Friday, December 28, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Yarn Lover's Guide to Hand Dyeing by Linda Labelle

The past several years have seen an explosion of hand dyers offering their yarns to knitters. Many knitters are tempted to try their hand at designing unique colour-ways but have no idea where to begin. Linda Labelle’s new book The Yarn Lover's Guide to Hand Dyeing: Beautiful Color and Simple Knits is the perfect introduction to this complex art.

Beginning with an introduction to color theory, yarn preparation, and the basic techniques used throughout the book, The Yarn Lover's Guide to Hand Dyeing is organized according to dye type. Moving from kool-aid and food colouring to commercial dyes, each dye method is reviewed and illustrated using lots of pictures. The dye technique is followed by a pattern designed to utilize the newly created yarn. Although the patterns are fun, their main purpose is to illustrate how the newly dyed yarn looks once knit up, showcasing the dye-effect. Patterns include socks and hats, ponchos/shawls, gauntlets and even a lace sweater.

Scattered throughout The Yarn Lover's Guide to Hand Dyeing are interviews with seven professional dyers. The beautifully photographed sections show the dyers at work in their studios, surrounded by stunning yarns. Labelle discusses dyeing with some of the yarn world’s luminaries; Cheryl Schaefer from Schaefer Yarn and Karen Selk of Treenway Silks. Darlene Hayes of Hand Jive Knits shares her techniques and tips with her instructions on using eucalyptus, a product available to anyone (by order through a local florist), to create a beautiful natural dye.

Labelle assumes her readers are absolute beginners and provides instructions on everything from choosing the right gloves to complex dyeing methods. It is this careful instruction which makes The Yarn Lover's Guide to Hand Dyeing an excellent choice for anyone interested in learning dye methods.


ISBN10: 0307352536
ISBN13: 9780307352538

Hardcover
160 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: November 13, 2007


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Thursday, December 27, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

The Greek gods and goddesses have left Olympus and moved to modern-day London, residing in a tumbledown house and are thoroughly sick of one another. To make matters worse, their power is waning. Apollo, bored and self-centered as always, has been up to his old tricks turning mortal women who refuse him into trees. This flagrant waste of power is a no-no and in a bid to teach him a lesson, his aunt Aphrodite convinces her son Eros to shoot Apollo with an arrow of love during his first stint as a television psychic. When Artemis hires Alice (the recipient of Apollo’s love) as the gods’ cleaning lady, all out chaos ensues and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Marie Phillips’ first novel has an intriguing premise – what if the Greek gods lived among us, performing their tasks but still needing to make a living? Her answer, Gods Behaving Badly, shows promise but falls a bit flat in the execution. There is much humour and irony to be found here: Aphrodite’s ring-tone is ‘Venus’ and she spends her days as a phone-sex operator; Artemis is a dog-walker repeatedly stumbling across her brother Apollo’s indiscretions as new trees appear in the park; Zeus is a crazy old man whom Hera hides in the attic; Apollo’s lack of attention to his job has led to global warming; and the entrance to Hades is a London tube station.

Her counterpoint to the gods – Alice and Neil – fall flat amidst the hyperbole that infuses the gods’ characters. Alice, the quiet cleaner, floats through much of the novel without touching readers. Providing Alice with more presence would have added credence to Neil’s quest to save her and ensured reader’s empathy lay with the mortals. It is only in the later part of Gods Behaving Badly that Alice really comes to life and at that point readers may no longer care what happens to her.

Ben Stiller’s production company ‘Red Hour’ has optioned Gods Behaving Badly to produce a TV comedy series.


ISBN10: 0316067628
ISBN13: 9780316067621

Hardcover
288 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: December 10, 2007
Author Interview: YouTube
Author Website: www.mariephillips.co.uk


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Monday, December 10, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Work Shirts for Madmen by George Singleton

“If you can’t make sense of life, you can at least scratch your head and laugh at it.” – Michael Ray Taylor on how southern writers approach literature, Nashville Scene

Harp Spillman has lost count of the years spent living in the bottle. He’s ruined his reputation as metal sculptor, joked himself out of a lucrative career as a freelance ice sculptor and is now living off the good graces of his wife Raylou. When a commission of twelve-foot-high metal angels made out of hex nuts for Birmingham, Alabama gets approved (although he can’t remember applying), Harp realizes it’s time to hang up the bottle and return to the mig-welder. Fate decides he needs some moral support and sends him the Elbow Boys, although Harp wonders if isn’t just another of Raylou’s schemes…

Confused? Don’t be surprised - George Singleton’s writing epitomizes Michael Ray Taylor’s quote from Nashville Scene, this is Gonzo fiction at its finest. In Work Shirts for Madmen, Singleton paints with words using wide brush strokes; readers may not always know what is going on but there will be a vivid picture running in your head while you try to figure it out. With novels and short stories chock full of unfathomable characters and surreal situations, Singleton’s forte is his uncanny ability to keep readers laughing even while their hearts are breaking. Many of Singleton’s characters seem to have just stepped off a film set; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Elbow Boys showing up in Tarantino’s next movie. And Harp’s ice sculpture creations melting at the Republican convention begs to be captured on film.

Even though there is such a strong cinematic quality to Work Shirts for Madmen, beneath all the laughs and eccentricities at its heart this is a novel about making sense of life after hitting rock bottom. Whether you’re attracted by the title or fiction featuring anteaters, make sure to grab this one for a day when you need a dose of surreal, you’ll be awfully glad you did.


Check out largehearted boy for George Singleton’s picks of music to accompany to accompany Work Shirts for Madmen.


ISBN10: 0151013071
ISBN13: 9780151013074

Hardcover
336 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: September 17, 2007
Author Website: georgesingleton.com


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Monday, November 05, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Hondo & Fabian, written and illustrated by Peter McCarty

This beautifully illustrated day-in-the-life tale focuses on the parallel stories of a dog and cat set in the 1930s or ‘40s. Hondo the dog goes off to spend the day at the beach with a canine pal. Fabian the cat stays at home with “the baby.” Each has adventures and readers are invited to decide which pet has more fun.

The language in Hondo & Fabian is spare, featuring parallel narratives using similar words and sentence structure.

“Hondo is going to the beach to meet his friend Fred.

Fabian is going to the living room to play with the baby.”


Hondo gets hungry after diving in the waves and “wishes he could eat the fish.” Fabian gets hungry after playing with the toilet roll and “wishes he could eat the turkey sandwich.”

The basic language allows children to elaborate on the story from their own experience and imagination. The large type size means this book will function well as a transitional book as your child starts to recognize words and practices reading.

Parents will enjoy the vintage feel of Peter McCarty’s exquisite pencil illustrations while children will respond to the loveable animals. As he states in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, he loves the “pure visual shape of things from that era” and it is a period which features in many of his books.

