Thursday, December 04, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany

In post-9/11 Chicago, several Egyptian exchange students study histology at the University of Illinois Medical School. Nagi, who would much rather be a poet, is involved with a Jewish-American girl. Shymaa, a veiled PhD candidate from rural Egypt, has just arrived and finds her traditional upbringing challenged by American society. Tariq, the son of a general, finds himself inexplicably drawn to Shymaa, who he believes socially beneath him. Watching and reporting on their movements is Danana, head of the Egyptian Students' Union but also a spy for his government's secret police. As the students prepare for a visit by the Egyptian President, little do they realize how their lives, and those of their professors, will be affected.

Like the famous Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, Alaa Al Aswany writes social realism and believes "the role of literature is its human message." He writes about subjects taboo in Arabic literature – homosexuality, female sexuality, and abortion. His book Chicago is fiction, although it draws upon the two years Al Aswany spent there while earning his dentistry degree from the University of Illinois. Al Aswany's impressions of American life are presented to readers through the eyes of Arabic students. Rather than using a mirror to show America and Egypt their ills, Al Aswany allows his story to unfold slowly, presenting his social commentary through the actions and behaviour of his characters rather than by pontificating.

Chicago is undoubtedly a political novel, tackling issues of dictatorship, Islamic extremism, human dignity, and corruption and no where is that more evident than in the officious president of the Egyptian Student Union in America. Danana is a loud, obnoxious bully and, in a book crammed full of characters, has a presence that stands out from the rest. Whether it is his mercurial nature or his delight in exposing students' secrets, Danana fascinates and repels. Chicago is a fascinating novel that falls flat only in Al Aswany's Americans, which are stereotypical and one-dimensional caricatures.

Whether newly arrived like Shymaa or deeply emeshed in America like Dr. Ra'fat Thabit, everyone maintains a conflicted relationship with their homeland making Chicago, in the end, a novel about identity.

ISBN10: 0061452564
ISBN13: 9780061452567

352 Pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 7, 2008
Translated from Arabic by Farouk Abdel Wahab


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nam Le wins 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize

Nam Le has won this year’s £60,000 Dylan Thomas Prize. It recognizes the best young writer in the English-speaking world with the goal of ensuring that the inspirational nature of Dylan’s writing lives on.

I reviewed Nam Le's The Boat in August and as I said then,
The strongest story in my opinion is “Tehran Calling.” In a few short pages, Le produces many fully realized characters that all have incredibly distinct voices. The sense of menace experienced by Sarah during her visit to Tehran leaks from the page and affects the reader’s mood and pace of reading. I became jumpy while reading and the feeling of unease remained even when I returned to the story a second reading. The characters are sympathetic yet repulsive at the same time, a difficult feat for any writer and astonishing in one as young as Le.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Church of the Dog by Kaya McLaren

Mara O’Shaunnessy, ever-so-slightly magical, is a free spirit who sees people’s auras, heals through touch and communicates with her grandmother nightly in her dreams. So when her mundane fiancée charges her $10.00 for a ride to the hospital, Mara breaks their engagement, packs up and moves to rural Oregon where she accepts a position teaching art. Soon after her arrival in town, Mara buys a hog at a livestock auction to save it from slaughter but now needs a place to live that takes pigs. Town residents direct her to Edith and Earl McRae who may be willing to offer both her and the hog lodging in exchange for work on their farm.

Edith and Earl have been married for fifty years but sadness still clings to them like a cloud. They lost their only child in a tragic car accident many years earlier and their grandson Daniel left the farm as early as possible to spend his days fishing in the arctic. The arrival of Mara on the farm precipitates many changes and as Earl faces an ending, Mara helps the family find joy in the here and now.

Church of the Dog, Kaya McLaren debut novel, is an intensely personal novel. Told alternately from the points of view of Mara, Edith, Earl, and Daniel, Church of the Dog feels as though you’re reading personal diaries and this viewpoint provides intriguing insights into each character’s thoughts, emotions and motivations. In some novels, varying narrators results in a confusing and disjointed read; however, McLaren has engendered her characters with strong, distinctive voices that lead her readers along her chosen path.

Readers will respond to McLaren’s novel in one of two ways: either becoming deeply invested in each of the characters and the spiritual questions McLaren raises; or by thinking it’s all too flaky and treacly, quickly giving up. Readers who connect with Church of the Dog will find a quiet, inspirational meditation on the nature of love and friendship.

Originally published in 2000 by a now defunct press, this edition of Church of the Dog was revised by author and reprinted by Penguin Books.

ISBN10: 0143113429
ISBN13: 9780143113423

Trade Paperback
225 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 2008
Author's Website:


Monday, November 10, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Contagion by Patrick M. Garry

Thirty-eight year old Walt Honerman is drifting through life in Billings, Montana. Still reeling from the death of his girlfriend decades earlier, Walt exists in this small town for Friday night movies with his uncle and the rest of the seniors at the local nursing home. His placid life ends when his uncle dies and Walt is bound by the promise he made, to drive cross-country for a baseball game. Joining him on the journey are Moira Kelly, a young woman who befriended Walt’s uncle, and 76-year-old Izzy Dunleavy who wishes to return to his hometown of Crawfish Bay.

On the journey east Izzy entertains his companions with tales of the grand resort he ran in Crawfish Bay but the veracity of his stories are quickly called into question when Izzy is arrested on embezzlement charges shortly after their arrival. Moira insists on remaining by Izzy’s side to prove his innocence and Walt reluctantly stays as well, increasingly being drawn into Moira’s elaborate schemes.

Contagion, the lastest novel from law professor Patrick M. Garry, follows the template of the hero’s journey (or monomyth); a hero ventures forth from the every day into world where the hero must face tasks and trials, either alone or with assistance. Like many prototypical heroes, Walt initially refuses the call to adventure (traveling east) but is soon overwhelmed with pressure by his uncle’s friends and ventures forth into the unknown joined by Izzy and Moira. By refusing the call, Walt moves from hero to a victim in need of rescue and cedes the journey’s direction to Izzy. The arrest of Izzy, and the resulting mess which must be untangled, is Walt’s road of trials and Izzy becomes the father-figure with whom Walt must reconcile.

While the first half of the novel where Garry sets the stage for Walt’s journey is slow and occasionally begins to drag, the second half quickly kicks into high gear driven by Moira’s determination and Jake’s personality (a young man Walt and Moria meet at Crawfish Bay) which carry readers along in their wake.

