give it a go, but may not seek her out otherwise. Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending the book my way. Sorry I didn't like it more.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

I've been to Cloud County, home of the Tufa, twice before. Alex Bledsoe took me there, in the first two books of this series. I would have gone back sooner, but 2015 was a crummy year for me, health wise, and my reading slowed, and I was unable to get to this book when it came out. But now, thanks to the magic of the author, and the good sense of my public library, I was able to fly on a song to the land of the Tufa. Once again, I found good writing, fabulous characters, and an enthralling storyline. Yes, that's magic.

Time moves differently in Cloud County. There are faces which have been around for decades, if not centuries, and not necessarily because genes have been passed along to descendants. But in all the years the Tufa have lived there, only two have been banished, "sung out" of the community, unable to return, and unable to find the music and the magic which are lifeblood to Tufa. But now, one has returned, and is out for vengeance.

This is a story of community and family, love and loss, retribution and redemption. Some might even make comparisons to Romeo and Juliet, though for me, that was a lesser part of the plot-line than the journey of the individual characters. It is a tale that deepens the reader's ability to glimpse into a culture carefully crafted by Bledsoe to incorporate music, art, legend, and lore of our own world. Music winds its way through Bledsoe's writing, and plays a background melody for me as I read, reawakening old memories of Child ballads, and rhythms of forgotten tunes I once hummed close to heart, my fingers busy on my dulcimer. Reading these books of the Tufa, for me, becomes a multidimensional experience, those songs of my own past guiding the words of the story. But even without the accompaniment, the story captivates.

Tags: 2016-read, a-favorite-author, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, fantasy, great-title, made-me-look-something-up, magic, paranormal, part-start-of-a-series, rabun-county-and-thereabouts, read, thank-you-charleston-county-library, tor, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Friday, June 17, 2016

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

As far as premises go, this is a good one: a dystopian-isa Victorian England, where sin is visible in the form of smoke that seeps and escapes from your body with each bit of anger, lust, greed, or worse. Except, the upper class seems to be able to overcome their tendencies to smoke, leaving the underbelly of society to wallow in their own soot, thieving, killing, and morally depraved. Yet, has it always been this way?

To me, the most compelling aspect of this story was how smoke came into the world, and the cover-up of the time before smoke. But this isn't addressed as thoroughly as other aspects. The story centers around Charlie, Thomas, (and later Livia), three adolescents born to the upper class, swept into the mysteries around smoke. There is evil, too, that emanates from both the world of politics and from the prestigious boys boarding school Charlie and Thomas attend. Told from varying points of view (both theirs and other characters) the story unfolds, but for me, without a satisfying conclusion.

I wish I could remember who recommended this book so highly to me. I'd like to discuss it with them.

tags: 2016-read, alternate-history, dystopian-ish, fantasy, read, read-on-recommendation, rounded-up-in-star-rating, thank-you-charleston-county-library, thought-i-was-gonna-like, great-cover

Monday, June 13, 2016

About Pysanky, the Hand-Drawn Style of The Wheel of Time: Patterns of the Wheel (reposted from but still by yours truly)

