Wednesday, February 28, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

Ambrose Zephyr has spent his life playing with letters, first with antique type blocks and later at the advertising agency Dravot, Carnehan. Around his fiftieth birthday, Ambrose fails his medical exam and is told he has one month to live. Hoping to pay final visits to his favourite places, and visit a few on his must-see list, Ambrose and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi (Zipper) embark on a whirlwind trip. On their trip organized from A to Z - Amsterdam to Zanzibar - Ambrose and Zipper keep physically moving while their minds stand still at the momentous news. As their journey leads them to confront the upcoming change in the course of their lives, ultimately Ambrose and Zipper must face the final moments of their marriage.

The End of the Alphabet is the debut novel by CS Richardson, a Canadian book designer. This small gem explores two significant life issues: what makes a marriage and how someone faces their final moments. Richardson handles these age-old issues with gentleness, humour and panache, encouraging his readers to read between the letters for the words unsaid. Richardson provides no answers, allowing the tone and flavour of his tale to speak, and his readers to find their own meaning.

Richardson’s tender words are a masterpiece of balance, yin and yang, Ambrose’s A to Z to Zipper’s Z to A. Beginning and ending with the phrase “this story is unlikely,”
The End of the Alphabet is circular, reflecting back upon itself. In a dream a camel shares an essential truth with Ambrose: “There is no why…Life goes on. Death goes on. Love goes on. It is all as simple as that.”

Richardson’s skill as a book designer is clearly displayed in this small volume. Zipper buys a moleskin notebook to record their travels and the book’s jacket is the notebook, reflecting mementos of the trip - even Ambrose’s camel.

In spite of the subject matter, The End of the Alphabet is a joyful book, full of love. This is a book worthy of frequent samplings.

ISBN10: 0385663404
ISBN13: 9780385663403

152 Pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: January 23, 2007


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Empire of Light by David Czuchlewski

Matt Kelly lost track of ex-girlfriend Anna Barrett after she dropped out of Princeton. So when she shows up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay, Matt is torn. He desperately wants to believe that she is clean but it’s taken him a long time to get over her. Within a few days Anna has begun counseling run by Imperium Luminis, an arm of the Catholic Church and a group Anna studied in a course on cults at Princeton.

Matt is suspicious of the “Empire of Light” and their intentions toward Anna, who has disappeared. When Anna’s step-father suggests that Matt infiltrate the cult, Matt is dismayed to find he is strangely attracted to the philosophy of their founder Giuseppe Conti. As Matt learns more about the group, he discovers his feelings about the group are no longer black and white. Will Matt be able to extricate Anna before he becomes fully indoctrinated?

David Czuchlewski’s second novel, Empire of Light, is both a mystery and a philosophical novel, with the philosophical far outweighing the mystery. Matt’s search for Anna quickly becomes a personal quest for meaning and faith. The narrative alters between Matt’s search for Anna, his reminiscences about their days at Princeton and excerpts from The Pilgrim, a treatise from the sect’s founder Giuseppe Conti.

At the beginning of Empire of Light, Matt’s faith is shaky but his opinions on the sect are black and white. Except for his family, Matt appears to live in isolation so it is not inconceivable that he is quickly pulled back into Anna’s orbit. In a sense, his life has been on hold awaiting her return. What is difficult to fathom is how easily Matt accepts what he is told by both the sect and Anna’s father.

As events progress, Matt’s opinions on the group move from black and white to grey. Matt is certain of only one thing – something is missing from his life - and he wonders if faith may be the answer. By this point in the novel, readers may wonder why Matt hasn’t just walked away from Anna. His desire to abandon his job and life to “save” her doesn’t ring true.

While the twists in Czuchlewski’s novel are cleverly managed, the novel’s pacing is disrupted by the lengthy passages cited from The Pilgrim. In the end, Empire of Light reads more like philosophical fiction rather than a mystery novel and its early promise is not realized. Empire of Light feels unfinished and readers, like Matt, may feel something is missing.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 014200491X
ISBN13: 9780142004913

Reprint, Trade Paperback
226 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2005


Monday, February 26, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

The term "political pawn" could have been created to describe the short life of Lady Jane Grey. The eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, Jane was groomed from infancy to marry a prince or king. Her parents had great ambitions for their daughter, their greatest dream being to marry her to Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII. This dream died at his demise at age 15, leaving the way open for a bid to seize the throne. Any male child of Jane’s stood third in line to the throne - if Mary and Elizabeth died without male progeny - under the terms of 1543 Act of Succession.

Her parents conspired with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland to marry his son Guildford to young Jane and place them on the throne, an act designed to prevent Mary, Edward’s half-sister, from returning the country to Catholic rule. Jane’s short rule, as the “nine day queen,” led ultimately to her imprisonment in the Tower of London and death by beheading when Mary claimed her throne.