In many ways, all of the main characters in Contagion are on journeys, each trying to find their way to a home. Walt must overcome his fears, guilt and start living again and Izzy has to cease living in a dream and accept responsibility for his history. Neither has much connection to reality and their detachment makes it difficult for readers to connect with their characters; however, the strong secondary characters provide enough depth to keep readers turning pages.

ISBN10: 1592992803
ISBN13: 9781592992805

Trade Paperback
272 Pages
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Publication Date: May 2007


Thursday, October 30, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover & Hex Appeal by Linda Wisdom

What better way to celebrate Hallowe’en than with a newly discovered paranormal romance author? Author Linda Wisdom introduced fiery witch Jasmine Tremaine this past spring in 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover and readers would be hard pressed not to fall for this kooky witch with her obsession with bath products, her rabid bunny slippers and her on-again, off-again (for 300 years) vampire boyfriend Nick.

Jazz and her sister witches were cast out of witch school for breaking the rules. Unable to stay out of trouble for long, the banishment has lasted over 700 years. Now living in Los Angeles, Jazz makes a living removing hexes and chauffeuring supernatural beings for her ghoulish boss Dweezil. Her sports car is haunted by Irma, a chain-smoking ghost, and her favourite bunny slippers Fluff and Puff have been banned from many establishments for destroying property.

In 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover, private investigator Nick has returned to Los Angeles to investigate a number of vampire disappearances. Hired by his former employers (the vampire police force), Nick is determined to get help from his former lover Jazz. Unable to decide if she wants to kill or kiss him, Jazz is determined to steer clear of the sexy vampire. As evidence mounts that the serial killer is a foe from their past, Jazz is reluctantly drawn into the case (demanding payment in the form of a hefty deposit on her Starbucks card), and back into steamy encounters with Nick.

Hex Appeal picks up immediately after the close of 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover. Jazz has received a new pair of animated shoes, a pair of crocodile stilettos that consume her makeup and flirt with any nearby male. Jazz and Nick are happily exploring their burgeoning relationship when disturbing and violent nightmares threaten their future. Jazz is convinced Nick has bitten her and Nick is plagued by visions of Jazz as a suburban soccer mom. When Jazz suddenly becomes mortal, the two must figure out who has targeted them. Is their enemy trying to break them up or kill them?

My major complaint is the over use of Jazz's trademark way of closing her spells "Because I said so, dammit." Given the number of spells featured in the two books, the quirky version of "So Mote it be" quickly became irritating rather than interesting. Linda Wisdom’s books are great fun and if she adjusts the balance on Jasmine’s spells I believe this series will be a hit with readers.

50 Ways to Hex Your Lover
ISBN10: 140221085X
ISBN13: 9781402210853

Mass Market Paperback
374 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: March 1, 2008

Hex Appeal
ISBN10: 1402214006
ISBN13: 978-1402214004

Mass Market Paperback
368 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: November 1, 2008


Sunday, October 19, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Wangari's Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter

“The earth was naked. For me the mission was to try to cover it with green.” – Wangari Maathai

Growing up in the shadow of Mount Kenya in Africa, Wangari is surrounded by an umbrella of green trees. The trees protect the birds, provide firewood to the women of the village and help keep the soil rich for the sweet potatoes, sugarcane and maize Wangari helps to harvest.

Wangari travels to America for school but when she returns six years later the trees are gone. No crops grow, the birds are gone and the women have to travel far distances to find firewood. On World Environment Day in 1977, Wangari plants nine seedlings in her backyard and begins the Green Belt Movement which, over the next 27 years, plants thirty million trees across Africa.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: a true story from Africa is the story of one woman’s effort to return green to Africa. Told in Jeanette Winter’s simple language and blocky, colourful illustrations, Wangari’s Trees of Peace is wonderful means to introduce 3 to 7 year olds to environmentalism, the interconnected nature of ecosystems and political activitism. It also introduces some difficult subjects that may make some children and parents uncomfortable: prejudice (“Women can’t do this”), violence (“Wangari blocks their way, so they hit her with clubs”) and imprisonment (“They call her a troublemaker and put her in jail”).

While Winter’s tale simplifies Wangari’s story to a basic level, it carries within it an important message, that one person can make a difference. Wangari’s simple act of planting a tree translates to an important environmental movement and the Nobel Peace Prize. Children are innate idealists and it is never too early to foster their belief that they can achieve anything.

In keeping with the environmental nature of Wangari’s Trees of Peace, the book is printed on 100% recycled paper with 50% postconsumer waste.

ISBN10: 0152065458
ISBN13: 9780152065454

32 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: September 21, 2008


BOOK REVIEW: My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes

After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII was convinced by his advisors to seek another wife. Edward’s health was precarious and a second son would be of great benefit to stability within England. Hoping to secure the Protestant faith’s footing in England, Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell suggested an alliance with the Duchy of Cleves, a Lutheran stronghold. Henry provisionally agreed and commissioned court painter Hans Holbein to paint miniatures of both Anne and Amelia, the princesses of Cleves. Amelia was on the surface the more attractive sister what Holbien saw Anne’s inner beauty and captured this in her portrait, in turn capturing the King’s eye.

Unfortunately for Anne’s happiness, she was not the King’s preferred version of beauty, being neither petite nor slender. Her height, large-boned frame and buxomness prompted the King to refer to her as a “Flanders mare.” She possessed few of the accomplishments common for women of the Tudor court, being more adept at managing a royal household. While they were duly married and Anne quickly won the heart of the people, the King’s eye had already strayed to young Katherine Howard.

Anne of Cleves is rare not only for surviving her marriage to King Henry VIII, she is one of only two of his wives to outlive him, but for speaking her mind to him. Heeding the counsel of her advisors, she agreed to an annulment on the grounds of non-consummation and in return gained her own household and continued access to Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Prince Edward, his children by his previous three wives. In My Lady of Cleves: a novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, Margaret Campbell Barnes tells the story of an unusual woman who discovers herself and finds true freedom only by giving up everything and holding herself apart from the politics consuming his court.

What is intriguing about Campbell Barnes’ novel is the fascinating portrait of Princess Mary. Unlike many novels of the Tudor court which show her as a bitter and unhappy woman, Mary is here portrayed with a nurturing and mothering nature toward Edward and warm emotions toward Anne.

Originally published in 1946, My Lady of Cleves stands the test of time, introducing Henry VIII’s enigmatic fourth wife to a new generation of readers.

ISBN10: 1402214316
ISBN13: 9781402214318

Trade Paperback
331 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: September 1, 2008


Sunday, September 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Mural at Waverly Inn by Edward Sorel and Dorothy Gallagher

The Waverly Inn, a landmark of New York’s Greenwich Village since the 1920’s, was purchased by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter in 2006. The refurbished restaurant became a beacon for cognoscenti since it was reopened, in part for Edward Sorel’s dazzling mural covering its walls.