The world created by Robert Jordan for The Wheel of Time offers readers a vibrant mix of elements to ignite the imagination. Readers enact their understanding of the books through cosplay, music, art, or even through food and drink. Line up any ten fans dressed as the Dragon Reborn, and while there may be some similarities, no two are the same.
Wheel of Time-inspired art ranges from elegant, elaborate fantasy creations to simple stick figures. Individual taste and perspective guides the way artists approach their craft and the way in which viewers assess the result. One can glory in the art of Michelangelo, whose realistic depictions of the human form captured every nuance precisely, yet also delight in Marc Chagall, whose folk-art style featured casually drawn people and cows seen floating in colorful skies. One artist a genius whose technical skills were flawless; the other recreating the art of the people for a totally different purpose and effect.
My own style comes from the folk art of Pysanky, the intricately decorated eggs often displayed at Easter-time. Pysanky (a word derived from the Ukrainian word “to write”) are created using a wax-and-dye resist process similar to batik, though on eggshell instead of cloth.
Pysanky also convey language, both in the symbols used and the colors of dye incorporated in their design. And while precision is used to create designs, the eggs are also handwritten. As with any type of handwriting, character and distinctiveness is conveyed by the imperfections inherent in this means of communication: loops are not always closed, and sometimes a “t “ isn’t crossed or an “i” dotted.
Patterns of the Wheel Amy Romanczuk
Most coloring books on the market today are computer-generated or aided, and by their very nature they are flawless. By contrast, my Wheel of Time coloring art book Patterns of the Wheel uses a more spontaneous style to convey the moods and meanings of images from the Wheel of Time. This book includes a key to help decipher meanings of some of the symbols used in the designs. Additionally, hidden in many of the images are words written in Old Tongue script, which those interested can decode from resources online or from The Wheel of Time Companion.
To give a brief example of how a design can be decoded, take a look below at “Patterns of the Wheel”, a page from the coloring book. When creating my version of the snake and wheel, I wanted to incorporate symbols relevant to the story. Prominent throughout the design is a symbol called “wolves’ teeth”, depicting friendship, loyalty, and wisdom. The lower wheel consists of two sets of wolves’ teeth, seven in each set, echoing off the seven spokes of the wheel, the seven pine needles (for strength and stamina, as well as health), and calling to mind the seven Ajahs. Likewise, each of the upper circles have also been divided into seven major segments. There are triangles (which are said to enclose wishes) but which also represent a trinity, in this case, the three ta’veren; crosses for crossroads of life and four corners of the world; curls for protection; waves for safety in travels; netting for keeping close or gathering in of forces; ladders/parallel lines for the ascension of hopes; and even a bit of foliage to help fight the Blight. And that’s just for starters.
Download a print version of this drawing here if you would like copies for you and your family! (PDF is 1.2 MB.)
I’ve drawn the basics on each page to help you create a colorful design. Add your colors, your imagination, and your own elements as you wish. There’s no right or wrong way. You don’t even have to stay within the lines; just find your pattern and enjoy.
Reposted from, with permission.

Additional note:  You'll discover if you click through on the picture of the coloring book cover that Robert Jordan is listed as the primary author, which is entirely right. There are words in this version of the book. They are his, not mine. I am delighted and honored to share the space on the front of a book with him, though, even if the artist bio reflect his life, not mine. For anyone in doubt, I am still alive and kicking. 

The art of pysanky intrigued Robert Jordan. I remember being fascinated watching that facile mind unravel the messages on the eggs I'd done for him and for Harriet. Being able to explore his world through an art form he liked has been a gift.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Letter Writer by Dan Fesperman

This was a nice literary mystery/speculative fiction, but left me wanting somehow. It's not that this book was not good, more that my expectations were too high. I loved reading about New York City in wartime-- it was a nice history lesson, and, having recently been to the city, made the places easy to recall. (In fact, it's one of those books I wish I'd read before my visit, so that I could look at places in modern day and say, "ah ha! I see!") I think the world of Danziger, the letter writer, also held a fascination for me because of my heritage, and my family that had to flee Europe before and during WWII. I think part of my feeling unfulfilled had to do with wanting more of that world. Woodrow Cain, the policeman from small town North Carolina, now in the big city, who ends up working with Danziger, was a sympathetic character, too, but his story doesn't touch mine quite as much.  But Dan Fesperman's writing was engaging, and all I can say is the fault is mine, not his in the telling of this tale.

tags:  2016-read, made-me-look-something-up, places-i-have-been, taught-me-something, thank-you-charleston-county-library, thought-i-was-gonna-like, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Friday, June 10, 2016

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A note of apology: I am tired and recovering from an exacerbation of my wonky health. This was a wonderful book, and I can't do it justice in my current state, but need to put something down to capture the few random thoughts sparking off my brain. There are other, eloquent reviews. I applaud them and direct you there. Stay here for wonkiness.