Alison Weir is a noted writer of popular history of the British monarchy and Innocent Traitor is her first historical novel. In the author’s note she describes the freedom that fiction allowed, providing an opportunity to delve into the emotions and motives of historical figures. Readers may assume that some of the most far-fetched events described here are fiction; however as Weir states: "they are the parts most likely to be based on fact."

Beginning with Jane’s infancy, Weir combines historical fact with educated guesses to create a compelling tale. Alternating between key players, she creates convincing and unique voices for each. Jane endured a brutal childhood at the hands of a domineering and abusive mother. Weir has portrayed their relationship realistically and shown the consequences this distance had in the events which followed. Innocent Traitor brings to Tudor period vividly to life.

Lady Jane Grey was an unusual woman for her time. As Weir explains: "Precocious, highly gifted, and intelligent, she was educated to an unusually advanced standard for a girl and realized that there was more to a woman’s life than just marrying, having children, and running a household." Her determination to remain true to her faith, and face her death with dignity, together with having the shortest reign in British history, have made her a figure of fascination for many.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0345494857
ISBN13: 9780345494856

416 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: February 27, 2007
Author Website:


Saturday, February 24, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Nature Babies by Tara Jon Manning

Fall 2006 saw the publication of a number of books featuring knitting with organic yarns and "living lightly." Tara Jon Mannings’ Nature Babies: knits and organic crafts for Moms, babies, and a better world is one of two specifically geared to organic knitting for babies. Manning states in her introduction: "Nature Babies presents you and your baby with gifts and accessories that employ some of our Earth’s loveliest materials and that fit the philosophies of a natural and holistic lifestyle."

Manning’s patterns follow her philosophy: "Live simply so others may simply live." By utilizing recycled and organic materials, Manning proposes that gifts for babies should help teach them that "less is more."

The sections of Nature Babies are colour-coded to help readers easily locate the projects. The first section (pages edged in red) contains projects suitable for novice knitters, intersperse with information on organic yarns. The second section (blue edges) are projects made with felt and Manning suggests recycling old wool (and other all-animal fiber sweaters) to create these fun toys and hats. The third section (green edges) contains sewing projects, the fourth (yellow edges) is pattern templates and the final section (teal edges) provides instructions on various techniques.

Throughout, Manning discusses imaginative play and the benefits of toys without batteries and flashing lights. Her theory is that "simple, natural toys absorb the child in a world of touch and fantasy…to develop a strong sense of the natural world and their place in it."

Nature Babies provides a wide range of garments and toys that are sure to delight any new mother or baby.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1400053528
ISBN13: 9781400053520

144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 17, 2006


Friday, February 23, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Two New Knitting Books by Erika Knight

Erika Knight is an internationally renowned knitwear designer, fashion consultant and the author. Known for taking traditional designs and adding a twist, Knight keeps her designs simple, chic and contemporary.

Classic Knits: 15 timeless designs to knit and keep forever
and Glamour Knits: 15 sensuous designs to knit and keep forever are Knight’s newest offerings from Potter Craft. Each book features her trademark designs in sumptuous yarns, with sweaters in sizes 32” – 42”. Knight assumes basic knitting knowledge, providing only interpretations for the abbreviations used in the patterns.

Classic Knits
contains pieces sure to become favourites: a mock turtleneck, a traditional v-neck, an off-the-shoulder sweater that pays homage to Bridget Bardot and a tailored Chanel-style jacket. Each of these can be knit in luxurious fibers as investment pieces, certain to last for years. As well as sweaters, Knight includes a messenger bag, a basic knee-sock and gloves.

Glamour Knits contains sweaters inspired by legendary Hollywood sirens: a fine-knit lace tee-shirt in mohair, a menswear style cabled vest, elbow-length gloves and an off-the-shoulder sweater whose cables are enhanced with sequins. Knight has added beading, appliquéd lace, ribbons and embroidery to create unique pieces guaranteed to make any knitter feel she’s walking the red carpet.

The major drawback with these designs is the sizing. Knight has provided wonderful foundation pieces; however, many knitters would have to undertake major adjustments to these sweaters in order to wear them.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

Classic Knits: 15 timeless designs to knit and keep forever by Erika Knight
ISBN10: 0307347192
ISBN13: 9780307347190

96 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: January 2007

Glamour Knits: 15 sensuous designs to knit and keep forever by Erika Knight
ISBN10: 0307347206
ISBN13: 9780307347206

104 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: January 2007


Monday, February 19, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Natural Knitter by Barbara Albright

With the recent increased interest in knitting and natural fibers, the choice of yarns available to knitters has never been greater. In The Natural Knitter: how to choose, use, and knit natural fibers from alpaca to yak, Barbara Albright helps knitters incorporate these good-for-the-planets yarns into their knitting repertoire.

