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The Shelters of Stone: Earth's Children
The Shelters of Stone: Earth's Children
by Jean M. Auel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
115 used & new from CDN$ 1.69

3.0 out of 5 stars Book Five, Ayla's a wife (or mate if you prefer), May 10 2002
In a way it was almost inevitable that Book Five would not please everyone, because there was so much anticipation building up to it (for 12 years, no less). Perhaps there was also too much expectation that this book be like the other books.
The way I see it, each one of the books has its own "theme" or flavour. Book 1, was of DISCOVERY - we were finding out and learning a lot along with Ayla. Book 2 was of INDEPENDENCE where Ayla learnt to rely on herself, and was very innovative and discovered things that were later to become her greatest achievements (eg befriending animals, fire stones, not to mention Pleasures *lol*). Book 3 was about SOCIALISING - Ayla learns about the Others, represented by the lovable Mamutoi, and there's the fun along with confusions and misunderstandings. Book 4 was about JOURNEYING - Ayla goes from place to place, and learns heaps about how others do things.
However, Book 5 is about SETTLING IN - Ayla has reached "home" and is just trying to settle in, she meets her in-laws (as Auel herself puts it!), gets mated and has another baby. If you compare this theme, it is definately not as high-powered or interesting as the other books' themes, but is a valid theme in itself. Sure, I agree there was more repetition than was totally palatable (the endless introductions, the fire-making three times, the Mother song in great detail twice) but in a way it really sets the pace for "home" - home is not a place for massive bouts of discovery or difficulties; some petty in-fighting yes, and Ayla's motherly side is evinced in greater detail, but nothing really earth-shattering. Another reviewer said in a earlier review that this book was not so "tense" to read, and I think that is certainly true, there is an almost relaxing homely quality to reading it. That's one thing I had noticed about Auel's books, they set what I see as the themes off very well. For example, when I read Book 4 about journeying, I felt really tired by the end of it! In fact that's the one book in the series I would not casually pick up to read just like that; like Jondalar, it's going to be sometime before I want to make another long Journey again! Likewise, Book 1 had me feeling very curious and enjoying discovery; Book 2 was highly sexed; and Book Three was full of complex human relations - and it all brought me into the themes on a viceral level. Therefore, I wasn't too put off that Book Five was kinda a Comfortable read!
The other reason why Book 5 might be not as satisfactory is that unlike the other 4 books, it is not self contained - there are a lot of loose ends to be tied up in Book 6. In Book 1 there was closure as Ayla left the Clan; in Book 2 there was closure when Ayla's solitude ended; in Book 3 there was closure when she left the Mamutoi; in Book 4 there was closure when she ended her Journey. In Book 5 though, nothing's been resolved with her enemies, and Ayla has just struggled to accept that she is going to be One who Serves, but she hasn't embarked on anything yet. Therefore, IMHO Book 5 and Book 6 in a way will form "one book". There will be closure of the issues brought up in Book 5 in Book 6, the theme of which I tentatively predict will be SPIRITUALITY. Afterall, Auel herself drafted Book 6 at the same time as Book 5.
So cheer up everyone, I'm sure we will all enjoy Book 6 tremendously - it's when Ayla will fulfil ther great potential. In a way, she is almost like an incarnation of the Mother herself, with her Lumi-like Jondalar by her side!

Grass
Grass
by Sheri S. Tepper
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Good characters, great suspense, Feb. 8 2001
This review is from: Grass (Mass Market Paperback)
I was very impressed by the intense suspense created in me while I was reading this book. Like Marjorie and her family, I truly felt like I was on an alien planet, in an alien culture - I felt frustratingly confused by the dribbles of information (masterfully imparted by Tepper) and was made insatiably curious. However, I wasn't too impressed by the 'evolution' theory behind it all, but I'm going to give credit where it is due - the journey to that revealtion makes up for it. The characters and the interactions within this dysfunctional family are wonderfully portrayed, and gives an added dimension that most science/fiction fantasy books are lacking. Marjorie is an unlikely and unconventional heroine (not the normal romanticised figure - just a mother who cannot relate to her husband and daughter, but is innately competent) yet she is intensely appealing. Not only was I led to appreciate a new 'culture', but I also learnt to appreciate a new kind of character, one I don't often meet up with in fiction.

When Christ and His Saints Slept: A Novel
When Christ and His Saints Slept: A Novel
by Sharon Kay Penman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
72 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Not easy to put down, Feb. 8 2001
I must be the only person who thinks the characterisation in this book is less than 'realistic'. While I have to admit the author presented history in a palatable form (despite battle after battle, I was kept fascinated) I was rather skeptical about some of the speculations on the thoughts and possible conversations held by the historical figures. I felt that the character motivations were sometimes a wee bit too altruistic (Stephan for example) and Penman was trying to push a view forward (eg. that Stephan's only motivation was to 'save' England from a woman, no mention how much he WANTED to be king?), or in the case of Maude, too single-mindedly stupid and stuck in the martyr mind-set. I felt it was politically too simplistic. I was also a little leery about the way the love story was built up between Maude's son Henry and Elenor of Acquitane - it seemed a bit too laboured, too obviously a way to make the story more interesting, possibly at the expense of the perspective we take on history.
But, I am complaining about what makes this book 'palatable', and in balance I am glad that the author did it this way - only I think it requires the reader to be vigilant of the assumptions he or she is led to hold by the perspective the author tries to push forward. It could somewhat cloud the 'education' we are getting by enjoying this book.