Another wonderful find, picked up on recommendation of a reading friend. It has so many of the elements I like: a complex but likable lead character who makes mistakes but is utterly human (I imagine her in wrinkled skirt with a tear on it, and mud at the hem, smudged face, hair coming out of her braid, but alert and observant), a compelling plot line to untwist, conflict, great world building that had me wanting to eat perogies and borscht and other foods of my heritage, a nod to the fairytales of Slavic lands (I'm a big Baba Yaga fan), and some darn fun writing. Plus there's magic (just in case you missed it, danger, and good solid friendship. I hear it was nominated for a Hugo award and I think maybe a Nebula. And sad puppies or not, that still means something.

I'm gonna track down more from this author.

Tags: 2016-readcreaturesdidn-t-want-to-put-it-downfantasygreat-covergreat-titlemade-me-look-something-upmagicmagicalreadread-on-recommendationsatisfyingthank-you-charleston-county-librarywant-to-re-readwill-look-for-more-by-this-authorya-lit

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

A reading friend recommended this to me. I'd passed it over in the book giveaway lists because I've been steering clear of coming of age novels of late. But with the recommendation, I got an e-copy of it on loan from my library, and began reading it a day before heading off to New York City for a long overdue reunion.

I was a slightly awkward adolescent, lost in my own imaginings, yet able to make an occasional successful foray into the world around me thanks to some dear friends who never mocked my oddities, and encouraged interactions on a level I was comfortable. By the time I reached high school, I was able to successfully separate my mind travels from everyday life; thinker disguised as teenager. Entering into June's world brought those memories to the surface, though June's world is of the late 1980's when I was already a couple of decades out of adolescence.

What truly captured me was the inclusion of The Cloisters as a sanctuary, memory, and haven for June and her uncle Toby. I'd never been to The Cloisters, though have read about the place so many times, that if I had a bucket list, going there would be one item. This trip, my family and I fulfilled that wish, and spent an afternoon wandering simultaneously through Upper Manhattan and Medieval Europe. Because of June's love of the place, and the book's descriptions, there were art and artifacts that I "recognized" especially "Enthroned Virgin and Child",  the birch statue of Mary and Jesus with the baby's head missing (Better picture and catalog info here.) Thanks to June, it was not my first visit to Fort Tryon Park, nor the first time I smelled the air, still reminiscent of Catholicism. To be fair, June and Toby's love of Mozart’s Requiem, tea, Amadeus, and A Room With A View, also hit chimes with me, as all are loves of mine. And whether it's a beloved uncle, or the boy down the street, first loves can be both beautiful and heart-breaking, truly deserving of the word "bittersweet" and the stuff of memories.

Enthroned Virgin and Child, France, ca 11-30-1140 

As to the cause of Toby's death, I was still practicing as a nurse when AIDS first appeared. My awareness and understanding of it came from the medical aspect, though all too soon, people I knew in my personal life, not just as patients, began to contract the disease. AIDS is indirectly responsible for my own health woes, as exposure to improperly treated latex/natural rubber rushed into production for gloves into the medical system are what caused my own latex allergy and resulting pulmonary ills.

This book also had some other elements that played favorably for me, particularly the examination of sibling relationships, both for June and her sister, and for her mother and uncle. I thought the author did a nice job, as well, revealing the growing friendship between June and Toby, the lover of her dead uncle. The tiny dips into the art world, and  New York City also matched my days of reading the book on the train, in a park, curled up at night while the sounds of 6th Ave bustled outside my hotel window.

There are those who will be impatient, want a faster pace, less adolescent angst. Fine. This may not be the book for you. But for me, this was the best time and place to tell the wolves I'm home.

Tags: 2016-reade-bookread-on-recommendationplaces-i-have-beentaught-me-somethingmade-me-look-something-upmade-me-thinkthank-you-charleston-county-libraryfirst-novel-or-book 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Midnight Sun (Blood on Snow, #2) by Jo Nesbø

Nesbo goes short, sparse, somewhat philosophic, and a touch romantic in this second "Blood on Snow" book, set in a remote part of Norway, where Jon is now on the run from the crimelord known as The Fisherman, who will be satisfied with nothing less than Jon's corpse.

Different from the Harry Hole novels, but again with a true sense of place and character.