Albright has structured the book in easy to follow format. The first three chapters look at wool, silk and other animal fibers, and plant fibers respectively. Chapters four and five moves beyond knitting and explore the world of natural dyes and spinning.

In her introduction, Barbara explores what qualifies as "organic" yarn and the varying classifications of organic products. In explaining the purpose of The Natural Knitter, she states: "Armed with the information you glean from this book, you will have a greater understanding and a new appreciation of the wide variety of natural yarns that are available…While this book is about natural fibers, it is also about people who take another step toward being more earth-friendly…"

Each of the more than twenty patterns in The Natural Knitter has been created using some of the most beautiful and luxurious artisan fibers by some of today’s top designers. Accompanying these patterns is useful information about of the fiber itself and a profile of each of the companies whose yarn is utilized in a project.

The patterns included here are not only made out of special yarns but many feature unique construction as well. Lidia Karabinich’s "Memories of Ukraine" sweater is made from linen and features her signature seamless yoke. Debbie New’s "Cast-Off Clothing" is made with hemp yarn and features a net-like stitch created while New was experimenting with loose cast-off methods. Knitters who wish to make something with the prohibitively expensive qiviut yarn will be drawn to Linda Romens’ "Qiviut Twinset." Made with a qiviut/wool/alpaca blend, the yarn has an incredible 275 yds per 57 gram ball and yet, as Romens explains, it is fabulously warm.

The Natural Knitter: how to choose, use, and knit natural fibers from alpaca to yak is Barbara Albright’s final publication and is a fitting tribute to the significant contribution she made to the craft she loved. Her passing in 2006 was a significant loss to the knitting community.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1400053528
ISBN13: 9781400053520

192 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: March 3, 2007


Sunday, February 18, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The School for Husbands by Wendy Holden

Sophie and Mark had the perfect marriage; that is until Mark was made redundant and Arthur arrived, changing their relationship dynamic from couple to family. Now that Sophie has returned to work and Mark must prove himself as the new Director of Sales at Charlatan Publishing, the stress of parenting is tearing apart their marriage. Mark is working long hours and Sophie is convinced he is having an affair, especially since he misses her birthday dinner for a work function.

When Mark fails to come home one night, Sophie’s controlling Mum Shirley whisks her daughter and grandson away. Working in cahoots with Simon, Sophie’s ex-boyfriend (now a multi-millionaire banker from the City), Shirley is determined to see the back of her disappointing son-in-law, and convince her daughter to upgrade to Simon.

Mark however; is not so ready to be dismissed. He still loves his wife and hasn’t been unfaithful, merely thoughtless. In desperation he signs up for the “School for Husbands,” operated by Charlatan’s bestselling non-fiction author Dr. Martha Krakenhaus. He now has two weeks to save his marriage by transforming into the perfect husband, but will it be enough to win back Sophie?

Wendy Holden’s sixth novel, The School for Husbands, further explores the territory mined in Wives of Bath; that is, what happens to a marriage when “baby makes three.” Dr. Martha’s “School for Husbands” presents Holden with limitless opportunities for humour and my favourite scene is the one where the husbands are sent out to exorcise their emotional constipation by telling the residents of Royston Vasey “I love you.”

The School for Husbands works because Holden has refused to fall into the cliche of casting Mark as a villain. He is lovable, if clueless, and she develops his character with understanding. Mark means well and is desperate to provide for his family, throwing himself fully into his work with the result that Sophie is left to manage her own career and Arthur on her own. By showing both sides of the marriage and allowing readers to feel empathy for both characters, Holden allows readers to enjoy the humour and laughter without feeling guilt at liking Mark.

While Sophie, Mark and Simon are the focus, Holden, as usual, has crafted many memorable secondary characters. Sophie’s father James is perfectly drawn. He eludes the machinations of his wife by retreating into the unfashionable hobby of genealogy – digging up ancestors certain to send his wife into a swoon if they ever become public knowledge. Holden’s cutting wit is on full display in Shirley’s reactions to James’ revelations.

Two characters deserve special mention: Helen, Sophie’s new friend from daycare who is the perfect foil for all the determined “Yummy Mummies,” and Jeremy, the perfection-seeking manager of Winterton Hall. Both have a certain “je ne sais quoi” and hopefully, both will appear in future novels.

If you visit any of the North American online booksellers (, Barnes & Noble, etc.), you’re sure to notice that the publisher’s description for The School for Husbands lists the main characters’ names as Sarah, Neil and Colin. I’m not sure why such a glaring error has been made by Holden’s publisher; hopefully someone soon will ensure it is fixed. It is exactly the sort of mistake that Persephone, the inept PR person from Mark’s publishing firm, would make.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0452285887
ISBN13: 9780452285880

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: January 30, 2007
Author Website: Wendy Holden


Saturday, February 17, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist

Celeste Temple, a willful young woman from the West Indies, receives a terse note from her fiancée ending their engagement without any explanation. Roger Bascombe, a rising figure at the Foreign Ministry, has been cruel in his rejection and after mourning the engagement for a day, Miss Temple’s natural determination rising to the fore. Resolving to receive more information, Miss Temple follows Bascombe to Harschmort Manor where she finds herself an unwilling participant in a bizarre ritual involving masked guests, lewd behaviour and strange equipment.

