Thursday, May 31, 2007

Clare Clark at Booked!

If you're in the Toronto area, here's an literary event you shouldn't miss. Award-winning English author Clare Clark will be reading at the inaugural Booked! Festival in Toronto on Sunday June 10th, 2007.

Visiting Canada for the first time as part of her North American tour, this exceptional historical novelist will be reading from her remarkable new book The Nature of Monsters.

Clare’s impeccable historical research also fuels her second novel The Nature of Monsters - a gloriously gothic portrait of sex, science and
superstition in the English capital. Set in the shadow of St. Paul’s
Cathedral in eighteenth century London, headstrong Eliza Tally - 16 years old and scandalously pregnant - struggles to keep her wits in the
nightmarish house of demented apothecary Grayson Black. Spine-chilling from beginning to end, The Nature of Monsters exposes a frighteningly modern metropolis bubbling with economic speculation, scientific discovery, madness and obsession.

Clare Clark will be reading at the Booked! Festival in Toronto at 12:00pm, Sunday June 10th, 2007 in the Spiegeltent, at the Harbourfront Centre.

Information courtesy of a Raincoast Books press release.

My review of The Nature of Monsters can be found here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper is facing one of the most challenging cases of her career, the high-profile murder case against Brendan Quillian for the strangulation of his wife Amanda. Cooper is convinced that Quillian hired someone to kill his wife while he was conveniently out of town but has little but circumstantial evidence and the testimony of the murdered wife’s best friend Kate with which to win the conviction. When the defense attorney tears Kate apart on the witness stand, exposing her affair with Quillian, Cooper is sure the case is lost – that is, until a devastating explosion in Water Tunnel #3 rocks New York City and a link to Brendan Quillian is found in the wreckage.

With only a few days to rebuild her case, Cooper, Mercer and Wallace race to understand Quillian’s connection to the new water tunnels, and find the evidence to ensure a conviction. Yet, as they explore the “city of death” underneath Manhattan, they may have unearthed more than just an insular society of “sand hogs” and Amanda’s death may not be the only one requiring investigation.

Bad Blood is the ninth thriller by Linda Fairstein to feature Alexandra Cooper, the lead prosecutor for the Sex Crimes Unit at Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office. Fairstein, for years the head of the same department in Manhattan, uses her extensive experience to create a story full of the nuances and myriad details that provide authenticity. Only an intimate of this world would be aware that the prosecutor’s current favoured method to move case files is shopping carts.

Fairstein’s thrillers include a great deal of action, more than lovers of legal thrillers may appreciate; however, she consistently presents aspects of New York City that for many are hidden, bringing it to life as a secondary character. She incorporates the history of New York’s water system into the plot without it feeling clunky or manipulated. The inclusion of the city as an essential character is what set her thrillers apart from the rest of this crowded genre.

Blair Brown’s reading flows smoothly as she effortlessly switches between the distinct voices and accents with which she portrays the various characters. Whether she is describing the historical and engineering facts about New York’s water tunnels or the social history of the “sand hogs” (the tunnel workers), the expressiveness of her reading suggests she is as engaged with the subject as the author. Especially notable is her portrayal of the bitter feud among the sand hog families. Her voice reflects the vitriol and animosity without becoming melodramatic.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0743555953
ISBN13: 9780743555951

Audiobook, 5 CDs
Read by: Blair Brown
Abridged by: Judith Benenson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: January 2007


Sunday, May 20, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting Never Felt Better by Nicky Epstein

Following in the footsteps of her bestselling series on edge treatments, Nicky Epstein now lends her signature style to felting. In Knitting Never Felt Better: the definitive guide to fabulous felting, Epstein, a self-professed “felting freak,” provides more than 150 before and after swatches and a variety of patterns using felting techniques and fabrics.

The first twenty swatches show how various fibers (wool, alpaca, cashmere) and fiber blends react to the felting process. Epstein then illustrates how lace, cables, various colourwork methods can be incorporated into felting to produce unique results. As with her previous guides, the swatches are large and the photographs show details clearly. Each group of swatches is knit in the same colour, enabling the reader to focus on the stitches rather than having their eyes distracted by the yarn colour.

What raises this to the level of an exceptional guide are her trademark touches. An entire section is devoted to dimensional felting described by her as: “performing a magic trick: A piece of plain, flat stockinette stitch takes on a three-dimensional quality. You perform this sleight of hand by inserting a shrink-resistant object into the piece before felting.” Epstein then takes this technique and uses beads, embroidery and felted leaves to create grape clusters and 3-D flowers, as shown on the cover of the book.