If the style of the artwork on the cover feels familiar it may be because you’ve come across Sorel's drawings in The New Yorker. A regular contributor to the famous magazine, he was commissioned by Carter to create the bacchanalian scene for the restaurant. Mining 150 years of Greenwich Village history, Sorel selected 43 luminaries to cavort in the hedonism of his never-ending party.

The Mural at the Waverly Inn: A Portrait of Greenwich Village Bohemians features Edward Sorel’s mural as a foldout at the back of the book. The pages of this hardcover volume feature each of the bohemians cropped out of the mural, accompanied by pithy mini-biographies written by Dorothy Gallagher. Here you’ll see Truman Capote as a butterfly attacking Walt Whitman and be reminded of Capote’s indulgence in drugs and alcohol. Norman Mailer lies on the banks of a reflecting pond in a pose reminiscent of Narcissus while Anais Nin cavorts nude, and Jack Kerouac furiously types on his novel. Other luminaries include Djuna Barnes, Joan Baez, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Thelonius Monk, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol to name just a few.

If you can’t get a reservation at Waverly Inn, this charming coffee table book is the next best thing. At 56 pages, The Mural at the Waverly Inn is a small treasure to be sampled and savored at leisure.

ISBN13: 9780307377319
ISBN10: 0307377318

56 Pages
Publisher: Pantheon
Publication Date: October 28, 2008


Thursday, August 21, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Boat by Nam Le

Nam Le took the literary world by storm with the publication of his debut collection of short stories The Boat. Collecting together seven stories that present disparate views on the world, The Boat presents Le’s versatility with narrative voice and subject matter.

The opening story “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is the most self-conscious and potentially autobiographical of the stories, featuring a young writer named Nam who is working Iowa Writer's Workshop master's when his father comes to visit. Urged to mine his personal story for material, Nam writes his father’s story prompting a conflict between the two, and contemplation on the nature of truth and memory. As a reader, this is the story which felt most contrived which may have been Le’s intention. It reads like a writing exercise from the very program he writes about and has none of the emotional depth of the six other stories. The critics raved about this story and its ties to the other stories (a character in “Love and Honor…” suggests to the fiction Nam Le: “You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins and Hiroshima orphans — and New York painters with hemorrhoids.”). Le covers several of these topics in later stories: Colombian assassins in “Cartagena,” Hiroshima orphans in “Hiroshima” and New York painters in “Meeting Elise.”

The strongest story in my opinion is “Tehran Calling.” In a few short pages, Le produces many fully realized characters that all have incredibly distinct voices. The sense of menace experienced by Sarah during her visit to Tehran leaks from the page and affects the reader’s mood and pace of reading. I became jumpy while reading and the feeling of unease remained even when I returned to the story a second reading. The characters are sympathetic yet repulsive at the same time, a difficult feat for any writer and astonishing in one as young as Le.

Nam Le shows his muscle in The Boat and it will be interesting to watch how he matures as a writer. From the promise shown here, he is without doubt a writer with great promise.

ISBN10: 030726808X
ISBN13: 9780307268082

288 Pages
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: May 2008
Author Website:


Thursday, August 07, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Upside Down Inside Out by Monica McInerney

Eva Kennedy started working in her uncle’s Dublin delicatessen to help out her family, but what began as a helpful gesture led to the abandonment of her artistic aspirations. Now her uncle is looking to retire and has offered her the opportunity to take over the shop. Eva’s in a panic- can she handle the responsibility and, if she accepts, does that mean she’s given up her dreams of being an artist forever?

When she finds out that her boyfriend Dermot was only taking her out in an effort to buy her uncle’s shop, Eva makes a snap decision which takes her to Melbourne, Australia to visit her old friend Lainey. While there she meets Joseph Wheeler and the sparks immediately fly. Unfortunately Lainey introduced Eva at a party as Niamh, a famous Irish singer and artist, and Joseph, who in reality is a famous London designer, is incognito as a British backpacker. With so much confusion can they trust the feeling that they are falling for each other and can they turn a holiday romance turn into something real?

It must be stated at the outset that the plot of Upside Down Inside Out is thoroughly implausible. Once readers accept that this novel falls into the category of “summer read” (fun, light reading), belief can be suspended and the novel enjoyed for the charming story it is, rather than beating it up for its weaknesses. Monica McInerney has created memorable characters in Eva and Joseph and set them within a wonderfully paced story. These flawed yet lovable characters will quickly capture the heart of readers.

Upside Down Inside Out bears many of the characteristics of an author’s early novel; underdeveloped, stereotypical secondary characters, subplots handled with a heavy hand, and uneven pacing near the novel’s end as McInerney tries to tie up plot points too quickly. Despite these flaws, McInerney’s talent with words is evident and she crafts some delightful scenes.

ISBN10: 0345506243
ISBN13: 9780345506245

Trade Paperback
362 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: June 24, 2008
Author website:


Saturday, June 21, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Secret Asset by Stella Rimington

Shortly after returning from leave, MI5 agent Liz Carlyle learns that a terrorist cell is operating out of an Islamic bookstore in London and an attack appears imminent. Before she can investigate, the Director of Counter-Terrorism reassigns her to a high-risk, secret mission - discover the IRA “secret asset” (sleeper spy) who’s infiltrated one of the branches of British Intelligence and expose him/her before more of Britain’s secrets are exposed. But more may be at stake than just secrets when it is revealed that the mole may have gone rogue, teaming up with British-born Al Qaeda sympathizers to plot a major strike intended to wreak total destruction. It’s a race against time but who can Liz trust?

Originally published in 2006 (reprinted in a new edition), Secret Asset, the second book in Stella Rimington’s spy thriller series, continues the promise shown in At Risk. Rimington, the former Director General of Britain’s MI5, knows of what she writes and that authenticity resonates in the procedural details of her novels. As most know, the “devil is in the details” and it is here that Rimington’s insider knowledge shines. Her descriptions of functions such as “agent running,” supervising undercover civilian informants, elevates her novels above the pack.

However, authenticity is not enough to make a must-read espionage thriller and, luckily for her readers, Secret Asset is built around a captivating plot of terrorist plots, double dealings and hidden bombs. Peggy Kinsolving, the young research assistant assigned to work with Liz, is a great foil and allows Rimington to explore the rivalry between the branches of British Intelligence while delving into the psychological makeup and histories of the possible moles.