When Miss Temple manages to escape from the Manor, she meets Cardinal Chang and later Dr. Svenson. Together they discover that the bizarre ritual Miss Temple observed involves a process of capturing experiences and trapping them in blue glass which can then be fully experienced through all sense by anyone viewing the image. Not only does this mysterious glass capture images and seduce the users, it can also be used to subdue and control others or to kill people. With the Cabal that controls the Process determined to see them dead, Miss Temple, the Doctor and the Cardinal band together to stay alive and uncover the Cabal’s secrets, and prevent them succeeding with their evil machinations.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is a massive book and not only in its page count. The novel is overblown in the manner of the best Victorian gothic novels, both in the scope of the conspiracy, the gloom of its setting and the number of players. The three protagonists and the Cabal leaders are all larger-than-life (essentially stereotypes), yet are fully drawn and readers will quickly come to respect each for how they push their personal boundaries and develop through the novel. Edgar Allen Poe explored “the terror of the soul” in his gothic novels, most notably in Fall of the House of Usher, and Dahlquist does the same here as his protagonists face their deepest desires in the seductive offerings of the Cabal.

Each time readers are convinced that Miss Temple, the Doctor or the Cardinal are finished, a twist happens and they manage a death-defying escape. While readers may be unable to completely suspend belief – for really the number of escapes is exorbitant – the over-the-top nature of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters perfectly mirrors its predecessors.

Readers who are seeking a quick or straightforward novel should take a pass on Gordon Dahlquist’s debut novel; however, lovers of period, genre-bending novels full of florid language will find The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters a delight which captures the imagination as completely as one of the Cabal’s books.

ISBN10: 0385340354
ISBN13: 9780385340359

768 Pages
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: August 1, 2006
Book Website (US):
Book Website (UK):


Thursday, February 15, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Emily Bromley, a beautiful young woman is under persistent pressure to marry from an overbearing mother. Even though she would prefer never to marry, she accepts the proposal of wealthy Viscount Philip Ashton as a means of escape. Her new husband has a passion for hunting and shortly after their wedding departs for Africa for hunting. When the young bride is informed of her husband’s death due to fever, she feels relief rather than grief for she barely knew the man she married.

During her year of half-mourning, Emily begins to learn more about Philip from his friends as they pay condolence calls. Intrigued by the picture painted, she begins to study Greek literature and antiquities in an effort to learn more about the man she married. During her studies she develops a friendship with Cecile du Lac, a wealthy Parisian, and Colin Hargreaves and Andrew Palmer, Philip’s best friends.

As Emily learns more about her husband’s life, she begins to develop feelings for him. The more she discovers, the more worried she becomes that his death wasn’t an accident. Colin and Andrew are both behaving oddly and Emily uncovers that Philip may have been involved in unscrupulous activities. Uncertain who to trust, Emily decides to investigate on her own.

Tasha Alexander’s debut novel And Only to Deceive: a novel of suspense is a delightful mystery set during the Victorian period. While the story is engaging and the mystery fascinating, what is most compelling is the portrait she paints of the life of a young Victorian woman desiring independence. In the afterword Alexander describes her motivation in developing the character of Emily: “I was determined not to create twenty-first-century characters, drop them into bustles and corsets, and call them historical.”

She has succeeded in this novel, obviously doing extensive research to uncover the ethics and principles guiding Victorian upper class society. And Only to Deceive brings the Victorian period to life, capturing the small details of a widow’s life and the severe restrictions they face during their period of mourning. The small points of etiquette, such as opening the curtains facing the street or wearing a dress made out of a fabric other than crepe, could destroy a widow’s place within respectable society. Within this setting Alexander incorporates subtle commentary on the social politics of the time without hindering the pace of her mystery.

Lady Emily Ashton’s second adventure A Poisoned Season is scheduled for release in April 2007. Hopefully this series will maintain the historical depth exhibited by the first novel.

ISBN10: 006114844X
ISBN13: 9780061148446

Trade Paperback
336 Pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 10, 2006
Author Website:


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Since the death of his wife, itinerate professor Gareth Van Meer has traveled extensively across the United States with his daughter Blue. He never spends more than one semester at a school before moving on with the result that, by age 16, Blue has attended 24 different schools. Their travels provide fertile ground for Gareth to instruct his daughter on life, literature and everything in between, with the result that Blue is erudite, overly educated and socially awkward. To ensure Blue’s entry into an Ivy League school, Gareth is determined that his daughter will have an uninterrupted senior year and so he settles them in Stockton, North Carolina where Blue is scheduled to attend the elite St. Gallway School.

