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Lawrence E. Wilson (Mayfield, East Sussex, UK)
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Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town
Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town
by Chris Bohjalian
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The Personal, Concentrated, Becomes Universal, June 23 2004
Much as I love novels, there are times when short, pithy, engaging non-fiction is exactly what I feel like reading. And I am well aware that there are damned few writers in the world who can claim mastery of both forms. Chris Bohjalian is one such writer, and "Idyll Banter" is a wonderful little book that illuminates an artistic paradox: that the act of sharing what is personal and private somehow irises the experience open into deeply touching universality.
I have long admired Bohjalian's work--"Water Witches" and "Midwives" are among my favorite novels--and I recommend "Idyll Banter" unequivocably. His brief, concentrated accounts of births, deaths, weddings, dances, and dinners in a very small town engage the reader in ways not immediately apparent. I've never spent time in Lincoln, Vermont, but I feel that I know these people, somehow. It isn't a rich place, or a perfect one, but it is genuine, and it is beloved, and, in Bohjalian's deft hands, it comes alive: complex, unexpected, deeply rooted in history and advancing winningly into into the 21st century.
The best examples of this sort of book creates a sort of envy, a wistfulness, a longing to belong, however briefly, to the place described. Bohjalian manages to create the feelings that we, too, all of us, might have a welcome share in a fulfilling and happy life in this community. And if not to Lincoln, then encouraging us to look again at our own neighborhood and our own families with newly opened and appreciative eyes. Really well done. Really well-written.

Astor In Paris
Astor In Paris
Price: CDN$ 22.02
18 used & new from CDN$ 12.37

5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant, Inventive, and Engaging Work of Musical Art, Jan. 6 2004
This review is from: Astor In Paris (Audio CD)
This is one incredible CD, a collection of witty and engaging tunes, like nothing I've ever really heard before. It could be the soundtrack of a fabulous, as-yet-unmade film, perhaps a cross between a Hitchcock thriller, a French farce, and an unexpectedly tender love story. One song sounds like a chase through the Casbah, and the next a semi-cynical confession of indiscretion, told over drinks in a little cafe on the Left Bank. Throw in a bluesy number for an aging chanteuse, then perhaps a little bluegrass, and then maybe something a nostalgic Russian might dance to, after a round of chilled vodka and caviar. For all its world-wide, cosmopolitan flavor, the CD is focused, fun, and brilliantly performed. It's wonderful. I can't wait to see the movie!

Inkheart
Inkheart
by Cornelia Funke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.62
132 used & new from CDN$ 0.78

5.0 out of 5 stars The Exact Opposite of Cliché, Oct. 23 2003
This review is from: Inkheart (Hardcover)
Just imagine it--if you had the ability to bring characters in books to life! The people you could meet, the things you could talk about...But think about the dark side of that power--what about the nasties, the evil ones, the shadows...?
"Inkheart" is a wonderful book, and a complex one, intelligent and challenging, with unclichéd characters and plot-twists, and a truly novel, double-sided premise: that Meggie's book-loving bookbinder father has the ability to draw characters out of books when he reads aloud--literally--and his gift has caused sorrow and tragedy to weigh over their lives. In less capable hands this could go very twee and icky, but Ms. Funke's incredible talent makes it work--the magic is believable, workable, with limits and rules. The villains are nasty, but interesting, multi-faceted. The good guys have their flaws, the bad guys have their human quirks. And the Italian towns and landscape are wonderfully-evoked. Really fine writing!
Plus she brings something else to the task--perhaps it's the fact that she's European, and not writing for publication in the American kids-lit pipeline, but there's a cosmpolitan richness to this book that's hard to describe, a sort of assumption that her readers are intelligent book-lovers, which I appreciate greatly.
I would nominate "Inkheart" as one of the best young reader's novels of 2003. What a wonderful creation!