Secret Asset is a must read for anyone who has ever wondered what it takes to betray your country, what mixture of character traits or personality quirks a double agent needs to possess to carry out their task.

ISBN10: 1400079829
ISBN13: 9781400079827

Trade Paperback
362 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Books USA
Publication Date: May 2008


Sunday, May 25, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting Little Luxuries by Louisa Harding

At some point in every knitter’s life they decide its time to make a special gift. Louisa Harding believes that if you’re going to invest the time in a project, why not indulge in a fabulous yarn to make that knitting time special? Her new book Knitting Little Luxuries: Beautiful Accessories to Knit features 21 patterns for hats, mittens, scarves, purses, wraps and a cardigan, all knit in her own line of yarn.

Harding views these patterns as a "starting point," showing many of the designs knit up in multiple yarns and embellished with found objects, buttons, flowers, ribbons and embroidery. The items illustrating Knitting Little Luxuries have been embellished with treasures from her Grandmother’s button box. Her goal is to encourage knitters to make each piece as unique as the person creating it and customized to the recipient, rather than slavishly following a pattern.

The patterns in Knitting Little Luxuries are divided into four sections: Eclectic and Quirky where you "embrace embellishments to make your knitting one of a kind;" Textured and Modern, highlighting cables and interesting stitch fabrics; Pretty and Feminine that showcases luxury fibers, colour and lace; and Traditional and Folk that features fair isle with a twist.

Knitters who follow the latest trends will be eager to knit the Piper Purse, reminiscent of the cables purses carried by many celebrities this season. Those knitters entranced by vintage will be drawn to the Daphne Purse which is reminiscent of straw purses from the 50s, made unique by the addition of silk flowers.

Each pattern lists yarn requirements by weight (DK, worsted), followed by specific yarn information for the sample item. A small section on embellishment techniques is found at the end of Knitting Little Luxuries.

Free Pattern: Cecily Beanie (requires registration at Knitting Daily)

ISBN10: 1596680547
ISBN13: 9781596680548

Trade Paperback
128 Pages
Publisher: Interweave Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2007

Author Website:


Saturday, May 24, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Indigo Knits by Jane Gottelier

Jane and Patrick Gottelier, founders of the Artwork knitwear line, are renown for their fashion lines using indigo yarn. In Indigo Knits: The Quintessential Guide to Denim Yarn from the Founders of Artwork they share the techniques they have become known for in trendy designs for knit and crochet. Photographed in Cornwall, England, this is a beautiful book featuring the beach settings that are the perfect backdrop to show off indigo dyes.

Indigo Knits is a great way for beginning knitters to learn to work with cotton. More than half the designs are suitable for beginners and the boxy shapes require minimal shaping. The finished chest range for the adult sweaters (after washing) is 32” – 57.5”, with the average falling in the 36” – 46” range. Children’s sweaters range from 1-2 years up to 9-10 years. For those seeking casual, comfortable items that will develop the patina of well loved denim, there is much here to recommend. My picks are the Newlyn jacket or Abstract Art sweater.

For a book billed as “the quintessential guide to denim yarn,” I was expecting new techniques or unusual designs so I was somewhat disappointed to discover that Indigo Knits is mostly about the embellishments; that is, what is done to the garment after it is knit with bleaching, beads, sequins, weave stitching and distressing. While indigo yarn is by default considered “casual” (so firmly connected with everyone’s favourite jeans), I was disappointed that Gottelier did not push the boundaries of what can be done with this yarn utilizing full-fashioned designs. I wish that there were a few patterns which featured something other than a boxy shape.

ISBN10: 030735220X
ISBN13: 9780307352200

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


Friday, May 23, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Field Guide to Knitting: How to Identify, Select, and Work Virtually Every Stitch

The rise in popularity of knitting has led to a plethora of knitting books being published. Along with the books featuring beautiful designs or reflections on knitting, an important subset is the books on techniques and stitch patterns. Field Guide to Knitting: How to Identify, Select, and Work Virtually Every Stitch by Jackie Pawlowski falls in this category.

As knitters gain in experience and begin to experiment, they will reach a point when they need to acquire a stitch dictionary. With so many to choose from, how does a knitter decide? Like many other decisions it comes down to personal preference. Field Guide to Knitting: How to Identify, Select, and Work Virtually Every Stitch, as its name suggests, is structured like a birder’s field guide rather than a typical stitch dictionary. The colour photos of the swatches are numbered and found in the centre of the book. Each entry has a number to the left of the stitch name which corresponds to its photo. A table of contents is at the beginning but to find a specific stitch, knitters will need to reference the index at the end of the volume.

Like many other stitch guides, designers have selected a single colour to work each "family" of stitch patterns (edgings in brown, ribbings in purple). Each pattern has standard information included: general description and history of the stitch, best stitch gauge to achieve pattern definition, stitch properties, suggested uses of the stitch and the stitch instructions. One item not found in other stitch guides is evaluating the stitch pattern on the amount of yarn consumed (1 skein (efficient) to 5 skeins, the black holes of knitting), a very useful tool when planning a garment.

Field Guide to Knitting: How to Identify, Select, and Work Virtually Every Stitch is not designed to be a knitter’s primary stitch dictionary. Its small size, and approximately 200 stitch patterns and variations, make it a wonderful tool to pack in a knitting bag; however, knitters will want to complement it with an exhaustive stitch dictionary for their reference shelf.

ISBN10: 1594741581
ISBN13: 9781594741586

Trade Paperback
384 Pages
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication Date: October 15, 2007
Author Website:


Thursday, May 22, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Sergio Makes A Splash! by Edel Rodriguez

Sergio loves water but not the deep kind. "When he’s around water, Sergio can be: relaxed, happy, funny, playful and silly." Which makes sense because Sergio is a penguin from Argentina, down near the South Pole. His three favourite things are soccer, fish and water - especially water - but when his class goes swimming Sergio is scared because he can’t swim.

Sergio’s friends quickly hop in but Sergio holds back, despite having on his floaties. Finally Sergio jumps in "but his aim is a bit off." He bumps and rolls into the ocean and disappears. Mrs. Waddle and his friends wait and finally Sergio pops to the surface. Sergio discovers loves the ocean and can’t wait to come back. "That was better than the rain, puddles, and a cold bath all put together," says Sergio.

Edel Rodriguez wonderful illustrations work brilliantly with the charming text of Sergio Makes a Splash!. The illustrations, created with oil-based woodblock ink, are printed in three colours – aqua, yellow and black – ensuring the colours pop and attract children’s attention. The first illustration diagramming "Sergio" is especially captivating, pointing out his height (1 foot), weight (1 pound), his curious smile and perky "wings." The text is printed in large letters and some are included in the illustrations as dialogue bubbles.