Shortly after her arrival in Stockton, Blue meets Hannah Schneider, the magnetic film studies teacher at St. Gallway School. Through Hannah, Blue is introduced to the BlueBloods, the ruling aristocracy of the school who meet each Sunday night at Hannah’s home. When a student ends up dead during a party at Hannah’s home, Blue and the BlueBloods decide to investigate and later, on a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains, Hannah ends up dead dangling from a tree.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is told as a flashback and readers are aware from the start that Hannah meets her death by hanging. When readers first meet Blue, she is in her freshman year at Harvard University and is trying to make sense of the past year. Structuring her reminiscences as a survey course of “great literature,” each chapter bears the title of a classic work as well as contextual similarities to the chosen work, as a means of framing this difficult period in her life.

Blue has whole-heartedly adopted her father’s philosophy of communication: "Always have everything you say exquisitely annotated, and, where possible, provide staggering Visual Aids." Least readers worry that the continual annotation becomes too distracting, rest reassured that Blue’s distinctive voice supports her unique style of narration. Lovers of mysteries may moan that Marisha Pessl’s love of all things literary and erudite provides an onslaught of information which interferes with their enjoyment of the mystery central to this weighty novel. For some readers this may hold true and those readers might be wise to take a pass on Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

Pessl takes time to build the tension in Special Topics in Calamity Physics, walking readers calmly through introductions to the players and the scene. However, the pace quickly escalates about a third of the way into the book and from there readers may feel like they are on a runaway train. The pace, combined with Pessl’s thousands of references to books, movies, and popular culture result in a novel that often leaves the reader off-balance and confuse as to what actually happened – a state reminiscent of teenage angst. Pessl uses language as a shield and a mirror, reflecting the emotion of her characters while protecting them from extensive scrutiny, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and illusion.

In the end, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a difficult novel to penetrate and within which to gauge what truly happened to Hannah Schneider. As one reviewer comments: “Pessl…is like an explosion, her energy going off in all directions, her power not under control.” This is directly attributable to her youth as a novelist. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an amazing achievement for any writer and is extraordinary as a debut novel. Marisha Pessl is a writer to watch as she discovers her métier and matures into her talents.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 067003777X
ISBN13: 9780670037773

528 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: August 3, 2006
Book Website:


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton

In every relationship there are more than just two players, there are the specters looming in the background – the ghosts of past partners. This is the topic explored by Leanne Shapton in her debut Was She Pretty? This slender volume invites readers to explore the truths of modern love, their darkest fears and secret anxieties through her line drawings and prose.

Tracing a group of interconnected friends, the narrator outlines each ex with unemotional prose, capturing entire relationships in single lines: “Martin had never mentioned his hauntingly beautiful ex-girlfriend Carwai to Heidi.” Shapton’s spare prose leaves room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks based on their own experiences and emotional reaction. Don’t be surprised if she manages to conjure up ghosts from your own past.

The sparse narrative makes for a quick read but Shapton’s novel remains with the reader. She appears to suggest that jealousy refines a relationship, enhancing it – if the relationship survives. Our partners’ exes haunt us while at the same time we ourselves are exes. Was She Pretty? explores this engaging dichotomy, asking: what is it about exes that creates this love/hate relationship? While she offers no answers, the journey into one’s own psyche is a fascinating one.

ISBN10: 0374299269
ISBN13: 9780374299262

198 Pages
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: November 7, 2006


Monday, February 12, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Tucked away on a second story in Manhattan’s Upper West Side is a hidden gem, Walker & Daughter. This treasure trove of textiles is the result of years of hard work by Georgia Walker: knitwear designer, proprietress and single Mom to Dakota. Years ago, when James walked away during her pregnancy, Georgia wasn’t sure she’d make it. Thanks to the support of her mentor (and clerk) Anita, Georgia’s business has thrived and so has Dakota.

More than just a shop, Walker & Daughter is a haven for many of the customers and the result is The Friday Night Knitting Club, started by some of the regulars. As James returns wanting a larger role in his daughter’s life and an old “friend” from high school shows up, Georgia will need all the support these supportive knitters can provide.

The Friday Night Knitting Club, Kate Jacobs’ debut novel, while set within a knitting group really could be written in any setting. Superficially about knitting, in reality this is a novel about the importance of friendship and love. Georgia has closed herself off from the world and has focused everything into Dakota and making a success of her store. She has eliminated the possibility of getting hurt again, but she has also remained aloof from the friendship offered by customers and employees. Jacobs’ message is a universal truth - life will quickly pass you by if you turn your back on possibility.

Jacobs has cleverly divided her book into sections representative of the various stages of knitting projects that also tie into her unfolding novel. These sections are written as knitting instruction but are true to life: “You have to experiment to see what works. But there’s a similarity no matter the method: you either try or you don’t…Casting on is as much a leap of faith as technique.”