The final third of Knitting Never Felt Better is dedicated to the special touches knitters associate with Epstein’s work: appliqués and embellishments; as well as templates for decorative items which can be cut from felted wool (a great way to use up swatches and felting mistakes!) and tips on transforming old clothes into felted toys, baby items and accessories. Throughout the volume, Epstein incorporates helpful tips from her readers and she even polled sixty yarn shop owners to create a top ten list of favourite yarns for felting. If you’ve ever contemplated felting, this volume will quickly indoctrinate you into this addictive realm.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1933027118
ISBN13: 9781933027111

176 Pages
Publisher: Sixth&Spring Books
Publication Date: June 1, 2007


Friday, May 18, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting Lingerie Style by Joan McGowan-Michael

Joan McGowan-Michael came of age in the seventies, an era when underthings were basic and functional; but she was always drawn to the intriguing lingerie of her mother and grandmother. After finishing design school, she went to work as a designer for a major lingerie retailer, just in time for the resurgence of feminine lingerie.

Lingerie is no longer relegated to the role of shaping women’s bodies and keeping us warm. It has taken centre stage, inspiring designs and become outwear. In 2001, McGowan-Michael founded White Lies Designs and has since been designing knitted lingerie and lingerie-inspired designs for all the major knitting publications.

In Knitting Lingerie Style: more than 30 basic and lingerie-inspired designs, McGowan-Michael examines the five staple undergarments of a woman’s wardrobe – the bra, slip, corset, camisole and stocking – and reviews the construction and history of each. She then provides a pattern for the basic garment, followed by designs which use the basic garment as a “jumping off” point. The bra inspires the twinset, the slip a party dress and the camisole is reincarnated as a lacy bodice.

The patterns found in Knitting Lingerie Style invite knitters to become adventurous. Overall, these patterns require knitting experience and, because most are quite fitted, require an honest assessment of one’s body. Sizing for her garments ranges from finished chest measurements of 28” to 57” with the majority falling in the 31” to 46” range, with very minimal ease.

McGowan-Michael guides knitters step-by-step through the process of creating a knitted bra or corset and provides helpful illustrations. Her background in lingerie design is very evident in the construction of her garments she designs and in the fashioning details she includes such as including interfacing in her bra and offering alternate cup construction in the Citrus Sun Top, since a bra can’t be worn under it. Even if knitters never knit the lingerie in Knitting Lingerie Style, McGowan-Michael’s useful information will help them look at lingerie in a new way, leaving them with a better understanding of fit and styles which are figure-flattering for women.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1584795778
ISBN13: 9781584795773

160 Pages
Publisher: Stewart Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: April 1, 2007
Author Website:


Thursday, May 17, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illus. by Pierr Morgan

After their teacher reads them a book about dragons, Mei Lin’s classmates decide the perfect way to decorate for her birthday is by creating a birthday dragon. Everyone has something to add from “boink-boink” eyes to “fa-foom!” a dragon-fire nose until the sparkle-head dragon leads the children off on a magical dancing journey through Asian looking landscapes – that is until their teacher calls them back for a snack.

Dragon Dancing, the newest collaboration between Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan, once again focuses on imaginative play. Schaefer uses language to create a feeling of motion and sound within the story, with these lines often printed in bold or in a wave reminiscent of a dragon’s tail. This is a story which parents and children will enjoy reading together. Children will have sound effects to make with their feet “Then all of us – in a long dragon line – go stomp, bomp-tromping away…” and parents can have fun with volume and onomatopoeic words featured throughout.

Snip, twirl, flip.

“Look at me!” Mei Lin shouts.

“I’m Birthday Dragon!”

Morgan’s line drawings of the dragon capture the energy and excitement of a preschool class. Her art takes on a decided Asian influence to capture and differentiate the imagination sections of the book. The children in the classroom reflect a great diversity, ensuring all children should find someone to identify with in the pictures.