Sergio Makes a Splash! is perfect for children worried about trying something new, especially swimming. As Sergio says on the back cover, "This is a great book! It’s all about me!" Children are sure to agree.

ISBN10: 0316066168
ISBN13: 9780316066167

40 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 1, 2008

Author website:
Sergio’s website:


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

Having recently lost her mother, eighteen-year-old Rosemary leaves her home in Tasmania and travels to New York City to start her life. Possessing little more than $300, her love of books and her mother’s ashes, she sets out to explore the city she’s dreamed of for years. During her wanderings, she stumbles upon the Arcade bookstore and in a moment of unusually forward behaviour, begs for a job.

Thus begins her life among the bookstore’s eccentric denizens: Mr. Pike, the gruff owner who refers to himself in the third person; Oscar, the emotionally unavailable nonfiction specialist; Arthur, the art specialist who loves nude photos; Walter, the albino store manager; and Pearl, the motherly pre-operative transsexual. As Rosemary finds her way around both New York City and the Arcade, she discovers new authors and a love of Herman Melville. When she unknowingly becomes involved in an internal power struggle over an unpublished Melville novel, her new life threatens to disintegrate and she is left to choose sides.

Billed as a literary mystery but more a coming of age story, Sheridan Hay’s debut novel The Secret of Lost Things is a loving tribute both to Herman Melville and discovering one’s place in the world. In an interview at Backstory, Hay admits that this novel contains many autobiographical details. Hay worked at the famed Strand bookstore when she first arrived in New York City from Australia and she met many old, strange booksellers in the city’s bookstores. While pursuing her MFA she became fascinated with Melville’s work and came across the story of the missing novel. "When I learned that he'd written a novel that was lost, The Isle of the Cross, and read his letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville insisted himself into my bookstore narrative."

The Secret of Lost Things moves at a languid pace, appropriate as the action takes place inside the characters. In Hay’s novel, the search for the lost manuscript is secondary to the knowledge the search brings. Each character must lose something if they wish to gain something they perceive as being of greater value. Whether the bargains are good is left for readers to decide.

ISBN10: 030727733X
ISBN13: 9780307277336

Trade Paperback
354 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: March 11, 2008
Author Website:


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Expectant Little Knits by Suzanne J.E. Tourtillott

When knitters contemplate pulling out their needles to knit for an expectant mom, most are eyeing cute booties or miniature size cardigans for the baby. Few consider knitting for the mom-to-be; however, Suzanne J.E. Tourtillott’s new book Expectant Little Knits: Chic Designs for Moms to Be will soon see that trend change. Over a dozen designers have come together to create the twenty-two stylish and chic patterns to show off the baby "bump."

The first section of Expectant Little Knits provides an overview of contemporary maternity fashions and constructions techniques. The final nine pages cover basic knitting techniques. The pages in between feature stunning sweaters which have finished bust sizes of 27" to 50", with the average falling in the range of 34" to 44". The majority of the tops are sleeveless, featuring clever design elements including pleats, empire waists, discrete and not-so-discrete buttons for nursing, and lace in side panels. Each pattern provides a generic yarn description and yardage requirements and is suitable for beginning and intermediate knitters. It is only at the end of the pattern that the details of the model yarn are provided.

Of the twenty-two patterns, there is one coat, three dresses, eight tanks/tops, four pullovers, three cardigans, two hoodies, and a jacket. My favourite is the "Motherhoodie" shown in Noro’s Silk Garden which I’ve already made two of for pregnant friends. My only complaint about this book is that many of the designs are shown in mohair and alpaca which may be too warm for the average pregnant woman.

ISBN10: 1600591515
ISBN13: 9781600591518

128 Pages
Publisher: Lark Books
Publication Date: January 1, 2008


Friday, May 16, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

In the late 1970s, Argentina’s Videla 'junta' carried out a campaign of violence against its population, a "National Reorganization Process" comprised of the illegal arrest, torture, killing or forced disappearance of thousands of people, primarily trade-unionists, students and activists. Set during this turbulent time, Nathan Englander's first novel focuses on a poor Jewish couple, Kaddish and Lillian Pozan whose only son, Pato, becomes one of the approximately 30,000 people who were lost during this time.

A novel about community, identity and injustice, The Ministry of Special Cases illuminates not only a dark period in Argentina's history, but also that of its Jewish population. Embarrassed by their members who were pimps and prostitutes, the larger Jewish community refused to allow them to be buried in the community graveyard, requiring that they be separated by a wall and thus able to be ignored by "good people." Decades later, their children want to protect their "good name" and they hire Kaddish, the invisible Jew, to remove their ancestors from public record. As The Ministry of Special Cases opens, Kaddish is found chiseling away at a gravestone in a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Ares.

The juxtaposition of the secret "Jewish Reorganization," with the turbulent family dynamics of the Pozans, the self-policing of identity by the Argentinean population, and the broader political reorganization, makes for a complex novel about community, identity and injustice. Like the Jews who hire him, Kaddish now finds himself eliminating Pato's history as a student and free-thinker, by destroying his books.

Kaddish, a man who carves his own path in life, is often in conflict with his wife and son who see him as someone who can never get anything right. Lillian is exasperated by his futile efforts to make a living and the need to constantly save him while his son refuses to accept him. It is only when his son becomes 'disappeared' that Kaddish finally fulfills his potential, becoming the man Lillian had seen glimpses of when they dated. The irony for Lillian is that in losing her future, she gains a full partner in their marriage.

ISBN10: 0375704442
ISBN13: 9780375704444

Trade Paperback
352 Pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
Author Website:


Thursday, May 15, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Bearing Guide to Life by Kathy Patrick

Kathy Patrick's love of books led her first to a job in a bookstore and then to every book lover's dream job – a publisher's representative. However, as independent bookstores began to face serious competition in the 1990s from the big box stores, Kathy saw her account base shrink as the independents started closing. But the loss of the individual accounts was nothing compared to the loss of her dream job when the publisher decided to eliminate her position.

After a short period spent hiding in her bed with books and boxes of chocolates, Kathy was talked into going back to her original career of beauty salon owner, only this time she was going to do it her way. Thus was born Beauty and the Book, the world’s only beauty salon/bookstore.

Shortly after the birth of her new venture, Kathy started her book club "The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas." There are very few rules; every member must wear a tiara and read the book of the month. The book club soon exploded across America and women in 70 chapters nation-wide were wearing leopard print, tiaras and hot pink.