After a slow start, The Friday Night Knitting Club engage its readers in the unfolding life dramas of the knitting club members. However, readers expecting a superficial, happy novel of sisterhood should be prepared for some heart-wrenching moments as The Friday Night Knitting Club takes an unexpected turn.

ISBN10: 0399154094
ISBN13: 9780399154096

352 Pages
Publisher: Putnam
Publication Date: January 18, 2007


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Debut a Debut Contest

Just a reminder that the "Debut a Debut Contest" begins tomorrow. All the details can be found here.

My aim to post a review each day this week as my participation in this contest. If you are participating in the contest, please leave a link in the comments so I can enjoy your reviews.

Friday, February 09, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: In Arctic Waters by Laura Crawford

Written for the rhyme “This is the House that Jack Built,” In Arctic Waters grew out of a science unit on the Arctic. Laura Crawford was fascinated with the animals of the region and created this fascinating story for her grade two class. Like the original rhyme, children will be delighted by the rhythm of Crawford’s story:

“This is the seal, bouncing along
That teases the narwhal, big and strong…”

Ben Hodson’s illustrations are bright, engaging, and sure to delighted children. They will enjoy looking at the pictures as much as hearing the story. This quickly became a favourite for the three year old to whom I read it and he has now memorized parts of the rhyme.

In Arctic Waters is published by Sylvan Dell Publishing, a young company committed to creating picture books to excite children’s imagination. Each book contains a compelling story supplemented by a “3 – 5 page page ‘For Creative Minds’ section that includes fun facts, crafts, vocabulary and games…to support National Science and Math Standards.” Carefully vetted by experts in the field (scientists and educators) to ensure scientific accuracy, these volumes are sure to engage your child’s creative spirit.

Certainly I had no idea that a walrus’ age is calculated by counting the rings in their teeth, the same as is done with trees. The child I read In Arctic Waters to was delighted to find out that walruses use their whiskers to touch and feel; however he was most intrigued to find out that beluga whales shed their skin in the summer by rubbing on gravel.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0976882345
ISBN13: 9780976882343

32 Pages
Publisher: Sylvan Dell Publishing
Publication Date: February 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne

In 2002, Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne met on the Rowan Yarns online forum and a legendary correspondence was born. Yankee Kay and Tennessean Ann are the personalities behind Mason-Dixon Knitting and over the years they have developed a dedicated following of knitters who enjoy their irreverent correspondence and breezy guidance through Knitopia.

Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitters' Guide: Stories, Patterns, Advice, Opinions, Questions, Answers, Jokes, and Pictures is a superb collection of thirty-four patterns that has knitters around the world obsessively knitting Baby Bibs O’ Love and Mitered Square Blankets.

The projects here are useful, sure to inspire beginners and experienced knitters alike. Beginners who are tired of scarves can choose from washcloths, towels, bibs and rugs, as Kay and Ann tell us “Remember: No project is too ambitious if you crave the result enough.” To that end they’ve included patterns for beautiful nightie and robe set made from linen yarn, log cabin bedspread and an elaborate lace lining for Moses baskets.

Kay and Ann provide knitters permission to experiment and play with yarn. Their Mitered Square Blanket proves that playing with colour is the “most fun part.” This basic pattern can be knit in anything from two to forty colours, as a blanket or bedspread. The project is limited only by the knitter’s imagination.

Full of Kay and Ann’s trademark wit and style, Mason-Dixon Knitting is a must have for all knitters. Expect it to quickly bear all the signs of a well-loved favourite.

Try out the Log Cabin throw (PDF download).

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307236056
ISBN13: 9780307236050

160 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: March 28, 2006
Author Website:
All important Pattern Errata for Mason-Dixon Knitting


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Wendy Knits: My Never-Ending Adventures in Yarn by Wendy D. Johnson

I'm quite behind on my reviews of knitting books, so for the next few days I'll be posting reviews for a number of them - and a few other stragglers sitting in my "reviews to be written pile." Then beginning February 12, I'll be posting reviews to participate in the Debut a Debut contest. Anyone else planning to participate?

Wendy D. Johnson is one of the luminaries of the knitting world. Her blog has more than 3 million visitors per month, a testament to the power of her prose. Wendy Knits: My Never-Ending Adventures in Yarn is her eagerly awaited first book which combines Wendy’s reflections on a life lived with yarn and twenty of her knitting patterns.

Wendy’s writing is conversational, you feel like she’s sitting next to you telling her stories. The patterns are interspersed throughout the book beginning with the simplest projects (a dishcloth) and culminating in a steeked Scandinavian pullover. Regular readers of her blog may find some of the content familiar but here readers receive more than just glimpses into Wendy’s knitting life. For example, her chapter on “knitting for charity” explains how Wendy began the charity “Knit-alongs”, a feature of her blog, and why she is a passionate supporter of pet rescue organizations. Her passion for the cause is evident and I suspect that many a catnip mouse will be knit after reading Wendy Knits.