Children who enjoy the adventures of Hondo & Fabian will want to read Fabian Escapes, the sequel in which Fabian explores the world while Hondo stays home with the baby. Hondo & Fabian was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2003 for Peter McCarty’s outstanding illustrations.


ISBN10: 0312367473
ISBN13: 9780312367473

Trade Paperback
32 Pages
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: May 2007
Author Website: www.petermccarty.net


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Sunday, November 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria suffers from a mysterious illness, the source of which has caused much speculation among citizens. Whatever the cause, The Ruler gets fatter and smells horribly of decay. In celebration of his birthday, The Ruler has decided that his citizens will build him a modern-day Tower of Babel called the ‘Marching to Heaven’ or ‘Heavenscrape’ project that he plans to have funded by the Global Bank. Rising to challenge The Ruler are two heroes; Kamiti, an educated Aburirian man, and Nyawiri, a feminist activist. Together they become the witch doctor, the Wizard of the Crow, believed to be causing The Ruler’s illness and destabilizing his rule.

Wizard of the Crow (Murogi wa Kagogo)
the newest novel from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is a massive work. Ngũgĩ’s Wizard of the Crow reads like an extended performance piece, epic in both its political themes and length (768 pages). As John Updike states in his review in The New Yorker: “When the Wizard, with his moral scruples and self-doubts, is not onstage, the novel becomes puppetry, a Punch-and-Judy show whose grotesque politicos keep whacking one another.”

Wizard of the Crow at its core is an African novel, written in a language of oral traditions, evident in both its construction and linguistic style. While it may feel foreign to Western readers, greater understanding of the text can be gained by reading the text out loud. Readers should remember that the narrative traditions from which Ngũgĩ draws are heavy on performance. The hyperbole and satire of his caricature leads to a fantastic and didactic tale highlighting the plight of Africa. While understanding of the novel may be aided through study of African history, it is not essential.

Ngũgĩ focuses a great deal on power and draws many parallels between women’s plight in traditional culture and the political situation in his homeland. By writing in his native Gĩkũyũ, Ngũgĩ can spread his message to a larger audience. As he states in the novel: “Awareness of being wronged is the first step in political self-education.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 1400033845
ISBN13: 9781400033843

Trade Paperback
768 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: August 2007


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Saturday, November 03, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Murder by the Slice by Livia J. Washburn

October in Texas means Parent-Teacher Organization fundraising carnivals at many of the elementary schools. Retired teacher Phyllis Newsom always takes an interest in school happenings but helping to organize the carnival for Oliver Loving Elementary School wasn’t part of her plan. However, when a friend of Carolyn Wilbarger’s comes to her with a desperate plea for help with the bake sale, Carolyn and Phyllis reluctantly agree to assist.

Carolyn suggests a “healthy snack” contest in addition to the traditional cake auction - an idea quickly approved by the PTO board. In a moment of harmony, Phyllis decides to participate in the auction, leaving Carolyn the baking contest. Peace seems ensured; that is, until the obnoxious head of the PTO sticks her oar in their plans, insisting Phyllis enter the baking contest. Competition is again flowing between Phyllis and Carolyn and disaster seems inevitable, until the PTO chairperson is killed at the carnival and the retirees band together to solve the crime.

Murder by the Slice is the second entry in Livia J. Washburn’s “Fresh-Baked Mystery” series. This cozy mystery series is the perfect antidote to the preponderance of blood and gore thrillers currently in vogue. Some may choose to stereotype Washburn’s books as “sweet” or “wholesome;” however, that does her books a great disservice (although there are lots of descriptions of pastries).

Washburn has created a charismatic group of characters who happen to be seniors, an active diverse bunch, far removed from the stereotype of doddering, helpless “grey-hairs.” Phyllis and her friends are useful members of the community, valued for what they contribute, and actively embrace life.

Washburn’s avoidance of most obvious stereotypes portends great things for this series. It is this potential therefore, that makes the one pitfall she didn’t avoid all the more glaring. The character of Eve is sure to evoke memories of the Golden Girls, a parallel which doesn’t do the “Fresh-Baked Mystery” series any service. Phyllis’ constant references to Eve as a femme fatale feels out of place and undermines an otherwise fun read.


Several recipes are included at the end of the book. A sample recipe can be found here.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0451222504
ISBN13: 9780451222503

Mass Market Paperback
272 pages
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website: liviawashburn.com



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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Sisters on the Case: Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters in Crime edited by Sara Paretsky

It’s astonishing to think that not long ago female mystery authors had difficulty staying in print, being purchased for library collections or getting review attention from mainstream media. In response to these disturbing facts, a group of 26 female authors came together in 1986 to found Sisters in Crime, an international organization designed promote female mystery and crime writers. Now, on the 20th anniversary, Sisters on the Case: Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters in Crime has been published to mark this important milestone and highlight some of the writers integral to the success of the collective.

When faced with 26 short stories, it is difficult to select only a few highlights; however, even in this strong collection there are few stories which stood out from the rest. “Not Just the Facts” by Annette Meyers features an innovative approach to the structure of a short story. Meyers chose to break her story into sections which mirror the segments of a police investigation. Each section begins with a heading to indicate the perspective it provides: The Medical Examiner, The Witness, The Interviews, part I, etc; providing insight into the anatomy of an investigation and encourages readers to see beyond the facts of the case.

“The Whole World is Watching” by Libby Fischer Hellman provides an alternative perspective of the social movement of the late 60s – that of the police rather than the usual viewpoint of the demonstrators. In this story, Fischer Hallman examines the concept of duty through the eyes of Kevin, a police officer assigned to crowd control during one of Martin Luther King’s rallies. Her story is remarkable for the significant growth Kevin achieves in only a few pages without the story ever feeling forced or “off-pace”.

“The People’s Way” by Eve K. Sandstrom stretches the definition of what a “mystery” story is/should be and was the only story in the collection which brought me to tears. “Guardian Angel” by Rochelle Krich deserves a mention for writing which evokes true “creepiness”.

Sisters on the Case is the perfect way to discover new voices while revisiting the work of favourite authors. These sample-size stories will have you saying “just one more” long into the night.


ISBN10: 0451222393
ISBN13: 9780451222398

Mass Market Paperback
352 Pages
Publisher: Obsidian
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website: www.sistersincrime.org


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: No Sheep for You by Amy R. Singer

Amy Singer, editor and founder of Knitty.com, learned to knit at age six and as she puts it “learned she was allergic to wool soon after.” For many years, knitters allergic to wool were stuck knitting with synthetic substitutes that felt too much like plastic or with cotton which bagged or drooped. With the recent explosion of yarn options, non-wool knitters finally have their day in the sun.