Mirror Mirror: A Novel
Mirror Mirror: A Novel
by Gregory Maguire
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.16
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry, Passion, and Power, Oct. 22 2003
This review is from: Mirror Mirror: A Novel (Paperback)
A marvelous book, a 300-page temptation, an invocation to the reader to plunge headlong and feetfirst into a tarantella of political intrigue, old magics, subtle loves, and unsubtle appetites...
Maguire does not simply take the age-old tale of Snow White and set in in early Renaissance Italy, as others have done in their retellings of the classics. Intriguingly, he finds the place where it fits best, where it lodges, and roots, and grows...and so the story of the beautiful young Bianca becomes tangled with the history of Lucrezia Borgia, her poisons and her passions, and the resulting tapestry is rich, subtle, frightening, and revelational...and no one has EVER explained the dwarves as Maguire has done here, as strange, earthy entities caught somewhere between timeless torpor and true humanity. Lovely, and strange, and highly-recommended.

Once Upon a Tandem
Once Upon a Tandem
by Jay Payleitner
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet Beauty, Subtle Strength, Oct. 22 2003
This review is from: Once Upon a Tandem (Hardcover)
Too often when I read books from the "Spiritual" or "Inspirational" shelves, I come away feeling that I've been preached at, or excluded from the table, or treated like a four-year-old, but not with "Once Upon a Tandem." This is a wonderful, friendly, thought-provoking little book, full of quiet beauty and a deep, subtle strength. It has the timeless feel of a familiar, beloved fable, but it's told in an honest, modern voice, and with an honest, modern sensibility: capturing the evasions, self-delusions, surprises, and revelations of a lifetime in spare and quite beautiful prose.
And at the purely physical level, it's a beautiful book to hold in the hand, well-designed, a joy to the eyes: sumptuous dustjacket, fine paper, lovely typography, and excellent, evocative block-print illutstrations by Rex Bohn.
I would encourage you to consider this book when selecting a gift for the special readers in your life, for those reaching milestones, for those needing uplift as well as for those whose life is filled with joy. Amazing and unexpectedly warming to the heart and spirit. Very well done!

Hard Bargaining in Sumatra: Western Travelers and Toba Bataks in the Marketplace of Souvenirs
Hard Bargaining in Sumatra: Western Travelers and Toba Bataks in the Marketplace of Souvenirs
by Andrew Causey
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 39.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Reader-Friendly Scholarship, Oct. 9 2003
This book is a true rarity--a work of serious scholarship, written in a user-friendly, personal, poetic, eminently-readable style. You'd almost be fooled into thinking you were reading a romantic travel narrative, one of those popular memoirs à la "Under the Tuscan Sun" where a naive American goes off and has a life-transforming experience while in a foreign land. But as Dr. Causey relates his tales of the months spent with the Toba Batak in their remote, beautiful homeland in northern Sumatra, learning something about their culture, something about woodcarving, and a LOT about shopping, he also unfolds a series of subtle, complex observations about aesthetics, about colonialism and acquisition, and about the role of tourists / collectors in a market economy and their effect as both destroyers and saviors of traditional culture. Absolutely fascinating stuff, and certainly not just for students of anthropology--this is a book that should be read by art historians as well as by economists, as well as by anyone who simply enjoys a well-written tale of a beautiful place that they've never been...
I particularly admire "Hard Bargaining" for the lack of any tang of cultural superiority on Dr. Causey's part--he never assumes that he knows more than the people he's observing, or that since he has a Ph.D., his observations must be considered correct. He went there; he lived, he learned, he shopped; and he thought about it, hard, and critically, comparing the Toba Batak culture to our own, and letting the reader make the judgement calls, not the anthropologist. Very well done!

Angelica
Angelica
by Sharon Shinn
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 2.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Meshing Science Fiction, Romance, and Song, March 24 2003
This review is from: Angelica (Hardcover)
Return to the planet Samaria, where a secretive god watches over the land, where winged angels sing prayers to control the weather, and where opposites meet and find true love...Once again, the talented Ms. Shinn had created one of her fascinating melanges of fine world-building, music, and excellent characterization. ANGELICA takes place only a few hundred years after the founding of Samaria by interstellar colonists fleeing seeking peace and harmony, and at first glance, the plot may seem to echo that of ARCHANGEL, Shinn's first book in this series: Susannah, a woman of the wandering Edori tribes, has been selected by the overseeing "god" to marry Gaaron, the archangel-to-be. But as the story takes place much earlier in the history of the culture, and with mysterious violent invaders threatening lives and stability, the fascination with these people and this planet is woven anew, and differently, and engagingly. What is not different is Shinn's marvellous ability to evoke the glories of song, whether in formal prayers in an angel hold, or around an Edori campfire, along with her talent for creating the most memorable of characters and a truly unique socio-cultural matrix. Shinn is one of my favorite writers working today, and as I applaud her for this novel, I am impatiently awaiting the next.

