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text 2018-02-16 18:51
Landmarks - Robert Macfarlane,Roy McMillan,Penguin Books Ltd

Why did I read it?  When first published, several people recommended this book to me, and it was recommended more than once by some.  I imagine those recommendations came because of my like of the natural world, and of language.  I have no idea why, but I put it on my 'wish list' and then my 'to be read</i>' pile, but never actually started it; these decisions I now regret.

What's it about? With the Oxford Children's Dictionary removing words relating to nature, e.g. acorn, in favour of technological terms, Robert Macfarlane explores the United Kingdom in search of those words to describe, and connect us to the natural world.  Connection.  That is the key to this book.  In a time, and place which seems to breed disconnection, this book seeks to reunite us with a deep love for landscape, and language.


What did I like? Every single word, and most especially the glossaries.  Rich in words and landscape, there is so much to enjoy, and explore in this book.  I listened to the audio book, which is rather nicely done.  I did query a few of the Gaelic pronunciations - being a learner of the language, not a native speaker, I may not completely comprehend the dialectal nuances.  I am very pleased I opted to purchase the Kindle edition, too, so I can explore those glossaries at my leisure.

Oh, the joy I found in this book: learning new words for phenomenon I had no idea might even exist; remembering 'childish' the way children use language to describe their surroundings; and discovering new Gaelic words I wanted to include in my (ever-expanding) vocabulary.  

The narrator, Roy McMillan|, did a splendid job.  I'm afraid I have no idea of the name of other gentleman whose voice was used to read out various words, but his voice gave  luscious contrast to Mr McMillan's smooth tones.

What didn't I like?  I could find no fault with this book.  I find fault with myself for not reading it sooner.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Yes! Yes!  Not necessarily the audio version though - not because it is not well read, but because once you've read the book, I'm pretty sure you'll want to keep it to hand to pore over the word glossaries, and then add to your own.

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review 2018-02-16 17:50
I almost bought it
Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible: 260 Exquisite Patterns by Hitomi Shida - Hitomi Shida,Gayle Roehm

Someone posted about this book on Twitter last week.  I really do enjoy knitting, and I have a stash of yarn I really need to do something with.  Right now the forecast is for two more weeks of clouds and cool temperatures, which means the studio will be too chilly for comfortable work.  Sitting in the house with a ball of yarn and some new patterns seemed like a good idea.

 

I made a deal with myself:  If I made enough money off last week's art show, I would treat myself to the Kindle edition, currently on sale for $8.98 US.  Last night I finished my bookkeeping and decided I sold enough at the art show to justify a slight splurge.

 

Having bought (or acquired through other means) more than a few craft books in my time, I knew enough to take advantage of the online previews. 

 

The first few patterns looked scrumptious!

 

 

I was ready to hit the Buy it Now button!

 

Caution took hold again.  I read further on the sample.

 

The instructions for each pattern are given in a symbol coded chart rather than the familiar "k1, p1, yo, k2tog" text.

 

 

A comprehensive key is provided for the symbols, but even on the "Look Inside" preview, it wasn't easy to read.  Zooming enlarged the text font, but didn't make the Key any clearer:

 

 

Discouraged, but not without hope, I decided to download the actual Kindle sample.  The screen caps above are all from my laptop and the "Look Inside" feature.  Unfortunately, what I got on the Kindle download was even worse.  Here's the Key as it appears on the same laptop via Kindle for PC:

 

 

Changing the font size does not change the size of the chart, which is formatted as a graphic.

 

The Kindle version, therefore, was virtually useless for me.  Others might find it workable, but I couldn't justify it.  There's still a part of me that wants to buy the paperback -- currently $14.01 -- and then re-translate it into traditional knitting instructions, but I'm not sure I'm that dedicated.

 

The patterns sure are gorgeous though, aren't they?

 

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review 2018-02-14 23:09
Medical Thriller
Bloodstream - Tess Gerritsen

I borrowed this book from the library and used both a Kindle version and an audio version so that I could "read" when I was driving or knitting/crocheting. 

Claire Elliott and her son, Noah, have moved to Tranquility, Maine to help him get away from a bad influence in their old hometown and to give them a chance to get over the loss of her husband and his father. They had been there since the summer when she purchased a practice from the family of a deceased doctor and she was having a hard time getting a start as she was regarded with suspicion by the people of the town. They felt that she would pack up and leave once the winter came. 

She ran into issues with her son getting into trouble at school while riding his skateboard and just trying to get patients to accept her and let her do what she was taught to do, be a clinician. They wanted her to be like their old doctor and just throw pills at the problem. 