The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Trilogy, Book 1)
The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Trilogy, Book 1)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
65 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Trilogy, Jan. 24 2001
This book - being the first of the Sally Lockhart Trilogy - was really intriguing. The whole series was intriguing.
What really struck me was how unconventional these books are - firstly the setting, Victorian England is really well depicted. Pullman obviously knows his history: the opium trade and the British government's involvement in it is told frankly in this book for example. I must admit I liked the first book best - partially because it was such a shock to come across such a fresh writing style - the characters really speak - their accents, their interactions and very human reactions. And while Sally develops to be more 'real' in the following two books, the strangely light, almost careless way of telling the story lent a surreal feeling of freedom to the first book. It almost didn't matter what the plot was, or how Sally's adventure would turn out - I was just so mesmerised by the way one fact after another was presented, to create an incongruous (rubies, babies, bohemians, photographers, lawyers, opium, accountancy, pistols) and therefore fascinating montage of information. Most books seem to work the reader towards a point - either a climax, or a moral: 'this is what you are supposed to get from the book', but the first book of the series feels free of it, even when Mrs Holland finally catches up with Sally, as does Ah Ling. I came out feeling like I had been given permission to go on a holiday.
Book 3, which is about the persecution of Jews is more diadactic (and I think a lot of the political arguements may be lost on a younger audience), and book 2 is more 'plotted'. The author also handles legal jargon, and business concepts to especial effectiveness, giving the series a gritty feeling of reality, of being grounded in the dreary details of life, which are so often absent from 'mysteries' or 'suspense thrillers' (a Penny Dreadful it ain't!) I really loved that!
All in all, it is worth giving this series a try. I liked it far better than 'The Golden Compass'.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Really enjoyed it, Jan. 14 2001
I hadn't planned to read the latest publishing sensation, but I read Harry Potter's adventures over Christmas, and while I cannot say that it has won a place in my heart as a favourite, I enjoyed myself hugely while reading it.
It is not as though Rowling's idea is terribly original, although she has revitialised the old 'wizard's school' story with elements like Quidditch, and details like the choosing of a wand (or a wand choosing a wizard/witch) and of course great charaters like Hagrid and Hermione really make the stories fascinating, even for reader familiar with the genre. What really stands out is her deft touch of humour; her intensely involved plots (of which this book 4 is a stellar example, it is amazing to compare it with the preceding 3 books - it is so much more controlled and water-tight, no loose-ends, considering how complex it was); and her effective way of evoking emotion at crucial points of her story eg. Harry's longing for his parents is a constant theme, and concepts such as love, loyalty and friendship are explored.
All the criticism regarding witch-craft surrounding the Rowling mystique are quite laughable. Magic is the subject-matter of the book - to complain against the Harry Potter books is to complain against the a large proportion of the whole genre or fantasy as a whole. Are we to be deprived of such imagination and fiction on the basis of religious intolerance?
I was struck by the level of "darkness" in the books, but it tends to be gross (descriptions of Voldemort are pretty grim) and not violent for violence sake. In fact the death of Cedric Diggory was dealt with in one of the more humane ways I have seen death dealt with in recent examples of media. It is not taken lightly in the book.
All in all, I am left anticipating, with millions of other readers, Book 5! Keep up the good work, Ms. Rowling.

Below The Root
Below The Root
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Edition: Paperback
11 used & new from CDN$ 19.53

1.0 out of 5 stars Shallow, Jan. 14 2001
This review is from: Below The Root (Paperback)
It is no wonder this book is out of print - it is full of exposition (pages on end) and reads like a history book. The plot is very thin - about one layer of discovery, after which there does not seem much left that is interesting. Characters are almost characterless. Deals with concepts such as prejudice and ignorance, but in a rather didactic and idealised manner. Not worth the effort.