Now Kathy shares her down-to-earth, tiara-wearing wisdom with everyone in her book The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life. Written in a very conversational style, readers will soon feel like Kathy’s sitting in the chair next to them, drinking a glass of sweet tea, sharing book recommendations and chatting away like an old friend.

Each chapter shares anecdotes and inspiration from Kathy’s life, stories of family and friends, love, loss, and of course, her book recommendations. Part self-help, part inspirational, part memoir and above all about loving books, The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life will soon have you exploring your inner diva while you put on some leopard print, hunt for a tiara and run to the library for your next great read.

ISBN10: 0446695424
ISBN13: 9780446695428

Trade Paperback
352 Pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 2, 2008

Author Website:


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting Through It: inspiring stories for times of trouble edited by Lela Nargi

I began reading Knitting Through It: inspiring stories for times of trouble a few months ago, sampling the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project stories and the modern essays as time and whim allowed. The writings collected by Lela Nargi are fascinating, certain to appeal to knitters of all ages. Then, late in April, I got the news that my Grandfather was dying and something propelled me to pop this little book into my suitcase.

We arrived at my Grandfather’s bedside a few days before he passed away and I spent some of my time there knitting. At night in the hotel room, Knitting Through It was my reading choice and it provided comfort in the same way my needles and yarn did during the day. I read it cover to cover and then started over again. Suddenly the stories spoke to my grief directly and I found comfort in the generations of knitters who had experienced similar situations and found a way through it.

Knitters are aware of the therapeutic nature of knitting: it calms us during periods of stress, makes us productive during periods of trouble and provides comfort when we gift our work to someone in sorrow. We knit for victims of war and natural disaster, for the homeless and dispossessed, we knit for those grieving and by doing so, we share part of ourselves. Knitting Through It shares those traditions in words, providing comfort and community for knitters.

My Grandfather passed away on May 1 after a long battle with illness. His legacy of spirituality and hard work were passed down to all his children and grandchildren. When I remember this time, it will be with images of knitting; a fitting tribute since it was his wife, my Grandmother, who helped me gain proficiency in my knitting.

ISBN10: 0760330050
ISBN13: 9780760330050

224 Pages
Publisher: Voyager Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2004
Author's Website:


Thursday, April 24, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Bea's Seaside by Louisa Harding

Miss Bea and her friends visit the seaside to play in the sand and waves in the sixth book in the delightful Miss Bea series. The simple storyline, large photos and colourful illustrations will engage children aged 1-4 in exploring the beach or enjoying an ice-cream along with Miss Bea.

Adults will enjoy knitting the 10 projects worn by the children in Miss Bea's Seaside. Each of these garments is designed for Rowan Denim yarn and most are unisex. The designs come in three sizes for 1 to 4 year olds, include charts and written instructions, and learn to knit instructions are included at the beginning of the pattern section. The written instructions are colour-coded to correspond to specific size information (instructions for size 1-2 years are green, 2-3 years are red, and 3-4 years are blue).

The simple garments include three cardigans, five pullovers, one vest and one sundress. One pullover includes a basic cable, one cardigan has some lace and several garments have stripes or other colourwork, making these great patterns for the beginning knitter looking for timeless designs that will wear well for active toddlers. The denim cotton yarn will age and soften like a pair of favourite blue jeans. Any worsted weight cotton yarn can be substituted for the recommended yarn, useful for those who may wish to knit in colours other than indigo blue or cream.

ISBN10: 1904485138
ISBN13: 9781904485131

48 Pages
Trade Paperback
Publisher: C & T Publishing
Publication Date: July 1, 2004
Author Website:


Saturday, April 19, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Girls by Lori Lansens

Rose and Ruby Darlen, like any sisters, can be each other’s best friend or worst enemy. Born during a tornado, “The Girls”, as they’ve been dubbed by the residents of their small Southern Ontario town, share a different life than most sisters. Craniopagus twins (joined at the head - they share a skull bone and blood supply), they were abandoned at birth by a desperate teenage mother and raised by Aunt Lovey (the nurse who helped bring them into the world) and Uncle Stash.

Rose has independent motion but her face is pulled to one side and her limbs are no longer perfectly proportioned due to carrying Ruby on her hip since she was a toddler. Ruby, while dependent on her sister for mobility, has the perfect face and beauty both would have shared if not born conjoined. Determined to beat the odds and provide her girls with a life of value, Aunt Lovey pushes them from infancy toward independence. Now 29 years old, The Girls have lived much longer than the doctors predicted and, with their 30th birthday approaching, Rose decides to write the story of her life, convincing the reluctant Ruby to do the same.

Told in the alternating voices of Rose and Ruby, Lori Lansens’ The Girls is a haunting novel. The voices of The Girls are unique and their viewpoints on events fascinating. Rose, as the aspiring writer, initially composes the majority of the chapters but as the novel progresses, Ruby relates more of her own thoughts and memories.

The sisters can’t see each other without the aid of a mirror and so each writes their chapters in isolation, with the intention of reading the other’s work after it is finished. The most fascinating aspect of The Girls is the assumptions each makes about what the other related and how that dictates what each in turn shares with the reader. What is most illuminating is what each chooses not to share. Rose portrays herself as the more reliable narrator, speaking to her readers in a serious, methodical tone while Ruby’s contributions are breezy. Their accounts of the same events often contradict and the reader is left to ferret out the truth.

In the end, it is the reader’s own assumptions and reflexive reaction of pity for The Girls which is destroyed. Rose and Ruby are so much more than objects of pity, but to discuss much more of this special novel would be to give away too many of its secrets - ones readers should discover for themselves.

ISBN10: 0316066346
ISBN13: 9780316066341

Trade Paperback
368 Pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: April 10, 2007

(Mass Market edition available in Canada from Seal Books)


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Color of a Dog Running Away by Richard Gwyn

One afternoon Lucas arrives at his apartment in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter to find a mysterious invitation slipped under his door. Written in green ink on a Joan Miró postcard, the note simply states "20-May-11:00". Guessing that the message is intended to draw him to the Miró Foundation, Lucas arrives at the appointed time and meets Nuria with whom he begins a passionate love affair.

Consumed by the new relationship, Lucas discounts his feeling of being watched until the night he meets "the roof people," who have been instructed to make contact with him. A short while later, Lucas and Nuria are kidnapped by a religious cult who believe they are reincarnated Cathars from the thirteenth century. While Lucas resists the efforts of the group’s leader Pontneuf, Nuria appears open to the idea. Suddenly Lucas begins to doubt Nuria’s affection and wonder if she is complicit in the scheme.