No Sheep for You: knit happy with cotton, silk, linen, hemp, bamboo & other delights explores the fabulous options open to the modern non-wool knitter. With her trademark wit and personal understanding of the subject, Singer introduces knitters to the five “families” of non-wool fibers and their characteristics: bast (flax, hemp, linen); seed (cotton); manufactured fibers from natural materials (rayon, bamboo, corn, seacell®, soy fiber); protein (silk); and synthetic (nylon, lycra, acrylic). Understanding the characteristics of each family, the best needles to use for each, appropriate stitch techniques, and how to wash and block the garments is essential if knitters wish to produce garments they’re happy to wear. Perhaps the most important section is on adapting patterns written for wool to non-wool fibers.

The latter part of No Sheep for You is dedicated to the twenty-one patterns designed for non-wool fibers. The patterns, many from designers familiar to regular readers of Knitty.com, are marked with an icon indicating which fiber family is used for the design. Scattered throughout this section are sidebars full of helpful hints (how to wind slippery yarn on a ball winder, finishing steeks) and useful information (why does yarn pill, why does yarn shrink).

Singer, as befits one of the authors of Big Girl Knits, includes a wide range of sizes in No Sheep for You. Women’s patterns range from a finished chest of 31” to 64” (78.5cm to 162.5cm), averaging 34” to 54” (86.5cm to 137cm). Several patterns are included for men, as well as ones for hats, mitts, wraps, socks and bags.

Whether you are allergic to wool or just looking to expand your knitting repertoire, No Sheep for You is an essential addition to any knitter’s library.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 1596680121
ISBN13: 9781596680128

Trade Paperback
160 Pages
Publisher: Interweave Press
Publication Date: April 2007
Author Website: www.knitty.com


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Kaffe Knits Again by Kaffe Fassett

When most knitters hear the name Kaffe Fassett, they immediately think colour. Now known for his bold, graphic designs and innovative use of colour, when Fassett burst on the knitting scene in the early 1980s he was considered a maverick. He changed colours whenever the mood struck, tying off yarn in the middle of a row, and used more than 20 different colours in one design.

Inspired by the colours in the landscape during a visit to a Scottish textile mill; Fassett bought yarn and asked a passenger on the train back to London to teach him to knit. His first knit garment design was featured in Vogue® Knitting and soon Missoni was commissioning his designs.

Many knitters consider colour knitting to be too complicated and pass over Fassett’s exciting designs in favour of “simpler” projects. While I understand the fear of colourwork, I knit his Ribbon sweater as my second project soon after learning to knit (from his first book Glorious Knitting) and over the years have knit several of his designs and returned to his books for refreshers on working with colour.

Kaffe Knits Again: 24 Original Designs Updated for Today's Knitters is his first book in over a decade and here he revisits some of his favourite designs. Some patterns are reworked in less time-consuming projects like shawl or cushion, others use fewer colours per row. Some, like the Big Flower Throw discover new life when reworked in chunky yarn on large needles. Knitters will be delighted to discover favourite designs reworked in modern silhouettes. Whether this is your first introduction to Fassett’s unique take on colour or merely a reintroduction, Kaffe Knits Again is sure to win many converts.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0307395383
ISBN13: 9780307395382

Hardcover
144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website: www.kaffefassett.com


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Monday, October 22, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting Classic Style by Véronik Avery

“Fashion, as we knew it, is over; people wear now exactly what they feel like wearing.” Mary Quant, quoted in the introduction to Knitting Classic Style: 35 modern designs inspired by fashion’s archives

Véronik Avery had one main goal when creating the patterns in Knitting Classic Style: 35 modern designs inspired by fashion’s archives – to inspire knitters “to knit whatever it is you feel passionate about wearing.” Unlike past fashion periods, today divergent clothing styles are desirable, yet many retail clothing stores offer consumers more of the same. To help fashion individualists find a more personal look, Avery has explored classic designs to create the designs in this volume.

For Knitting Classic Style, Avery has focused on four main themes: Fashion Mavens (women’s wear); Tomboys (menswear); Global Travelers (ethnic costume); and Thrill Seekers (sportswear). For each pattern Avery discusses the fashion history and inspiration behind the design. The Bias Shell pays homage to Madeleine Vionnet, a cutting edge couturière from Paris known for her bias garments. Avery’s Tabi Socks draw inspiration from Japanese hosiery and speculation that samurai may have knit tabi socks (socks with separate big toes) to supplement their income at the end of the Edo period.

Avery has included a wide range of sizes for her designs. Women’s patterns range from a finished chest of 29.5” to 52.75” (75cm to 134cm), averaging 34” to 48” (86.5cm to 122cm). Two girl’s sweaters (size 2 to 8) and three men’s sweaters with a finished chest of 34” to 57.75” (86.5 cm to 147 cm) are included. Accessories round out the pattern offerings with designs for socks, hats, gloves, wraps.

Avery gives her Québec heritage and the Montreal Canadiens a nod with her traditional Montreal Tuque. She reminds knitters to select their colours wisely if knitting for a sports-loving recipient for "in a famous Québécois children's story, The Hockey Sweater, author Roch Carrier recounts his outrage when, as a child, he was forced to wear a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, received by mistake as a replacement for his beloved but worn-out Canadiens sweaters." Avery recommends knitters research favoured team colours prior to purchasing yarn.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 158479576X
ISBN13: 9781584795766

Hardcover
144 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: September 1, 2007
Author Website: www.veronikavery.com


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Pretty Knits: 30 designs from loop in London by Susan Cropper

For many years customers have been asking for patterns for the garments displayed in Loop, a hugely popular yarn store in London, England filled with more than 130 different yarns. Usually the clerks have had to disappoint customers, telling them that the designs came from independent designers and there is no pattern available. With the publication of Pretty Knits: 30 designs from Loop in London edited by Loop owner Susan Cropper, many of these coveted designs are available for knitters to enjoy.

The designs in Pretty Knits are divided into four chapters: Flirty Fashionista (garments); Divine Accessories; Beautiful Boudoirs (items for the bedroom); and Feminine Fripperies (accessories for the rest of your home).

Garments range from 30” to 44” (76cm to 112cm) with most falling in the 34” to 40” range (86cm to 102cm). Knitters from every skill level will find something in this volume. Beginners will be tempted by basic patterns with special extras such as the “Bliss” Empire-Line Top by Debbie Bliss which features silk ribbon threaded through eyelet ridge. More experienced knitters will be drawn to patterns such as Kristen Griffin-Grimes “Anisette” Wrap that uses three different lace patterns and highlights the beauty of luxurious Rowan Kidsilk Haze.

Unusual and luxury yarns fill the pages of Pretty Knits. An evening out bag is made with Leigh Radford/Lantern Moon Silk Gelato (a Vietnamese silk cut into strips); bed socks created from Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere; or a runner from Be Sweet Bamboo all contribute to a decadent knitting experience. Yardage requirements are not provided in the instructions so knitters wishing to work these projects in more economical options will need to do a bit of investigation.