One day, while she was at the hospital a teacher and kids from her son's school are brought into the hospital with gunshot wounds. She leaves to find her son and finds that he was a hero for tackling the kid with the gun. She also knows that the kid with the gun is one of her patients and she wants to treat him because he is not behaving correctly and she feels that he has some medical problem that needs to be treated. His father doesn't want her near his son and gets his friend a smug town doctor to take over the care of the child and he treats Claire like she doesn't know what she is doing. 

As she goes along, another student from her son's school has a break and attacks his family and the school is experiencing many students who are fighting and getting into trouble, including her own son. 

The story was very interesting and at times it made me think of another story that I had read some time ago but was just different enough to keep me interested to the end.

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review 2018-02-14 05:44
Not all things are lights
The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars - Elena Maria Vidal

Disclosure:  I downloaded only the free sample preview of the Kindle edition of this book.  I do not know the author nor have I had any personal direct communication with her about this book or any other matter, but I am aware of her through discussions here on BookLikes.  I have also read reviews of her books and her comments regarding those reviews.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance novels.

 

The Amazon preview feature is an option afforded to self-publishing authors so that they can give potential readers the opportunity to look at the opening of the book the way they would if they were browsing the shelves in a brick and mortar book store or a library. If the reader likes the beginning, they can buy or borrow the book and take it home to read the rest.  If the beginning isn't quite so intriguing, the reader puts the book back on the shelf and moves on.

 

Elena Maria Vidal's book is, in my opinion, outrageously over-priced at $9.99 for a Kindle edition of approximately 228 pages.  A writer with no professional credentials or writing track record would be well advised to lower the price and hope to get some readership.  At the current price, however, it had to be one hell of a fine book to tempt me.  In truth, if not for the fracas surrounding Ms. Vidal, I would never even have considered this book.

 

I've been interested in the Cathar "heresy" at least since my first reading of Frank Yerby's The Saracen Blade when I was in high school in the 1960s.  This was about the same time as the popular song "Dominique" was topping the charts, sung by a Belgian Dominican nun.  The song chronicles the life of Saint Dominic.  Although the English lyrics

 

At a time when Johnny Lackland
Over England was the King
Dominique was in the backland
Fighting sin like anything

 

seem innocuous enough, the original French words reflect more of Dominic's history:

 

A l'e poque ou Jean-sans-Terre de' Angleterre etait Roi
Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois

 

"Combattit les Albigeois" does not mean "fighting sin like anything."  It means "fought the Albigensian(s)."''

 

I already knew what that meant.  I knew who the Albigensians were -- the Cathars -- and I knew why the Catholic Church was determined to exterminate them.

 

Years later, I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the allegedly non-fiction account of Knights Templars and Cathars and the hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau in the south of France.  I also picked up Robert Shea's novel, All Things Are Lights, about the Cathars.  Right now it's on the top shelf of the big bookcase or I'd get it down and add a photo.

 

So I'm not totally ignorant of the history of the Languedoc and the Cathar heresy.

 

Oh, and one other thing.  In early February 1969, I hitchhiked from Paris to the Spanish border.  My journey took me through Cahors, Limoges, Montauban, and Toulouse before heading into the Pyrenees via Pamiers, Foix, and Col de Puymorens.

 

 

With this personal background, I downloaded the sample of The Night's Dark Shades.

 

For one thing, it's very short, hardly enough to get much of a taste of the story.  But, as I've noted often enough before, it's not difficult to determine a writer's skill at writing in just a few pages.

 

Elena Maria Vidal is not the greatest writer in the world.  Millions of murex snails would have to be sacrificed to produce so much purple prose.  It's not just the extravagance of adjectives and speech tags that make my eyes roll while reading, however.  It's also the fact that the text is boring. 

 

Lady Rafaelle is heading to her uncle's chateau where she will probably wed his son, her cousin, after the deaths of her father and her betrothed in . . . some war.  There's a lot of info dumping, but not much else.  Well, there are questions raised that should be answered right away.  They aren't.

 

Lady Rafaelle seems to be the heir to the estate of Miramande, in the somewhat distant region of Auvergne.  Her father is dead and there's no mention of any brothers or other siblings who would have inherited the estate and its chateau.  So, why is Rafaelle leaving her estate to go to her uncle's? Why did she initially consider entering a convent? Who is minding Miramande in her absence?

 

We get more information about Jehanette, the peasant who serves as Lady Rafaelle's handmaiden, than about why Rafaelle has seemingly abandoned her chateau.

 

That bothered me.  It seemed like that should have been an important plot point.

 

What also bothered me was that there's no description of the "rabble" of pilgrims who are accompanying Rafaelle and her troupe on the journey.  Well, no, that's not quite right.  There is some description, but it's not adequate.  How many are there?  I thought at first it must be a hundred or more, but apparently it's less than 20.  I would have liked to know that sooner.