A knitter can easily knit their way through this book and beginning knitters will find projects which increase gradually in difficulty; however, the strength of this book is the insight it provides into the creative process of an incredibly prolific knitter. The only complaint about Wendy Knits is that the book has been produced in black and white. Colour photos would have really enhanced the value of this book and made the projects even more appealing.

Sample Pattern: Wendy's Easy One-Skein Hat

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0452287324
ISBN13: 9780452287327

Trade Paperback
212 Pages
Publisher: Plume Books
Publication Date: April 25, 2006
Author Website:


Monday, February 05, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Naughty Needles by Nikol Lohr

The past few years have seen knitting rapidly expand beyond a granny craft. With the explosion of knitting blogs, knitting has come out of the closet with a variety of designers creating racy lingerie and adult garments. Nikol Lohr’s recently published book of knitting patterns Naughty Needles: Sexy, Saucy Knits for the Bedroom and Beyond invites knitters to “knit naughty” and explore their inner sex kitten.

Channeling classic 40s Fredericks of Hollywood, Lohr’s patterns can be knit in playful and vampy versions. Those aiming for the Austin Powers Fembot look can knit their nighties in feminine pink while the bad girls can go for racy black. Bikinis come in several dress-up styles ranging from Gidgit to b-movie cave girls, and the various patterns aim to provide something for all skill levels.

The later half of Naughty Needles contains patterns for adult dress-up and games. As Lohr states, her Baby Blue Ball Gag “is a dandy stash-buster and a wonderful short-row primer.” Her knitted straitjacket can be knit in a compos mentis version for those who are no longer a danger to others or themselves.

NB: There is partial nudity and adult activity shown in some of the photos, as well as some “explicit” illustrations. Knitters may wish to keep this stashed safely out of reach of young children.

Visit the official Naughty Needles website for some free patterns and wonderful wallpaper for your computer.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307337375
ISBN13: 9780307337375

Trade Paperback
144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Crafts
Publication Date: December 19, 2006
Author Website:


Sunday, February 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Kabbalah: a Love Story by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

"If I write Kabbalah, no one but Kabbalists will read beyond the first pages. But if I conceal the Kabbalah inside a story, then people will have to read the Kabbalah to find out how the story ends." - Moshe de Leon from Kabbalah: a Love Story

Hidden within the bindings of an ancient copy of the Zorah (the master text of Kabbalah) is a document which answers one of the heart’s eternal questions. The document is a love letter or theology, Rabbi Kalman Stern isn’t sure which. He had received the ancient Zorah on a trip to Israel and has been using it ever since as a prop in his courses on mysticism. Today in a moment of abstraction, he fiddled with the cover and found the document which began botzina d’qardinuta (the seed point of beginning, the flash of light) and alma d’ah-tay (the mother-womb of being, the darkness).

Shortly after finding the hidden document, Rabbi Stern attends a lecture “The Seed Point of Beginning” by Dr. Isabel Benveniste, an astronomer. Isabel and Kalman meet to discuss Kabbalah and eventually develop a relationship. Their burgeoning relationship is shown in counterpoint to the one between Moshe ben Shem Tov de Guadalajara (Moshe de Leon) and his inspiration, the wife of Don Judah. Moving between the thirteenth century Castilan, the 1940s and present day, author Rabbi Lawrence Kushner slowly unveils how these various stories interconnect and in doing so, share knowledge of Kabbalah.

Kabbalah: a Love Story is Kushner’s debut novel, although he is a well-respected author of many non-fiction works on Jewish mysticism. At times the novel’s dialogue is uneven and readers may wish he had developed his characters further; however, these minor flaws are far outweighed by the manner in which Kushner weaves together his story lines.

Kushner’s novel is as complex as its subject. On the surface it is the promised love story, although an untraditional one. At its heart, it is a story of history, faith, knowledge, seeking and of course, Kabbalah. Like many of the best allegorical novels, Kabbalah: a Love Story can be read repeatedly, each reading unwraps new layers and meanings.

Read an excerpt from the book here.

ISBN10: 0767924126
ISBN13: 9780767924122

196 Pages
Publisher: Morgan Road Books
Publication Date: October 10, 2006
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Knit.101 by the editors of knit.1 magazine

Targeting 18-35 year-olds, Vogue® Knitting launched knit.1 in 2006 to appeal to the edgy, hip young things that had begun to take up knitting and crochet. They partnered with Lion Brand® Yarn to create designs which could be made inexpensively with yarn which is widely available.