The final section of Pretty Knits provides instructions in knitting techniques; three different cast-ons, knitting with beads, working cables, and various finishing methods. As many of these patterns use notions, Cropper has included sources for these as well as the yarns suggested in the patterns. While a trip to London and Loop is not in the cards for most knitters, “this book is a little extension of Loop and those who make it special.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0307383156
ISBN13: 9780307383150

Hardcover
144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 30, 2007
Store Website: www.loop.gb.com


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Saturday, October 20, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes

Ever wondered why your experience of knitting is sometimes one of ambivalence? Clara Parkes suggests that it may be the materials you are using. Curious to understand why yarn had such an impact on her knitting, she quite her high tech job and applied her experience to providing knitters honest and in-depth reviews of yarn. Her search to understand if there was such a thing as “good” and “bad” yarn led to the birth of KnittersReview.com in September 2000.

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: the ultimate guide to choosing, using, and enjoying yarn collects seven years of knowledge that has led Parkes to be considered by some a “yarn whisperer.” Her goal is to help knitters avoid “yarn-related errors” and match the right yarn to the right project, “to hold a skein in our hands, look at it, touch it, listen to it, even smell it, and instinctively know what the yarn wants to become.”

In The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, Parkes explores common fiber types, methods of preparation, spins, and ply combinations. The yarns discussed are meant to serve as examples of type and lead to a better understanding of the yarns in your stash or those found at the local yarn shop. The main body of the volume is called “Ply Me a River,” where Parkes explores the qualities of classic single ply, two-ply, three-ply and four-ply (and more) yarns. Within each section are patterns designed to showcase the best qualities of this type of yarn. Each pattern is by a designer who Parkes admires for “their instinctive love and understanding of yarn.”

The end of this main body is used to explore “modern” yarns; cabled yarns and textured yarns. Parkes also includes information on the “care and feeding” of yarn; that is, how to wash and care for your garments once they are knit. Additional tips are provided on the special handling each fiber requires when it is wet and for removing odors (especially important if you are sensitive to the smell of wet silk). Savvy knitter will reach for The Knitter’s Book of Yarn before their next yarn purchase.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0307352161
ISBN13: 9780307352163

Hardcover
256 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 16, 2007
Author Website: knittersreview.com


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Friday, October 19, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: knitspeak: an A to Z guide to the language of knitting patterns by Andrea Berman Price

Knitspeak def. A combination of words, abbreviations, numbers, and punctuation that is unintelligible to the average human and – unfortunately – to the new knitter.” – from knitspeak

Like any group, culture or trade, knitting possesses its own language, one which to the uninitiated is incomprehensible. New knitters are often prohibited from stretching their knitting muscles by a pattern which makes as much sense as ancient Greek. Andrea Berman Price rides to the rescue with her book knitspeak: an A to Z guide to the language of knitting patterns, a handy volume which translates the symbols, abbreviations, and terms while explaining the logic and structure in which knitting patterns are written.

The first section of knitspeak provides an overview “of how knitting patterns are organized and how to read them effectively.” The second section is organized alphabetically beginning first with symbols. This section, which comprises most of the volume, is much more than just a dictionary. Scattered throughout are detailed illustrations, helpful tips such as choosing the correct decrease method, and longer entries on topics like measuring gauge or choosing a needle size.

The appendix is chock full of helpful information: fixing mistakes, estimating yardage requirements and an “abbreviations at a glance” table. Rounding out this handy volume are three worksheets which Price suggests photocopying and using to track knitting projects; for times so that when you put your knitting down, you have a record. A sound idea - especially for knitters, like myself, who have double digit UFOs (unfinished objects) that may, or may not, be stored with the required instructions.

knitspeak’s compact size means it easily fits into your knitting bag. The next time your pattern calls for LLI, grab knitspeak for a translation (LLI = left lifted increase). As Price suggests: “Never stop knitting again because you don’t understand your instructions!”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 1584796324
ISBN13: 9781584796329

Hardcover
224 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: September 1, 2007


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Thursday, October 18, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: KnitKnit: Profiles & Projects from Knitting's New Wave by Sabrina Gschwandtner

The Fall 2007 issue of Vogue Knitting (25th Anniversary Issue)featured two articles of particular interest: "Knitting's Old Guard Speaks Out" [an interview with Kaffe Fassett, Alice Starmore, Mari Lynn Patrick and Meg Swanson]; and "Chatting with Knitting's New Guard" [Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Clara Parkes, Debbie Stroller, Shannon Okey and Vickie Howell]. By featuring the “new guard”, Vogue Knitting highlights the influence that knit bloggers and the “next generation” of knitters are having upon the craft. This influence is something which Sabrina Gschwandtner has been capturing for several years in her publication KnitKnit which looks at knitting “as a vehicle for artists” as well as crafters.

In her new book KnitKnit: Profiles & Projects from Knitting’s New Wave Gschwandtner looks at how a new generation of knitters is blurring the boundaries between conceptual art and craft. These unique individuals “whose work reflect[s] knitting’s current ideas, venues, and forms” are in many cases unknown to the average knitter and so Gschwandtner profiles each one, exploring their art, their motivation and how their work has progressed. KnitKnit includes twenty-seven profiles; from Dave Cole who knits with “heavy, toxic, industrial, or otherwise unusual materials”; to Althea Merback who knits knits miniature garments the size of a quarter; to Debbie New who knit a navigable boat.

In addition to their profile, each individual was asked to create something readers could make and the results are as unusual as their creators. The projects included the expected clothing, as well as 14 foot tall fiberglass teddy bears, miniature sweater earrings and room installations which knitters can “wear”. Even the sweaters are often approached in unusual manners; Liz Collins’ Stretchy Stocking top made from nylon stockings and Debbie New’s Scribble Lace Bolero made with labyrinth knitting.

KnitKnit is a perfect coffee table book for the knitter on your holiday shopping list. The artists profiled will help get knitting creativity flowing, the patterns feature unusual construction techniques and this book will spark conversation for knitters and non-knitters alike.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 1584796316
ISBN13: 9781584796312

Hardcover
176 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: September 1, 2007
Author Website: www.knitknit.net


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Crazy Aunt Purl's Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair by Laurie Perry

Laurie Perry, now best known in knitting circles as “Crazy Aunt Purl,” did not set out to become a blogging superstar. The introverted Southerner transplanted with her husband to L.A. and was stunned when said husband coolly informed her that he was leaving “to get his creativity back.” Left alone with four cats and a penchant for wine as comfort food, Perry quickly finds herself “three minutes from crazy” and grudgingly agrees to join a friend at a knitting class. There she discovers a new best friend - knitting can always be fixed, it helps you keep busy and find your own creativity, and it’s not about to leave you.