 

Who else is in this train?  Two attending women, a couple of knights, and . . . . that's it?

 

This is important because one of the knights, in a tedious little info dump, informs Rafaelle that there are bandits in the mountains, murderous renegades of the religious war, I guess.  Because of the bandits, the knights advise against stopping for a brief rest.

 

Wait a minute.  What difference would stopping for a rest make?  I mean, if bandits are going to attack, couldn't they attack while the company from Miramande are on the move?  After all, they aren't moving very fast, because some of the pilgrims and men-at-arms are on foot.

 

If I as a reader think this, why didn't Rafaelle?  Why didn't she ask about this?  Well, of course she didn't because that wouldn't be good for the story, I suppose.  And also of course, Rafaelle prevails in demanding a brief rest and the bandits attack.

 

That's when I quit reading.

 

Purple prose for the sake of purple prose turns me off.  The opening paragraph that describes the pass in the Pyrenees would almost have been enough to make me put this book back on the figurative shelf.  But further reading didn't really improve my opinion.

 

There's no real sense of the historical period established.  Oh, the history is given: one king is dead, the new king is a minor, France is under the rule of the king's mother Queen Blanche, blah, blah, blah.  But it takes more than a few data points to make the reader feel as if she is in the scene.  Author Vidal wasn't able to bring me into that mountain pass.  She didn't give me a full sense of Rafaelle as a character, someone I could identify with as the story progressed.  I didn't know what she looked like, or even how old she was. 

 

Writers are free to write their stories any way they want.  Once they put their stories into the public marketplace, however, they must also accept the judgment of the readers who choose to look at those stories.  And readers are free to form and express their opinions on the writing, the stories, and yes, even the authors themselves.

 

As a reader, I'm not inclined to read any further into The Night's Dark Shade.  I'm more inclined to climb on a stepstool and pull All Things Are Lights down for a re-read.  Vidal's writing is insufficiently professional to command the price she's put on the book, but more importantly, it's insufficiently professional to command my attention.

 

One-half star and a Do Not Want to Read.

 

 

 

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text 2018-02-10 23:51
Reading progress update: I've read 14%. "The Husband Stitch" - the first story
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories - Carmen Maria Machado

I've read the first story in this collection and I can see that this is going to be a remarkable reading experience: challenging, engrossing and perhaps a little unnerving.

 

I can also see that I need to review it one story at a time. So here's my review of the first story (about thirty-five pages long).

 

The Husband Stitch

"The Husband Stitch" showed me that stories are dangerous. Its muscular form squirms in my imagination's grasp, sleek and slick but with razor-sharp edges that slice and make me gasp with surprise.

 

This is a story filled with other stories, stories that you will half-recognise and half be surprised by. Stories that make you ask yourself what it tells us about the world that we all know these stories? Are they lessons? Warnings? Truths? Myths? Desires? Whatever they are, they persist and they have power.

 

At one point the teller of the tale (who never shares her name and who says that she has been telling stories all her life, says:

"When you think about it, stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. Each is borne from the clouds separate, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart."

Her stories are all about women and the things that happen to them, few of them good and they power her own story, which is a story and not a documentary and therefore holds meaning but does not always release it easily. 

 

She is a passionate woman, who chooses her boy at a party at the age of seventeen and then gives herself to him and teaches him how to use what he's been given. She becomes first a lover, then a bride ("Brides", she tells us, "never fare well in stories. Stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle."), then a wife and a mother.

Years pass and the only thing she withholds from her husband is the right to touch the green ribbon that is always tied around her throat.

 

The ribbon is the heart of this story. You'll have to decide for yourself what it means.  I believe it represents identity. The part of her that makes her who she is. The part that she cannot be without. Yet, in this story, only women have ribbons.

 

If the story has a moral (as opposed to having many or even a different one depending on who reads it) then I think it is about the inevitable destruction wrought by husbands on wives. I think the "Husband Stitch" of the title is an extra stitch that husbands ask the doctor to add when sewing up an episiotomy wound, to make the vagina tighter, almost virginal. This selfish re-shaping speaks to male arrogance and a refusal to accept their wives in their true forms.

 

In the story, her refusal to let him touch her ribbon becomes a source of strife:

“A wife,” he says, “should have no secrets from her husband.”

“I don’t have any secrets,” I tell him.

“The ribbon.”

“The ribbon is not a secret; it’s just mine.” “

Were you born with it? Why your throat? Why is it green?”

I do not answer.

Her husband, she tells us, "...is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would do a deep dis-service to him. And yet-"

 

That "And yet?" is where this story and all the stories within it, take us. It is a place both mysterious and sadly familiar. It is how things are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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