As the narrator states in the prologue, "the color of a dog running away" is "an idiom referring to something of an indeterminate or vague and shadowy appearance, perhaps suggesting a fugitive reality." In The Color of a Dog Running Away, Richard Gwyn’s first novel, the narrator relates a surreal tale that is at times chaotic, confusing and beguiling.

Lucas views his relationship with Nuria as a new beginning, "a path free of the dead-ends and fruitless affairs to date" yet the hints in the prologue suggest that readers should view everything in The Color of a Dog Running Away as transitory, including this powerful new relationship. In a novel full of symbolic dead ends, dangers, catastrophes and stagnation, the reader is left to wonder whether the tale is one that haunts the narrator or if this is an allegorical novel constructed to lead to spiritual awakening and rebirth for both Lucas and the reader. Either way, this is a story that will remain with you long after the final world is read, leaving you "touched by a sense of grief and loss for a life not lived, a path not chosen."

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307276872
ISBN13: 9780307276872

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: March 11, 2008


Sunday, April 06, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

"All my life since Aeneas’ death might seem a weaving torn out of the loom unfinished, a shapeless tangle of threads making nothing, but it is not so; for my mind returns as the shuttle returns always to the starting place, finding the pattern, going on with it."

Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, enjoyed a typical girlhood as the daughter of a nobleman in the time before the founding of Rome. A life of peace and freedom that is, until the day she saw a line of great, black ships coming up the Tiber from the sea. Her mother has determined that she marry her kinsman Turnus, but the omen Lavinia received at the sacred springs tells that she is destined to marry a foreigner and start a bitter war. These ships presage the epic war for a kingdom and the founding of a great new empire, with Lavinia herself as the prize.

The arrival of the ships marks the meeting of Lavinia’s story with Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid. While Virgil’s poem tells Aeneas’ story, Lavinia herself is mentioned only once – on the day before his landing in Latinum when her hair is veiled by a ghost fire, an omen for the coming war. In Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin gives voice to an invisible heroine, brings to life an ancient world and creates a powerful companion to one of western literature’s greatest works.

Lavinia is a book of love and war, ritual and duty. Le Guin has crafted a fascinating story of Lavinia’s life in the Regia (the women’s quarters in a great house), filled with her duties as the only daughter of a noble house: keeping the storerooms; joining in the rituals of worship in the atrium; and keeping the peace between a mother driven mad with grief and a father quick to punishment. Well-researched with epic battles and many interwoven threads, Le Guin has captured the spirit of Virgil’s work and presented it faithfully in her own measured, lyric prose. Le Guin’s Lavinia is a strong, fascinating woman, with a tale to rival any hero of old.

ISBN10: 0151014248
ISBN13: 9780151014248

288 pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: April 21, 2008
Author Website:


Saturday, April 05, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: New Ideas for Today's Knitting by Jean Leinhauser & Rita Weiss

Every now and then, a pattern is published that falls under the heading of "what happens when knits go bad." When the majority of a knitting book fits into this category, knitters are left wondering what strange confluence of astral events or editorial confusion led to its publication. Unfortunately New Ideas for Today’s Knitting is such a book; a decent concept - "edgy designs [using] the same knit and purl stitches we’ve always used" – that went sadly awry.

My initial impression was that this is a book published five to seven years too late, after the love affair with novelty yarns ended. Of the twenty-three designs, over half are made in part or completely with novelty yarns including a memorable three-quarter length coat in yellow faux fur and a barely-there, backless mini-dress constructed with a ribbon ladder yarn and an eyelash/chenille blend, finished with a 10" fringe around the bottom. But perhaps the most impressive "knits gone bad" example is the red, fun fur ensemble comprised of jacket, beret and boot toppers.

There are a few halter and tank designs which may appeal to the younger knitting crowd, made from cotton and bamboo yarns, so popular this spring. Empress Halter showcases Schaefer Yarn Company Laurel’s beautiful hand dyed colourways in cotton and Sophisticated Tank makes use of bamboo yarn’s drape.

Tops in New Ideas for Today’s Knitting range in finished bust sizes of 28.5" to 64", with the average range being 32" to 38".

Free pattern - Cabled Tube Top

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1402723075
ISBN13: 9781402723070

128 pages
Publisher: Sterling
Publication Date: February 5, 2008


Saturday, March 29, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier

The new short story collection from Kevin Brockmeier, The View from the Seventh Layer, is difficult to pigeon-hole for these stories defy ready classification. Not strictly genre fiction nor completely science fiction, the author describes the collection thus: “The View from the Seventh Layer is not strictly or even primarily a work of science fiction; in a collection of thirteen stories, I would say that four of them fall squarely within the science fiction and fantasy tradition, four of them squarely outside, and the other five straddle the border, some leaning most of their weight toward realism, some toward fantasy or science fiction.”

It’s difficult to fully explore a collection of stories in a limited review; therefore, I’ve chosen to focus on two that stood out on initial reading. “A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets” is barely eight pages long and yet it hits with enough force to bring the reader to a full stop. The first story in The View from the Seventh Layer shares a mute man’s experience of living in a town where everyone communicates through song. He is “…the only person who was unable to lend his voice to the great chorus of song that filled the air.” Is this deceptively simple tale of the ultimate outsider placed here to invite readers to slow down and savour Brockmeier’s tales or, by beginning his collection with a story of a man who can’t speak, is he raising flags to remind readers they need to look beyond the basic meaning of his words?

“The Air is Full of Little Holes” explores the life of a woman pictured in a “magazine with a yellow border around the cover.” The gentle story of a family is at odds with the ugliness which appears when western expectations meet a traditional ways of life.

The thirteen stories in The View from the Seventh Layer reflect a writer comfortable in his skin, unafraid to take risks with his characters and plots. These aren’t simple stories yet readers who invest their time will be richly rewarded.

Kevin Brockmeier’s possible playlist to accompany The View from the Seventh Layer (from Large Hearted Boy) can be found here.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0375425306
ISBN13: 9780375425301

288 Pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publication Date: March 18, 2008


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Best of Interweave Knits edited by Ann Budd

Interweave Knits is the knitting magazine I eagerly await each season for, without fail, I find a “must-knit” in its pages. Over the years, many well-known designers have had patterns featured in this popular magazine, although many young designers have found a place here as well. Interweave Knits is known for its innovative and appealing designs, offering challenging and wearable garments for advanced and beginning knitters alike.