Dragon Dancing is a wonderful way to introduce children to Chinese culture and Chinese New Year.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0670060844
ISBN13: 9780670060849

40 Pages
Publisher: Viking Children's Books
Publication Date: January 2, 2007
Author's Website:
Illustrator's Website:


Sunday, May 13, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark

Eliza Tally lives with her mother, a midwife and herbalist, in a small village several hours from London. Following the death of her husband, Eliza’s mother sees few options to ensure their survival and gives her comely daughter to the son of a local landowner, after ensure they marry in front of the hearth. When Eliza becomes pregnant with his child, he renounces their union and her desperate mother makes a deal with the devil, selling Eliza into servitude with the apothecary, Grayson Black.

Delivered to the bizarre household, Eliza struggles to cope with her burgeoning pregnancy and the strict demands of Mrs. Black. Believing that she has been sent to London so that Mr. Black may rid her of the unwanted pregnancy, Eliza realizes with dawning horror that this has never been his intention. Her only companion Mary, the slow-witted servant girl, Eliza sinks into a melancholy relieved only by her visits to the French bookseller Mr. Honfleur until the day she makes a startling discovery.

Set in early 18th-century London, Clare Clark’s The Nature of Monsters is a masterful tale of gothic suspense. Although mostly powerless and victimized, Eliza possesses an indomitable will, refusing to bow to the fate thrust upon her. In the early part of the novel, Eliza is a character who may alienate the reader. Prickly, self-centered and ignorant, her arrival in London sets in motion Black’s plans and the dawn of the horror readers feel on her behalf. By making the readers aware from the start Black’s sadistic plans for Mary, Clark slowly creates an atmosphere full of tension and unease. His plan to frighten/stress Eliza into giving birth to a deformed child is chilling and to our modern eyes nonsensical, yet the beliefs of this time were that experiences of the mother would have immediate effect on the child. “…for a dread of unseen horrors beyond her immediate environs must surely stimulate a heightened state of imagination which shall serve the work to its considerable advantage.” “On no account may she be permitted to grow comfortable.”

Clark clearly illustrates that monsters come in all guises, whether born that way or created through single-minded obsession. Black is so lost within his dreams of scientific fame and heavily addicted to opium, that he deems no cost too high in pursuit of his treatise. Although many at the time would view Black as a monster because of the raspberry birthmark on his face, what truly makes him a monster is his character and lack of human compassion for those he should be protecting. As he states in his journal: “bring the whores to me & I shall make monsters of them all.” In the Black household, the true monsters are the apothecary and his wife.

To modern eyes, the “scientific” discoveries appear nonsensical and the fascination with monsters (human beings plagued with infirmaries and birth-defects) to be cruel and inhumane. Little attention at the time was given to ethical ponderings of the experiments being carried out by men of science throughout England. Clark has brought this quest for scientific discover vividly to life and in the process, leads readers to question whether today we are any different. We may no longer dissect live dogs or believe “the child bears the imprint of the mother’s passions as sealing wax receives the imprint of a stamp,” but are we truly any different than those who visited sideshows to examine hunchbacks or dog-headed children?

In an age of growing intolerance, Clark’s novel will leave readers wondering what methods we use to create monsters today. What we perpetuate in the name of science now has far greater potential to inflict damage on both our species and the world around us. Greater knowledge does not naturally lead to increased compassion. Readers will quickly appreciate that the worst monsters are hidden in plain sight and, despite her appearance, Mary is the least monster-like of anyone in The Nature of Monsters.

ISBN10: 0151012067
ISBN13: 9780151012060

400 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: May 1, 2007


Saturday, May 12, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Best of Vogue Knitting Magazine

Vogue® Knitting International hit the newsstands in its current incarnation in 1982 with a focus on fashionable knitting. Over the years the magazine has featured designs from fashion’s biggest names in knitwear design; Adrienne Vittadini, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, Twinkle, Michael Kors, Anna Sui and James Coviello to name a few. Through the years, what has kept Vogue® Knitting a magazine of substance, and a must have for knitters, has been the articles and workshops featured alongside the designs.

Now, for the first time, the best of these have been gathered into one volume, The Best of Vogue Knitting Magazine: 25 Years of Articles, Techniques and Expert Advice. The ultimate reference volume, within these pages is everything from beginning techniques to advice on the design process. Articles and essays were penned by the luminaries of the knitting world such as Elizabeth Zimmerman, Barbara G. Walker, Meg Swansen, Melanie Falick, Barbara Albright, and many more. Within these pages readers will even find advice on the business of raising sheep, for anyone who has ever dreamed of having their own yarn supply.