Following up on the success of this new magazine, knit.1 has now published knit.101: the indispensable self-help guide to knitting and crochet. Collecting together techniques and patterns, knit.101 covers everything from casting on to construction and everything in between. Rather than having the patterns at the end, knit.101 intersperses technique with patterns, leading beginning knitters through a series of projects which will help them learn technique while, as editor Adina Klein states, making "…a one-of-a-kind creation…with your two cute little hands!"

Two-thirds of the book covers knitting, one-third is crochet. There are patterns here for bags, iPod holders, legwarmers and string bikinis. If you are a devotee of the magazine, then you probably won’t need this book. Many of the projects featured have already been published in the magazine. If you’re looking for a book to teach you or someone else how to knit or crochet and you fit the demographic of knit.1, then this book will suit you perfectly.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1931543968
ISBN13: 9781931543965

160 Pages
Publisher: sixth&spring Books
Publication Date: January 2007
Magazine Website:


Saturday, February 03, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting Memories edited by Lela Nargi

Knitting is more than just a craft or the creation of something to wear. Between the knitter and yarn there is a tactile experience and a time of reflection, a chance to meditate or let the mind wander as it will. Between the knitter and the knitting is a relationship and it is this that Lela Nargi explores in Knitting Memories: Reflections on the Knitter’s Life. This collection of sixteen essays has been written by knitters and non-knitters, givers and receivers, knitting stars (such as Lily Chin) and hospice-care workers. Here they reflection on the insights knitting has brought to their lives.

In her introduction, Nargi shares the story of her two-year-old daughter Ada’s relationship with knitting. As she thought about the pieces Ada was drawn to, Nargi shares the philosophy she used to pull together the disparate elements of this collection.
“These pieces of knitting…are intricate stories waiting to be unraveled, and mostly they are stories about relationships…The story can be one that has to do with history, tracing knitting’s broad and narrow channels through the ages, linking knitters to ancient craftspeople or perhaps just our own mothers and grandmothers. And the story is also, sometimes, one about pure imagination – the way knitting exists in our minds as fertile territory to be plumbed, picked at, reveled in, and perhaps eventually presented to others so that they, too, may share in the imaginings.”
What makes this collection more than yet another collection of knitters discussing the meditative aspects of knitting or the joy of giving, is the inclusion of essays by non-knitters. Of particular note is Cedric N. Chatterly’s essay “Virginia” share the joy she and her knitting have brought to his life. In "Silent Communion," Robert Bruce Cowan writes compellingly about his resentment for the activity which steals away his wife making him feel “the house isn’t big enough for the both of us.” Yet he also realizes that his world is perfectly at peace when he is puttering and she is knitting.

This small hardcover is the perfect item to tuck into a knitting bag for moments stolen between projects or when the knitter needs to be reminded of their place in the larger story.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0760326487
ISBN13: 9780760326480

224 Pages
Publisher: Voyageur Press
Publication Date: August 31, 2006
Author Website:


Friday, February 02, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Passionate Thirst by Cameron Dean

Candace Steele has a serious grudge against vampires. An undercover agent in a Las Vegas casino, her job is to provide the guests security against vampires. It’s a job she enjoys; seducing them and at the critical moment driving a stake through their hearts.

It all stems back to the love of her life, and the relationship that almost killed her. Ash, an incredibly sexy vampire, was the love of her life until the night a moment of passion almost lead to her death. Not only did the incident leave her scarred emotionally, she now senses vampires when they are near.

Her latest assignment is personal security for Temptation McCoy, the hot singer headlining at the casino. At the welcome party, Candace feels a cold, tingling sensation which means there is a vampire as part of the young diva’s entourage. To make matters worse, Ash is suddenly back in town and Candace finds she isn’t as resistant to him as she had hoped.

Cameron Dean’s debut novel Passionate Thirst is the first of her Candace Steel Vampire Killer trilogy. A number of publishers have started to publish new series “back-to-back” (one a month), presumably since readers are impatient for subsequent volumes and to take advantage of the voracious appetite readers of paranormal romances have for the genre. (Keri Arthur’s debut series, “Riley Jenson Guardian,” is also being published this way beginning in January 2007.) The other two installments in Dean’s trilogy, Luscious Craving and Eternal Hunger, were published in December and January respectively.

Candace Steel is a delightful heroine; she has a troubled fashion sense, she’s grumpy, she can kick serious vampire butt and she’s still in love with her ex – even though she has something special going with Detective Carl Hagen. Essentially she’s flawed yet lovable and readers will quickly be rooting for her to win.

Readers expecting steamy scenes á la Laurell K. Hamilton should look elsewhere. Passionate Thirst balances sex scenes with action and plot development, while never quite delivering as much “steam” as the cover suggests. Dean has provided an interesting introduction to her trilogy and it will be exciting to see how the series develops over the next two volumes.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0345492536
ISBN13: 9780345492531

Mass Market Paperback
301 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: October 31, 2006