As Pam Allen, past editor-in-chief, explains in her introduction: “The best moments [in putting together the magazine], however, come when the contents of a submission envelope spill out and elicit a collective “Ahhh!” from the staff…For The Best of Interweave Knits: Our Favorite Designs from the First Ten Years, we’ve culled as many “Ahhh” projects from past issues as would fit into these pages.”

Over the years, many Interweave Knits designs have become as well-known as their creators and this collection of 30 designs contain many of these: the Lotus Blossom Tank (Sharon Shoji); the Forest Path Stole (Faina Letoutchaia); and the Icarus Shawl (Miriam Felton). This leads to the obvious question; how many of the patterns featured here are your favourites? This collection includes four of mine, two already listed (Icarus Shawl and Forest Path Stole) and two others - Striped Fringe (Amanda Blair Brown), an ingeniously designed wrap of 7 different coloured stripes, and Cambridge Jacket (Ann Budd), the perfect zip-up weekend sweater.

Sweaters in The Best of Interweave Knits range in finished bust sizes of 32.5" to 57.5", with the average range being 36" to 48". Scattered throughout the volume are “beyond the basics” sections which cover topics from cast-ons to blocking, pulling together great resources into one volume.

Look inside The Best of Interweave Knits.

ISBN10: 1596680334
ISBN13: 9781596680333

Trade Paperback
172 Pages
Publisher: Interweave Knits
Publication Date: October 28, 2007


Monday, March 17, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson

On an isolated cliff the body of a quadriplegic woman is found sitting in a wheelchair with her throat slit. Miles away in Eastvale, 19-year-old Hayley Daniels is found raped and murdered in a medieval warren of alleys called the Maze. Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, on secondment to the Eastern Area force, tries to determine while anyone would want to murder a quadriplegic woman who hasn’t spoken in years. In Eastvale, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is faced with his own puzzling mystery. The closed-circuit cameras which focus on the entrances to the Maze show that no one followed Hayley into its shadowy recesses. When Cabbot uncovers the true identity of her murder victim, she’s suddenly pointed back to Eastvale and an old case involving her ex-lover Banks. Are they chasing the same killer or merely shadows?

Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels are multi-layered masterpieces and he doesn’t disappoint in Friend of the Devil, Banks' 17th outing. As always, the action builds at a slow yet steady pace, captivating readers from the first page.

What elevates Robinson’s books beyond the standard police procedural is how he develops his characters and, that the development isn’t limited to his hero. Banks and his team have grown over the years and readers have enjoyed that development. Readers have connected with the humanity of this team. Cabbot and Bank’s interaction feels real, fraught with real awkwardness and unspoken, complicated emotion. Detective Constable Winsome’s struggles as a woman on the force, politically incorrect colleagues and as a junior member within Banks’ team will strike a cord with many working women. In many ways Winsome represents the reader in within the team, providing an idealistic view of how police and justice should operate.

Fans of Robinson’s mysteries will find their clue to Banks’ old case in the title Friend of the Devil. For those new to his work, this latest offering is the perfect place to start - it is never too late to discover Banks’ world of horror, obsession and human emotion.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0060544376
ISBN13: 9780060544379

384 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow
US Publication Date: February 26, 2008
Canadian Publication Date: September 11, 2007
UK Publication Date: August 9, 2007


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Knitting America by Susan Strawn

Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art celebrates the craft and its history in America within a historical context from the colonial period to the present. Knitters are often curious about knitters and, in the past, little information has been available on knitting in America. Susan Strawn provides a fully detailed answer, exploring knitting from historical, cultural and artistic viewpoints. As Melanie Falick states in her introduction; “…Susan has placed the history of knitting within the context of American history, so we can clearly see how knitting is intertwined with such subjects as geography, migration, politics, economics, female emancipation, and evolving social mores.”

The earliest knitters in America were probably taught by the Spanish who introduced desert “churra” sheep to the New World. By early 1600s, other European (knitting) nations had arrived along the Atlantic seaboard and by the early 1700s girls were recorded working on their spinning and knitting. The first half of Knitting America covers knitting from colonial times to the end of the 19th century. The second half looks at knitting from the beginning of the 20th century to modern times. Interspersed throughout are 20 historical knitting patterns including: an 1850s “necktie” scarf; fancy silk mittens from 1880s; an 1890s Victorian miser’s purse; Civil War era Union Army socks; and a World War II U.S. Navy Iceland sweater.

Lavishly illustrated with more than 300 historical photographs, illustrations, advertisements, vintage pattern booklets and vintage garments selected from museum collections, Strawn has created a truly fascinating volume. Knitting America is the perfect coffee table book for lovers of fiber arts, as well as anyone interested in women’s history in the United States of America.

Sample Pattern: Imogene Scarf

ISBN10: 0760326215
ISBN13: 9780760326213

208 Pages
Publisher: Voyageur Press
Publication Date: October 15, 2007


Monday, January 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Things That Matter by Edward Mendelson

“This book is about life as it is interpreted by books. Each of the chapters has a double subject: on the one hand, an English novel written in the nineteenth or twentieth century, and on the other, one of the great experiences or stages that occur, or can occur, in more or less everyone’s life.”

These opening lines of Edward Mendelson’s work of literary criticism - The Things That Matter - encapsulate his intent. A study of seven classical novels by Mary Shelley, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, Mendelson’s essays present his thesis that novels provide insight into specific stages of life and, these novels, when viewed collectively present a “history of the emotional and moral life of the past two centuries.”

Mendelson has aimed his work at readers of any age, the only prerequisite being knowledge of the seven novels. He writes in a conversational manner, as if lecturing directly to the reader. Theories and supporting arguments are presented within the text, footnotes included only when critical. Woven throughout is information about the prevailing theories and literary themes of the period.

In the section on Wuthering Heights Mendelson explores Brontë’s idea of romantic childhood, tracing its roots to the romanticism of Wordsworth and Freud. His Wuthering Heights is a very different one than the one commonly studied in high school. Heathcliff and Catherine are desperate to recapture the total unity experienced as children, to merge two selves into one. Whereas the commonly held perception is of a novel of thwarted passion and cruelty, Mendelson believes Brontë deliberately led readers to this conclusion and away from her true meaning. “She disguised Wuthering Heights as a story of doomed sexual passion perhaps because she regarded her potential readers with something close to contempt…they could not understand what this book tells them.”

Each of the authors is examined with the same focus, each essay meriting its own review. Mendelson states that he “could easily imagine a similar book to this one made up of entirely different examples.” I’ll keep my fingers crossed that inspiration strikes and Mendelson shares more of his thoughts on life and literature.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307275221
ISBN13: 9780307275226

Trade Paperback
264 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: November 6, 2007