Articles, essays and workshops are intermixed, ensuring hours of fascinating reading dotted with new techniques and tips to try out. Each is marked in the upper left corner with the cover and issue in which it originally was published. Revisit old favourites and discover missed gems. If you are only going to purchase one knitting book this year, make it this one. Whether you want to read about the history of wartime knitting in America or explore Vogue®’s finishing school, this essential reference guide will more than pay for itself through the course of a knitter’s life.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1933027169
ISBN13: 9781933027166

244 Pages
Publisher: Sixth&Spring Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2007
Author Website:


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Punk Knits by Share Ross

If anyone had any doubts about knitting, Share Ross is ready to shatter them – knitting isn’t just for grannies anymore. The punk rock guitarist and singer of Bubbles “is addicted to the needle – the knitting needle. What is more rock ‘n’ roll than making your own fashion statement and snubbing the corporate entities that tell us how to look.”

When she started knitting, Ross discovered there were almost no patterns for edgy, underground rocker types like her and out of necessity began creating her own. The result is Punk Knits: 26 hot new designs for anarchistic souls and independent spirits, with the designs modeled by her friends – independent punk rock musicians from Hollywood. Ross’ inspiration comes from famous (or infamous) rockers like Sid Vicious, the New York Dolls and Frank Zappa, and each pattern includes her comments on the artist.

All the designs are suitable for beginning to intermediate knitters, with a few advanced patterns for those who like a challenge. Ross’ designs are unisex (although I wish she had included photos of guys in the mini skirts) and the measurements for the finished sweaters reflect that, with chest measurements ranging from 27” to 47”. If you are looking for basic knitting instruction, you’ll need to find that elsewhere; however, if you need instructions for including deliberate holes in your knitting, then this is the guide for you.

So what about the patterns themselves? I have to admit to being a bit disappointed since I was expecting something rawer, more cutting edge. That may not be possible as, by its very nature, punk isn’t about being conformist and a book of knitting patterns could be construed as conformist since the patterns are available to the masses. Unfortunately there isn’t much here which can’t be found elsewhere, although the Skull Kilt is fabulous.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1584795832
ISBN13: 9781584795834

Trade Paperback, Spiral binding
136 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: March 1, 2007
Website: Punk Knits
Looking for corrections? Pattern Errata are here


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Knits Three Ways by Melissa Matthay

Soon after knitting their first sweater, knitters often encounter a common problem. They find a pattern for the “almost perfect” sweater, perfect except for some feature; perhaps it has the wrong neckline or is sleeveless or they’d rather it be in a different weight of yarn. For some knitters this leads easily into pattern alteration while others will spend years making sweaters for friends and family, dreaming of someday making that “perfect” sweater.

Melissa Matthay, owner of The Knitting Tree in Madison, Wisconsin, comes to knitters’ rescue with her book Knits Three Ways: mix and match design elements to create a custom-made sweater. After years helping customers alter “almost perfect” sweater patterns, Matthay pulled together her experiences to create a simple, helpful guide.

The first chapter of the book takes knitters through construction basics; measuring, garment shaping, and yarn selection, followed by the basic sweater patterns. Matthay has created twelve foundation patterns and shown how simple choices such as yarn, stitch pattern, neckline shaping or sleeve length can dramatically alter the finished product. Although Matthay has provided three sample alternatives for each pattern to illustrate her concepts, the possibilities are endless.

The basic patterns range from staples such as the classic pullover, hoodied and v-neck cardigan to kimonos and shrugs. Matthay offers advice on using cables and lace to shape your garment or provide the illusion of shaping. She also includes some daring design options, such as her pattern for a classic shell with an open back; which adventuresome knitters may opt to knit using a mohair/silk blend for a "barely-there" look.

Knits Three Ways makes a wonderful addition to any knitter’s reference library, providing both inspiration and design advice for many years to come.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307345645
ISBN13: 9780307345646

160 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: April 10, 2007
Author Website:


Monday, May 07, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Runway Knits by Berta Karapetyan

Berta Karapetyan has been designing high-end knitwear and working as a technical knitwear developer for Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein for more than two decades. In 1993 she founded the yarn company Karabella Yarns and creates the innovative designs for which they have become well-known.

Runway Knits: 30 Fashion-Forward Designs is a collection of designs full of Karapetyan’s signature details and personality: unusual stitch patterns, interesting construction methods, and designs which flatter the wearer’s body. Karapetyan’s designs are inspired by both the runways of New York City and her Russian roots, with those roots appearing most clearly in patterns such as the Russian-style hat and the Soldier’s Sweater. All the designs are made with the Karabella line of yarns, a company owned by Karapetyan’s son; however, a yarn substitution guide is include at the end of the volume and yardage information can be found on the Karabella website.