As Perry slowly sticks her head out into the world, she finds solace with her new knitting friends and begins to blog about her adventures with a distinctive self-deprecating humour. She quickly gained a loyal following who shared her joys, sorrows, dating mishaps and knitting adventures. Her stories are ones which everyone can relate to and readers love her trademark writing style – her voice just leaps off the computer screen and she immediately feels like a long-lost best friend (as evidenced by the seventeen-hundred condolence messages left on her blog after the death of her beloved cat Roy).

Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair: the true-life misadventures of a 30-something who learned to knit after he split is much more than simply a self-help book on life after divorce or about learning to knit. Perry has penned a book about heartache and self-discovery and each reader will find something here to which they can relate. Readers will laugh, cry and moan along with Perry as she conquers her wine and cheetos problem, heads out on her first post-divorce date and discovers that life does go on after “he splits.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0757305911
ISBN13: 9780757305917

Trade Paperback
284 Pages
Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.
Publication Date: October 15, 2007
Author Website: www.crazyauntpurl.com


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Inspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis

Much of Fiona Ellis’ design philosophy is contained in this statement from her introduction: “Even though many of the techniques we use in knitting have been around for practically forever, there are always new ways of using them to achieve fashionable and contemporary-looking garments.” In Inspired Fair Isle Knits: 20 creative designs inspired by the elements, Ellis explores fair isle knitting, combining traditional with modern to create the unique garments showcased in this collection.

Like her first collection Inspired Cable Knits, Ellis draws inspiration from nature. Each of the four natural elements – earth, air, fire and water – influence her choices in colour palette, design elements and fair isle pattern. While Ellis has provided 20 stimulating and challenging patterns, her hope is that her designs will inspire creativity and new ways of thinking in her audience and to facilitate this she includes design notes and reflections.

Each element is the focus of one section of Inspired Fair Isle Knits and is distinguished by its own colour palette, yarn properties and design elements. For example, the water section is worked in blues, greens and purples with shiny or smooth yarns that “recall water’s reflective properties” and wavy edges brings to mind the movement of water or snowflakes.

Ellis designs for a wide range of sizes with finished chest measurements ranging from 32” – 56”, with the average falling between 38” – 50”. Inspired Fair Isle Knits includes two child’s patterns, as well as designs for two wraps, a pillow cover and a felted bag. Many of the patterns here are geared to advanced or experienced knitters with a few suitable for those starting out in colourwork. Those wishing to explore colour theory further should consult the reading list included at the end of the volume.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits focuses on colour and Ellis has pushed the boundaries with some of her design choices, thus knitters’ personal preferences are more likely to affect their opinions of this volume. Knitters may not like every design but Ellis’ strong writing and clear instructions have produced an instructive volume which showcases her growth as a designer.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0307346862
ISBN13: 9780307346865

Hardcover
144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website: www.fionaellisonline.com


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Monday, October 15, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Suss Design Essentials by Suss Cousins

Pulling together designs from Suss Cousins’ runway collections over the past ten years, Suss Design Essentials: the ultimate collection for a classic handknit wardrobe presents a collection sure to delight her many fans. Known for dressing many Hollywood stars, this collection features details commonly seen in high fashion collections: oversized collars, creatively placed closures and asymmetrical design.

Worked in yarns from the Suss collection, Cousins has chosen her top 30 designs which she has broken into five categories: best sweaters; best separates; best dresses; best coats and capes; and best accessories. Each garment is chosen to showcase her design philosophy – creating garments that become wardrobe staples but involve a twist of some sort.

Cousins’ designs fall within quite a small size range, finished chest sizes of 30” – 44”, with only a few falling outside the 36” – 40” range. Each design includes yardage estimates and a yarn substitution guide is included at the back, featuring her substitution suggestions. As well, each pattern includes the standard yarn weight symbol.

While the designs included in Suss Design Essentials will be of interest to Cousin’s fans, plus size knitters would do well to look elsewhere for patterns. These garment designs would require significant reworking to fit the big girl and flatter her frame. The oversized silhouettes and chunky yarns are better suited to a slender body-type and the few accessories included are not worth the price tag.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 0307346412
ISBN13: 9780307346414

Hardcover
160 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: September 11, 2007
Author Website: sussdesigns.com


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Thursday, October 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is the Jon Stewart of the knitting world. She skewers us with our own needles, unravels our obsession for the uninitiated and helps us learn to laugh at ourselves. Her fresh, tongue-in-cheek observations about the crazy world of knitting have become wildly popular on her blog, her speaking tours (accompanied by her trademark socks-in-progress) and in her three previous books.

In her newest book Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: the Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting, Pearl-McPhee looks at knitting as a journey and sets off on a whirlwind tour of the land of knitting. Whether a newly arrived visitor, a long-time resident or a tourist seeking understanding of a loved one; Casts Off is an essential guide to the people, customs, tourist attractions and common ailments of this fascinating land.

Divided into the areas of reference commonly expected in a travel guide, Pearl-McPhee investigates packing tips (just how much yarn does one need to take on a trip), consulates & embassies (local yarn stores), politics (the great “acrylic versus natural fibers” debate) and common ailments (the dreaded “Yarnesia” or the debilitating Viral Second Sock Syndrome), treatment and prognosis.

Knitters who have caught the “Harlot” bug will find themselves laughing uncontrollably through Casts Off and most will remain convinced that Pearl-McPhee knows them better than their closest friend. Whether she is commenting on the “four ways knitting is like playing the violin” (both are worked from a chart) or how to cope when bad knits happen to good knitters, knitters respond to Pearl-McPhee because she understands us. She knows our foibles because she shares them and like all good enablers, she helps us explain ourselves the skeptics around us. After all, as Pearl-McPhee reminds us, “We know it looks like yarn, but it’s love…and for this it’s worth giving up all your closet space.”

This knitter recommends regular doses of the Harlot, along with infusions of social knitting and stash diving, to ensure a pleasant and healthy stay in the land of knitting.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 1580176585
ISBN13: 9781580176583

Trade Paperback
218 Pages
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Publication Date: March 22, 2007
Author Website: www.yarnharlot.ca


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Thursday, September 27, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting for Him by Martin Storey & Wendy Baker

When Martin Storey and Wendy Baker were approached to design a book of men’s patterns for Rowan, they “realized that most men prefer garments that are comfortable, and prefer colors that are not too ‘gaudy’.” Yet the knitters making these sweaters want a project full of interesting stitches rather than miles of plain stockinette stitch in brown.