69 Love Songs Box
69 Love Songs Box
Price: CDN$ 48.09
26 used & new from CDN$ 32.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Quirkiness, Enjoyable and Accessible., March 20 2003
This review is from: 69 Love Songs Box (Audio CD)
Strange, funny, warped, clever, touching, sophomoric at times, I guess, and some of the pieces worthy of being played on the Dr. Demento show, but I really like the whole concept behind this collection of love songs. And I appreciate the way that the songs are presented in a pan-sexual (omni-sexual?) way, as if they wrote them, polished them, and then decided later who would get to sing them, maybe by drawing names out of a hat or rolling the dice...Full of every kind of metaphor, describing every kind of love-relationship, from flip sarcasm to searing honesty to painful irony, incorporating fabulously-unexpected rhymes ("We've got so many tchotchkes, we've practically emptied the Louvre / In most of our palaces, there's hardly room to manuevre..."), all in all amazingly enjoyable and accessible.
Some of the vocal abilities occasionally verge on unprofessional/unenjoyable, but on the whole this seems to suit the material. Particular favorite tracks: "Reno Dakota," "Zebra," "Papa Was a Rodeo," "Luckiest Guy."
I'd love to hear these songs performed live sometime---I visualize it as an evening-long cabaret, something like "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," in a smoky, intimate setting where the audience can order wine and cocktails. If anyone's up for producing such a thing, drop me a line when you're having auditions...But first buy this CD set---you'll probably leave it on your CD player for months and months, as I did. It's that good.

Story Of Little Babaji
Story Of Little Babaji
by Helen Bannerman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.16
31 used & new from CDN$ 6.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Story, Rescued!, Feb. 14 2003
This review is from: Story Of Little Babaji (Hardcover)
Yes, it's the old, old story of "Little Black Sambo," written a century ago by Bannerman, an Englishwoman living in India---but here, thank goodness, reworked, revised, rescued! With all the nasty bits replaced. Authentic Indian names are used, and the wonderful illustrations by Fred Marcellino place it firmly in India, where it always belonged. The story itself has never been anything but terrific---the boy is brave, resourceful, and clever, gets himself out of a life-threatening situation, and his parents are loving and generous---but the weighty baggage of colonialism and racism (we won't even go into the history of British imperialism in India) prevented it from being enjoyed by anyone. As the book stands now, it can join the ranks of useful, funny, multicultural classics. Plus, it's a great story to read aloud, and kids like it.

Midwives
Midwives
by Chris Bohjalian
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
193 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious Truths, Truthful Mysteries, Feb. 14 2003
This review is from: Midwives (Paperback)
The heart of this novel is the sometimes-shocking, sometimes-loving story of Sibyl, an experienced midwife who tragically loses a patient during childbirth while saving the life of the baby. A trial ensues, the details of which are told mostly in flashbacks from the point-of-view of Sibyl's then-teenage daughter, and the tension builds with each chapter (the verdict is not revealed until very near the end).
This is not just a mystery whodunit, however, as much as a coming-of-age story---not just for the teenage girl, but also for Sibyl, her husband, and others. Chapters begin with excerpts from Sibyl's diaries, and in the contrast between these entries and the main narrative we begin to glimpse the subtlety of truth---how it varies from person to person and situation to situation. As in Bohjalaian's previous novel, the excellent Water Witches, the Vermont countryside is lovingly evoked. the landscape almost becomes a character with moods and impulses---the icy roads of winter, the sudden onset of a thunderstorm, the blazing red of autumn trees, the tiny villages, and the large lake that seems to mirror Subyl's humors. Midwives offers much to ponder---highly recommended.

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