Tags:  a-favorite-author, translated, nordic-noir, rounded-up-in-star-rating, 2016-read

Monday, June 6, 2016

Steeplejack (Alternative Detective #1) by A.J. Hartley

Here's a book that has a great central character: quick-thinking, curious, smart, determined, loyal; she pulls her weight as the only female steeplejack scaling the towers, chimneys, and spires of Bar-Selehm, a semi-steampunk, somewhat Victorian version of an alternate South Africa. That's a first in world building, for me, as is AJ Hartley's appropriation of our South Africa's history: colonialism, apartheid, and a strictly tiered society, woven into a tight culture. Into this, he plunked Anglet Sutonga, our chimney climbing heroine, smack in the center of a mystery. (I'm going to skip a lot of things I might have written yesterday, such as my fascination that a white male chose to write about a young woman of color, in an area vastly different from where he lives, and what he has studied. That's because today, there's a blogpost by Hartley on Tor that makes much of my thoughts redundant. Check it out.)

The story starts with Ang's discovery that her new apprentice has been found dead, apparently of a fall. She, however, suspects foul play. The police aren't interested. The city becomes obsessed instead, with the theft of The Beacon, the icon that has lit the city's night-sky for years. Ang continues to ask questions, to poke the anthill. She enters into an uneasy alliance with a a young politician, who alone in the city obsessed with the missing light, seems concerned about the death of her apprentice. There's one of the most amazing chase scenes I've read-- it played out like parkour over the rooftops of the city. And there's humanity-- rich depictions of the customs and practices of a tiered society, the interweaving of cultures, and the conflicts of expectations for individuals who slide between the layers.

I used to kid myself. I'd say I primarily picked up YA books to see what my kids, and then later, my grandkids, were reading. But I've found that, baring the occasional vampire/werewolf sequence, or silly princesses, there are thoughtful, well-written, attention grabbing books out there, which are aimed at a YA market, or have a YA appropriately-aged central character, but really do make a cross-over.  AJ Hartley's <i> Steeplejack</i>  jumped that steeple-high space to grab me, despite the 40 + year age difference between the central character and the reader. Good writing can do that.

Full disclosure: I was visiting the offices at Tor last week, and was given this book by Diana Pho. To be honest, the fact that she is the editor only makes me like it more.

Publication date for this book is June 14, 2016.

tags: 2016-readalternate-historydidn-t-want-to-put-it-downfantasygrandgirl-nonsparkly-foddergreat-coverliterary-mysterymade-me-look-something-upmade-me-thinkpart-start-of-a-seriesreadread-on-recommendationsteampunkthought-provokingtorwill-look-for-more-by-this-authorya-lit

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Inspirations in Art: Thank you Jacques Hnizdovsky

I recently had the opportunity to see a show of the art of Jacques Hnizdovsky, a prolific and amazing artist born in Ukraine, who spent many years at a displaced persons camp in Germany, and eventually was able to emigrate to the United Stated, Minneapolis, Minnesota, to be exact. His art thrilled me, both in the content and execution, and in the enormous range of styles he used, each work something startling, unique, and captivating. I was drawn, especially, to the woodcuts and linocuts, their lines touching a cord with the wax lines used in pysanky. I found myself "reading" some of the symbols used, wondering if he had incorporated the language of pysanky into a print of a sheep, or a tree or a loaf of bread. I came away breathless (well, part of that was my inability to breath like a normal human being in some circumstances, not just the sheer thrill of what I'd seen) and inspired. There was also a film of Hnizdovsky, done in the latter years of his life, showing the creation of one of the woodcuts in the exhibition. I must have watched it three times, entranced by the technique he used to recreate his vision.

A year or so ago, I'd purchased some simple tools to try linocut. Finding latex-safe equipment can be a challenge, particularly for the roller, but my trusty pals at our Charleston Artist & Craftsman were up to the task, and kitted me out with a simple set. I put it in a boxI labeled "lino" and then, I  promptly got absorbed in other arts, until Hnizdovsky came into my life.

I spent a few days mulling over what to use as my subject, finally settling on adapting a pen and ink (Dragonmount) I'd already done for Patterns of the Wheel, and that, as a print, had been well-received at JordanCon. The size is smaller, and though I made a few mistakes, and have ideas what to do differently, I quite chuffed with the results.

I can hardly wait for my next project. My brain is brimming with ideas.