The Ward Lock Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening
The Ward Lock Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening
14 used & new from CDN$ 0.78

5.0 out of 5 stars An All-Round Winner, Oct. 29 2000
I kid you not - I looked through 2 shelves worth of gardeningbooks and went cross-eyed without finding anything as good as this.
It of course depends on what you are looking for - if you wantdetailed information about how to grow waterlilies, this is not foryou. It is best suited for someone who is beginner to intermediate -although I think even the expert will appreciate having this fantasticreference to all the major (over 4000) flowering plants, shrubs andtrees, climbers, and fruit.
Advantages of this book over thecompetition:
1) There is a picture for every plant that ismentioned. It is amazing that not all gardening books have picturesand the description is just another plant name. Pictures also meanthat if you see a beautiful flowering bush as you are driving, you cancome home, check its name, and go to your local nursery to ask for it,rather that say "Uh, I think its got pink flowers, and greenleaves." Save your nurseryman from a headache and yourself fromembarassment! Oh and the photos are stunning as well, if you like toenjoy reading your garden books for pleasure.
2) There are a few'encyclopedic' reference books around that give very detailedinformation about the plant, up to the history of its development -but no tips. Not so here. Each plant come with a short descriptionof the plant, useful hints for growing, and recommendations ofvarieties.
3) There is a section on gardening techniques - coveringall the essential steps: planning (beautifully illustrated plans forthe garden to suit your needs eg. garden for family with children, forthe elderly or disabled, how to make a square garden look less angularetc. I love this section, it is so creative and the author has goodideas); there are also buying tips (how to choose); constructiontechniques (yes! actually teaches the easier methods of building aflower beds, fences, paving, steps, rock gardens and also coversthings like drainage, watering etc); propagation techniques; improvingsoil quality; maintainence and more.
4) The author has thoughtfullyand very usefully compiled all the information in quick referencetables at the end, tabulating soil requirements, aspect/hardiness,foliage, flowering season, problems, etc. Basically everything youneed to know when planning which plants to put with what, what to growso you have flowers all year round, how to get plats to flowersimultaneously. It's amazing how many gardening books fail to dothis.
5) ... I couldn't believe it. It's one third of the nextbest 'encyclopedia'-type book. You get so much out of it, consideringyou can buy a book just on planning and designing for that price.
...

The Bad Beginning
The Bad Beginning
by Lemony Snicket
Edition: Library Binding
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Moms Beware, Oct. 10 2000
I don't have a problem with the book being about unfortunate events - in fact it was the very reason why I picked up the book in the first place, because the premise seemed interesting.
However, the book has some very dark undertones which I consider inappropriate for a very young audience.
Firstly, the marriage between Violet and her Uncle smacked of incest, though he was a cousin several time removed. Did no one else find it repulsive? And then all his greasy friends touching her and saying overtly sexual things like you're a pretty one ... creepy.
Secondly, the degree of violence in the book is very high. The part where Klaus is hit right across the face, till his face is marked, is a bit strong. Someone else I spoke to said that they felt that the author actually enjoyed showing the violent parts, including hanging a baby out from a tower. I can't say with regards to that, but I do admit finding it disturbing that this is a "children's book".
"Unfortunate events" are one thing, everyone knows that the premise of a good story is unfortunate events happening to the hero and heroine, but events bordering on the sadistic are another. Perhaps the children of today can take it (I have seen a couple of kids' reviews that have liked it) but I think mothers might like to read through the book first, and decide whether they want their kids to read it.
I gave it 2 stars because I was entertained by the story to some extent.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
by John Berendt
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
138 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, amazing, amazing!, Aug. 25 2000
This is the best book I have read all year, and I have read about 70-odd so far! It is impossible to believe that the characters could be real live people, but if there is a real Lady Chablis, I suspect the others caould exist as well.
What I love is the WAY the characters are shown to us. For the most part they just talk - they talk about themselves, and they talk about others in ways that reveal alot about themselves. They talk to the narrator who is a Yankee from New York come to write a book about Savannah. It is amazing how his presence heightens the humour of the confessions and gossip of the people of Savannah, although he doesn't really do very much except be there to be talked to and patronised.
The writing is full of incredible energy - the first chapter could possibly be the best first chapter of a book I have ever read in my life - it gripped me by the gills and I was left gasping (reminds me about the story of the flourescent goldfish, wait till you read about that!)

Eleven
Eleven
by Patricia Highsmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.00
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Even my mom likes it!, Aug. 25 2000
This review is from: Eleven (Paperback)
I must confess at the start that this is not a totally objective review as this book will always be special to me in that it was the first book I have even managed to get my mother to enjoy! I cannot express how happy that makes me because my mother never reads, and as reading has always been my largest pleasure in life, there has always been that gap between us. But imagine my delight (and her delight) when she actually read a story that fascinated her, the first story in Eleven, about the man who kept snails as pets. In my mother's words, she enjoyed the story because the author was very good at writing about emotions and how people react in situations. That is exactly what I love about Highsmith's books. She makes the intricate emotional linkages that are usualy unanalysed and obscured very clear. In a way she is also pointing out to us how WE act, and feel, and making that clear - reading her books always makes me feel as though I was reminded of an emotion. Anyway, mum's just finished the fourth story about the terrapin (which is an award winning story) and joyfully telling me about each story as she goes along. Hope you enjoy it as much as she does.

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