Storey and Baker found the middle ground in their new book Knitting for Him: 27 Classic Projects to Keep Him Warm – garments knitters are happy to undertake and ones the man in your life will be happy to wear. This volume contains have many of the “standard” garments knit for men: the argyle cardigan, the fisherman’s guernsey, the tennis sweater and the classic ribbed cardigan. But this isn’t Dick van Dyke’s argyle sweater – the silhouette is elongated and relaxed, featuring a single panel of argyle on each side of the front and a single diamond on each sleeve. Edgings are in moss stitch and, rather than the standard deep v-neck, the sweater buttons all the way up and has a small, stand-up collar.

Storey’s attention to detail is most clearly illustrated in the “Plain Guernsey.” At first glance, this appears to be a very basic stockinette sweater; however, on closer inspection the interesting construction elements become clear. The front and back are basic squares with a garter stitch edging on three sides. Shaping is provided for the armhole and neck by using traditional gussets and sleeves have ribbing at top and bottom. Knit in a luxurious blend of cashmere and wool, the result is a garment that is fun to knit and a pleasure to wear.

All the sweaters in Knitting for Him are designed to fit chest sizes 40” to 48” (102 – 122 cm) and there are projects here for ever skill level. Patterns are also included for hats, scarves, mitts and socks, ensuring the man in your life is covered head-to-toe in hand-knitting.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


ISBN10: 1561589926
ISBN13: 9781561589920

Trade Paperback
128 Pages
Publisher: The Taunton Press
Publication Date: September 25, 2007


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Monday, September 24, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Romantic Hand Knits by Annie Modesitt

Harkening back to Hollywood’s golden era, Romantic Hand Knits: 26 flirtatious designs that flatter your figure evokes images of a time when sexy didn’t mean skimpy clothing. Figure-hugging silhouettes and feminine styles are sure to turn heads, while satisfying even the demanding fashionista.

Divided into three categories - Above the Waist; Below the Waist; and Accessories – Annie Modesitt’s designs cover all skill levels and incorporate many different knitting techniques. Beginning knitters are provided several simple patterns that incorporate interesting details; the “West Side Story” skirt with its flirty ruffled layers or the sultry “Some Like It Hot” elbow-length lace gloves. Experienced knitters have the option to explore new construction techniques in the stunning tulip skirt “An Affair to Remember” (featured on the book’s cover) or face the challenge of the complex “Notorious” corset sweater. Truly adventurous knitters may wish to try knitted millinery, a specialty of Modeseitt, either with the cloche hat “High Society” or the wide-brimmed “Gone with the Wind” (for more on knitted hats, check out Modesitt’s earlier book Knitting Millinery).

As well as covering all skill levels, Romantic Hand Knits covers a full spectrum of sizes. Finished chest measurements range from 26.5” (67.5 cm) to 57” (145 cm), with the average falling between 30 and 48” (76 to 122 cm).

While taking their style cues from vintage fashion, and the films after which they are named, what makes these designs resoundingly modern is Modesitt’s understanding of fit. Her designs create fabric which drapes to flatter a woman’s curves and uses details such as an interesting yoke or ruffle to draw the eye away from problem areas. Most importantly, she encourages knitters to pull out their tape measures and knit for the body they have, rather than the one of their dreams. As she states: “When we wear clothes that fit us, we look better…Clothes that skim the body, not hug it, tend to be the most flattering.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.


Free Pattern for Notorious can be found here.


ISBN10: 030734696X
ISBN13: 9780307346964

Hardcover
144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: August 7, 2007
Author Website: www.anniemodesitt.com


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Sunday, September 09, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Hooked by Jane May

Clarence “Woody” Woods is the assistant dock master at the Trade Winds Yacht Club, an exclusive enclave that serves the elite of Miami – some with more money than sense. A good natured man, Woody dreams of fulfilling a promise made to his Grandfather and fulfilling his dream of sailing solo around the world on the boat he’s painstakingly restored.

All his dreams change when he sets eyes on Romanian Madalina Dragoi, the new waitress at the Club. It’s love at first sight for Woody but unfortunately Madalina is infatuated with Todd Hollingshead, a wealthy Club regular. All hope appears lost until Woody meets “The Prince,” an enchanted fish he catches during an afternoon excursion. In exchange for his freedom, The Prince promises to make all Woody’s dreams come true. Can a talking tuna help him win the girl of his dreams?

Jane May’s newest book, Hooked, is a 21st-century retelling of the classic Grimm’s fairytale, The Fisherman and His Wife. Woody will be granted all his wishes if he releases the talking tuna. At first uncertain about accepting, Woody’s initial wish is simply a date with Madalina but simplicity ends once she discovers The Prince’s abilities. Soon the wishes are spiraling out of control as Madalina demands a South Beach lifestyle.

It is when Madalina becomes a stereotypical greedy immigrant that May’s story turns from charming to disappointing. May eschews character development for caricature, keeping Madalina and Todd cardboard cutouts. Tension and drama could have been added to the fluffy plot with minimal effort, making this more than a forgettable read.

Hooked is perfect for an entertaining afternoon on the beach or when you’re in the mood for brain candy. Unfortunately, it will be quickly forgotten rather than being the morality tale the Brothers Grimm intended.


ISBN10: 075821362X
ISBN13: 9780758213624

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: September 25, 2007


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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Samedi the Deafness by Jesse Ball

On a Sunday morning in a Washington park, James Sim – loner and professional mnemonist (someone who can memorize large amounts of data) - is witness to the aftermath of a stabbing. With his dying breath, Thomas McHale tells James: “I was one of them, but I left, and they didn’t want me to leave. Have you seen the paper? Samedi? The conspirators? I was one of them…You must do it. You must expose them.” The “them” in question is a group of individuals who commit suicide in front of the White House, one each day, all bearing a message from Samedi of doom to come on the seventh day.

McHale leaves James with a few clues; however, he is loath to get involved until a chance encounter with a young woman spurs him to action. James sets off to follow the dead man’s clues and, in the process, ends up a prisoner in an asylum for liars. As he searches for truth amidst the lies, James struggles to find out who Samedi is and what will happen on the seventh day.

Samedi the Deafness
is the very strange novel from poet Jesse Ball. His language is terse yet lyrical, evoking a feeling that each word is carefully planned for and placed. “He looked at the napkin. He felt then that there were two of them in the room, he and the napkin, and that one of them would have to go. He crumpled up the napkin.” Even when dialogue is of little sense to the reader, each word is weighty:

“James drew from his pocket a book, drew from the book a pressed flower, and shook from the flower a bit of stone shaped like a crescent moon.

- Here it is, he said. I found it in the passage by the cellar.

They were both silent. Grieve took the stone.

- You mustn’t got there again, she said. You might meet me there, and then we would be through.

A dark name like a walking stick broken in anger.

- When I am out on the wind, said Grieve, I wear four arms and the trails of my dress consume me.