Sizing on the finished garments runs from 31” to 46”, with the majority in the 32” to 38” range. These are highly-structured, close-fitting garments with minimal ease and full of couture detailing. Patterns range from beginner (Cozy Moss Shrug) to intermediate (Flamingo Capelet) to the expert (Leaf-Drop Sweater). Pattern instructions are detailed but are text only. Knitters who prefer to work lace and cable patterns from charts may have to create their own charts or work only from the text.

Full of beautiful, colour photographs, the patterns in Runway Knits are separated into four sections by their style; Spirited, Playful, Demure, and Driven. As Karapetyan states in her introduction: “all the designs exude personality; so much so that when you wear them your look will set the mood.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307339688
ISBN13: 9780307339683

176 Pages
Publisher: Potter Crafts
Publication Date: April 17, 2007
Author Website:


Friday, May 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Damsel Under Stress by Shanna Swendson

After a toe-curling kiss during the office Christmas Party, Katie Chandler seems to have finally caught her prince. That is, until her fairy godmother, Ethelinda, shows up to lend a hand. Her idea of help is to throw roadblocks in the path of true love in an effort to give Owen the chance to rescue his lady from certain peril. Katie is a modern girl and would rather save herself – thank you very much – and wants Ethelinda to get her wand out of her business so Owen has a chance to repeat the magical kiss.

However, the road to true love never did run smoothly, and Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc.’s arch-nemesis Idris is still up to no good. His girlfriend, Katie’s ex-best friend Ari, has escaped and it’s up to Katie and Owen to recapture Ari and Idris before they have the opportunity to wreak havoc on New York City. Add in a trip to meet Owen’s parents for Christmas, find the perfect outfit for New Year’s Eve, and keep New Yorker’s in the dark about the existence of magic, and Katie definitely has her hands full.

Damsel Under Stress, Shanna Swendson’s third novel in her series of “Fairy Tales for Modern Times,” commences immediately after the events Once Upon Stilettos. Katie, the magically-immune heroine, has barely had a chance to catch her breath and enjoy her budding relationship with Owen when, once again, chaos erupts all around her. Clever writing, indepth plot development and zany fun are what help Swendson’s novels stand out from the pack – and Damsel Under Stress is no exception. Each novel provides just enough hints to illustrate that each is a building block within a larger story arc.

While zany fun is definitely an important part of Swendson’s novels, readers may notice that she has toned things down a bit in Damsel Under Stress. Players who border on being caricatures in previous offerings are explored in more detail, most notably Owen’s friend Rod. Swendson stays true to the nature of her characters, even though they are in magical situations. The budding romance between Katie and Owen is handled respectfully and within the personalities she took the time to outlined re in the first two novels. Katie, a small town girl from Texas, longs for the relationship to develop but doesn’t throw herself at Owen, allowing him to take the lead. Owen, terminally shy and way too handsome for his own good, is at heart an old-fashioned guy and, even when Katie has to stay in his home for her own protection, a true gentleman.

The cover art and “fairy tale” elements may cause some critics and booksellers to dismiss Swendson’s work as just another part of the current paranormal craze. To do so would be a serious flaw – hidden within Damsel Under Stress are all the hallmarks of a stellar writer who has barely found her legs, let alone hit her stride.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0345492927
ISBN13: 9780345492920

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2007
Author Website:


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Special Gift this Mother's Day

I don't often ask my readers to consider making a donation but today I received an appeal from Heifer International in honour of Mother's Day. If you're looking for a special gift for your mother, please consider making it one of these baskets: Mother's Dream Basket, Mother's Love Basket or the Mother Earth Basket.

From the Heifer International website:
Raising children is a big job, and it's even harder for mothers who struggle for dependable sources of food and income. Honor or remember your own mother by helping another with a Mother's Day basket from Heifer International. The animals and training your gift makes possible will help a woman in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, or even right here at home care for her family the way your mother cared for you.

For more than 60 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of mothers all around the world who struggle daily for dependable sources of food and income. Recipients of these animals “Pass on the Gift” by giving the offspring of their livestock to others – creating an ever widening circle of hope that has benefited 38 million people since 1944. Give today to help us continue this work