- Before you say any more, said James, say no more.

And so no more was said.”

As Ball states in an interview, “
Samedi
is an investigation of lies and responsibility.” Despite this clear statement of intent, and the ease with which it reads, reality is quickly undermined in Samedi. This is a novel which will frustrate, confound and challenge readers, who will quickly feel as if they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, into a David Lynch film where political commentary is provided by Hunter S. Thompson.

This is not a comfortable read, just when the reader is sure they’ve understood what is happening, Ball flips the tables. He delights in misdirection. Not only is the main female character named Grieve, but many of the maids are named Grieve as well. Nothing in the verisylum is simple: characters’ dialogue can’t be trusted as this is an asylum for liars; the house is a veritable labyrinth with absurd rules of conduct; and it is often unclear which residents are patients and which are the staff. At times the confusion is such that readers may wonder if James is a patient of the asylum and early events are purely his delusions. Lies form the foundation of Samedi the Deafness – but can truth be found in the midst of deceit?

The character of Samedi has direct ties to “Baron Samedi,” the all-knowing loa of death from the Voodoo tradition, known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery. It should come as no surprise that Ball has chosen to take that disruptive influence for his work which undermines the very concept of the novel.

His underlining message is vital; readers who choose to fall into his dream world will find unexpected and important rewards hidden within.


Read a condensed review at Armchair Interviews.

Read the full review at Curled Up with a Good Book.


ISBN10: 0307278859
ISBN13: 9780307278852

Trade Paperback
304 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Original
Publication Date: September 4, 2007
Author Website: www.jesseball.com


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Attack by Yasmina Khadra

Dr. Amin Jaafari is the poster-boy for integration at a Tel Aviv hospital. An Arab-Israeli citizen from a Bedouin family, he is apolitical by the standards of the area and focusing on saving lives rather than destroying them. After a devastating bombing injures many in a local restaurant, Amin tirelessly attends to the injured brought to the emergency room at his hospital. He has barely fallen asleep when he is called back to the hospital where he learns the shocking truth; his wife’s body has been found in the wreckage and she bears all the injuries associated with suicide bombers. Unable to accept the mounting evidence against the modern and intelligent woman he married, Amin leaves Tel Aviv to find answers. But in a world where fundamentalists find answers through bombing, will Amin be able to understand, let alone accept, his wife’s actions?

Yasmina Khadra new novel The Attack, presents a stunning portrait of a man struggling to understand a life-shattering event. For most of the western world, terrorism is a word that invokes images of collapsing towers. For residents of the Middle East, terrorism is a much more immediate reality. Suicide bombers are part of daily life for residents in this region and The Attack provides a window into the belief system which can lead to such violent action.

Khadra, the female pseudonym of former soldier Mohammed Moulessehoul, is most effective when penning Amin. The compelling passages where Amin wrestles with his memories and beliefs about his wife are filled with poignancy. Sihem has not only blown up a restaurant, she has shattered Amin’s illusion of their life together. By stripping away his belief in their perfect existence, he is a shadow of his former self, wrestling with personal demons and the overwhelming need to understand how he failed his wife so completely. The motivation which drives Amin into exploring a world so foreign makes sense in this context.

Unfortunately, the same verisimilitude is not present in the dialogue of the religious zealots. Khadra tries to present a balanced portrait of all sides in this conflict; however, the result is “canned” characters who speak with stilted, pontificating voices. The main downfall of The Attack is in the failure to create a compelling reason why Sihem would become a suicide bomber. Female bombers are a rare occurrence and a strong motivation for Sihem is vital to making her role convincing. Khadra doesn’t provide her with a clear voice and readers are left with the impression of a lost soul, swayed by strong personalities, rather than a committed fanatic prepared to martyr herself.

The Attack is a violent novel: bombings; violent attacks on Amin; and diatribes of hatred. Within the context of the political climate, the majority of the violence “fits”; however, it is the quantity and scope of violence against Amin that brings the word “excessive” to reader’s minds. The violence perpetuated against Amin is extreme and comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Like a poisonous snake, it is impossible to turn away from and sensitive readers may find it necessary to read this novel in small doses.

The Attack is disturbing but has much to teach readers who can see past the bloodshed. If Khadra had restrained his tendency toward violent excess, this novel would have reached a broader audience.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.


ISBN10: 0307275701
ISBN13: 9780307275707

Translated from the French by John Cullen
Trade Paperback
272 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: April 25, 2007
Author Website: www.yasmina-khadra.com (in French)


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Thursday, August 23, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty

A few days prior to high school graduation, Kara Churchill’s life changed forever when her car accidentally claims the life of classmate Bethany Cleese. The already strained relationship she has with her mother Leigh is pushed to the breaking point. In the aftermath of the tragic events, both the community and the Churchill family are split apart. Now Leigh must come to terms with what her daughter has done and the ramifications facing their family, while protecting Kara from the public reaction. Leigh’s helplessness in the face of her daughter’s refusal to be comforted forces her into unwelcome reflection on her own relationship with her mother and some earth-shattering realizations of her own.

The Rest of Her Life, the new novel by Laura Moriarty, shares the stark misery of a family in turmoil and explores the impact such an event has on each member. From the first pages it is clear that the relationship between Leigh and Kara is neither strong nor healthy. At the moment when all her concern should be on reaching her daughter in her zombie-like state, Leigh is aware that her concern is at not having time with her daughter during this major crisis.

“But Gary had already gotten his time alone with Kara on this terrible night. Leigh deserved hers. There was something ridiculous and petty about worrying about this now, at a time like this, but on a deeper, more crucial level, Leigh also believed something – or someone, maybe Gary – was always cutting her off from her daughter in a subtle but strong way.”

Leigh worries that a moment of forgetfulness in Kara’s early childhood has led to the permanent schism between them, wondering if “you could permanently alienate your child by simply laughing at her at the wrong time.” Leigh dedicated her life to being a better mother than the one that raised her and, as she tries to reach her daughter, it becomes increasingly clear that she resents the lack of appreciation shown by her daughter.

Moriarty slowly unfurls the dysfunction in the Churchill family, culminating in the night Gary questions Leigh about her care for their daughter and she suddenly wonders how he can so completely misunderstand her: “Tell me you want the best for her…Leigh. Look me in the eyes and tell me you want the best for Kara.” A short while later Leigh’s best friend Eva presents a similar sentiment: “Ahhhhh, now we get to…the heart of it…You know what you are? You’re the happiness police.”

Leigh refuses to acknowledge she has anything but love for her daughter and yet readers are left wondering. She has survived so long purely on the anger she has for her mother that she has prevented herself from having any enjoyment of the present. Leigh has used her anger as a shield to prevent people from getting close to her; however, this has prevented her from seeing the consequences of this choice on her family.

The Rest of Her Life is held back from being a truly exception novel by the character of Leigh. She is so unlikable that readers may be tempted to toss aside the novel without finishing it, a crime with a novel this good. While readers can see why Moriarty chose to write Leigh the way she did, it is not enough to make up for the “cringe-factor” experienced each time she begins to complain. Readers who persevere are rewarded with a novel that stays with them long after the final page.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.


ISBN10: 1401302718
ISBN13: 9781401302719

Hardcover
320 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Publication Date: August 7, 2007


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Sunday, July 29, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

A nameless young woman in 17th-century Persia lives in a modest village with her parents, who expect to see their 14-year-old daughter married in the next year. The delight of both her parents, the young woman has learned the art of rug making from her beloved father. Soon after a comet in the skies signals misfortune, her father dies leaving her without a dowry. Facing starvation if they stay in their village, she and her mother sell a beautiful turquoise rug she made to pay for the journey to Isfahan where her rich uncle works as a rug designer in the Shah’s court. While Gostaham welcomes them to his home, his wife Gordiyeh immediately puts them to work as unpaid servants and loses no opportunity to remind them of the strain they place on the household.

Seeing in her shadows of his own eagerness to learn the art of rug-making, her uncle agrees to teach her about designing carpets; however, while her talent blooms, her prospects for a prosperous marriage dim for she is without a significant dowry. When her elders receive an offer of a sigheh of three months (a legal contract for a temporary marriage) from a wealthy young man, they force her to accept and give up her only item of value, her virginity. As she looks at a future of short-term sighehs, the young heroine must decide whether to take a chance and choose her own way, a life of independence.

The Blood of Flowers is a tightly written, deeply hued work, all the more astonishing for being a debut novel. Even though it is set in the 17th-century Persia, The Blood of Flowers feels very modern. The world it describes is so foreign to most Western readers that the time period is almost irrelevant. Anita Amirrezvani opens a hidden world to readers; the life of women hidden behind veils and walls, enjoyed either in brutal poverty or pampered luxury. The politics and daily aspects of their lives are brought vividly to life through the minute details woven throughout the narrative.

Even though Gordiyeh treats her as a servant and with ruthlessness, her actions make sense given the realities facing women in this time period. The heroine acts at times with unbelievable foolishness, destroying a less than perfect rug in her haste to create the beautiful one she sees within her head and please her uncle. Her selfishness and lack of reason leads readers to understand why both her mother and uncle are at times harsh in their treatment of her. Despite the familial conflict and unbelievable decisions made by her elders, there is no clear-cut villain in Amirrezvani’s mesmerizing novel. While readers may have difficulty understanding the decisions her family makes, within the realities of the young heroine’s situation, it can be argued there were few other options.

In a world where women have little control over their lives, minute control over little things becomes all important and with this understanding, many of the actions begin to make sense. Gordiyeh is desperate to maintain her position in society and the security of her opulent lifestyle. Nadeen’s desperate hope is to marry the man she loves while also maintaining her standard of living. The heroine’s mother hopes only to avoid a life on the street and some security after the death of her husband. When facing choices such as these, sacrificing the hopes and dreams of another, for personal gain, makes some sense.

Like the expensive rugs described in The Blood of Flowers which require careful balancing of patterns and colour, Amirrezvani understands that an emotionally fraught story requires a solid base and moments of respite from the turmoil. Interspersed throughout the narrative, are detailed descriptions of carpet making; from design to knotting techniques and the processing of selling the resulting masterpieces. The most expensive carpets contain stories and meaning. They serve to “respond to cruelty, suffering, and sorrow…to remind the world of the face of beauty, which can best restore a man’s tranquility, cleanse his heart of evil, and lead him to the path of truth.” The traditional folktales scattered throughout The Blood of Flowers serve the same purpose, reminding both the heroine and readers that beauty does exist despite the ugliness of her personal situation. The folktales cast illumination upon the situations she faces through gentle guidance rather than harsh moralizing. It is here, in her ability to strike this balance, that Amirrezvani’s nine years of research and writing are most apparent.


Note: The Blood of Flowers is a nominated title in the Hidden Treasures contest and a copy is available as one of the many prizes. If this review has piqued your desire to read the book, why not participate in the contest - perhaps you'll win a copy generously provided by Little, Brown & Company! The contest runs for two more weeks.


ISBN10: 0316065765
ISBN13: 9780316065764

Hardcover
384 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: June 5, 2007
Book Website: www.bloodoflowers.com
Read an excerpt of the novel here.


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Saturday, July 28, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

Victorian gentleman Charles Lenox recently assisted Scotland Yard in solving the Isabel Lewes case; a simple case the Yard should have easily solved despite their appalling lack of imagination. Now, on a bitterly cold late afternoon, all Lenox wants to do is sit in his library and enjoy the bliss of a warm fire. So when he receives an urgent message from Lady Jan Grey, his closest friend and next door neighbour, he ventures forth to brave the cold, despite his inadequate boots.

Lady Grey’s former servant, Prue Smith, has apparently committed suicide-by-poisoning at the home of her new employer George Barnard, the current director of the Royal Mint. At her request, Lenox visits the crime scene and is quickly convinced that Prue’s death is murder, despite assurances from the Yard and Barnard that it is suicide. Thomas McConnell, a surgeon and close associate of Lenox, determines the cause of death to be a rare poison called bella indigo (beautiful blue). The Yard does not welcome Lenox’s assistance which leaves him little access to the Barnard household, forcing him to investigate discreetly and utilize the services of Graham, his butler and friend. It is not until a second death occurs that Lenox begins to piece together the puzzling crime.

A Beautiful Blue Death is Charles Finch’s delightful debut novel. The pairing of Lenox and Graham brings to mind the famous pairing of Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Bunter. Like Wimsey and Bunter, Lenox and Graham share more than a purely professional relationship. Despite the friendship and amity they feel for each other, the barriers of class keep them separated. “This matter of asking Graham for help on a case was part of that unusual bond – a result of trust in Graham as a man, first of all, and in his competence too. In the end, each man relied on their deep mutual loyalty, which would be hard for anyone to test.”

What elevates A Beautiful Blue Death from just another historical mystery is the relationships Lenox has with the people around him; with Lady Jane, his brother Edmund and Graham. While the central mystery is fascinating, what captivates readers is the exploration Lenox’s relationship with Lady Jane and the window it provides into the life of a gentleman of leisure. Their habit of taking their daily tea illustrates the depth of their relationship, unusual for a time when the intersection of men and women’s lives was quite minimal. It is the man these relationships illuminate which will draw readers to future volumes about Charles Lenox.


ISBN10: 0312359772
ISBN13: 9780312359775

Hardcover
320 Pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
Publication Date: June 26, 2007
Author Website: www.charles-finch.com


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