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Linda Bulger (United States)

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Box of Lies
Box of Lies
by Mark Laflamme
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 24.43
10 used & new from CDN$ 24.43

5.0 out of 5 stars Crisp, creative, thought-provoking, Nov. 7 2010
This review is from: Box of Lies (Paperback)
I've read Mark LaFlamme's work before, so I thought I knew what I was in for with his BOX OF LIES. Shivers at the back of my neck, furtive glances over my shoulder, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach... delicious! But I didn't bargain on the cumulative effect of more than two dozen stories, each with its own chilling atmosphere. LaFlamme is like a graffiti artist sliding around a corner in the dark with his collar turned up, a few bold strokes and he's moved on--but the territory of your mind has been tagged with his distinctive images.

If you're about to say that short stories aren't your thing, put that opinion on hold for a day or two and peek under the cover here. See if you really can resist. Each story opens with a line that yanks you in: "Trevor Garbo liked dead things." "My name is Rudy Weather and I can read your mind." "It was two days after the world ended when the old van rumbled up Route 4." "'Do you ever worry,' Randall Albee asked him, 'That they might come for you?'"

I wouldn't know where to start, telling you about these stories. Read a few here, a few there, put the book down and think about them for a while, go back and read a few more. One thing you know for sure is that, whether you're reading about a band of murdering fourth-graders, a shopkeeper defending his territory after the apocalyse, or a man who made a very poor bargain for eternal life, the characters are so real you can reach out and touch them, if you only dare.

Many of these stories spoke to me of some truth I don't quite dare to believe. For example, if you were moving into a new house as I am this week, what would you think of a story like "Our House," about a home that nurtures one of its new tenants while abusing the other? And do you hope that we'll adopt a gentle new paradigm when the oil is gone but fear that, instead, as it does in "The Neighborhood," it will come out of our hides? And perhaps creepiest of all, do you ever think about what could happen--or not happen--because you stopped to pick up a penny (or, perhaps, didn't)?

If you've let your imagination get a little rusty, prepare to be challenged by Box of Lies. Stylish writing, great characters and some wildly skewed concepts; it's a whole lot of entertainment with the mind-bending thrown in for free.

Linda Bulger, 2010

Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
by Maggie O'Farrell
Edition: Paperback
68 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The inconvenient girl, Nov. 7 2010
Imagine discovering that you're responsible for an elderly relative whose existence you never suspected. This is what happens to Iris Lockhart: she learns that her grandmother has a sister, Esme, locked up in a mental hospital for sixty-one years since she was sixteen. Now the institution is closing and somebody needs to get involved in Esme's placement and care. The grandmother, Kitty, has Alzheimer's and so Esme finds herself with a house guest in her small flat.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the story of these three women; of Iris, Kitty and Esme in contemporary Edinburgh, and of the sisters Kitty and Esme as children and young women. The point of view moves around in sometimes fragmented memories and realizations, a tour de force for author Maggie O'Farrell.

The story is shocking. A girl growing up in the 1930s, out of step with her family, dreaming dreams and wanting to live her own life, not fitting in with the expectations of her emotionally cold parents; an inconvenient girl whose final offense is being a victim. Her family and her doctor send her away and in the asylum she's victimized again; experiences that sentence her to a life away from the world. But is she mad? Now that the hospital is closing, apparently she ISN'T mad. Her grand-niece takes her home and the past begins to unfold.

This is a book that challenges the reader with its quick shifts and non-linear construction--and with its revelation of uninterpreted experiences. Bad things happen and bear bitter fruit, but the reader must connect the dots; O'Farrell's style makes the reader a participant. If you enjoy this kind of challenge, you'll lose yourself in the women's stories. It could have been written as a family saga, and probably done well, but the creativity of O'Farrell's language and style took my breath away. Only the very end of the book left me somewhat unsatisfied, and all of a sudden I wanted the author to do something more conventional in the last few pages. My own failure of nerve, I'm sure.

I listened to the unabridged audio, stunningly performed by Daniella Nardini whose rendition of the characters added so much to the impact of the story. The Audible link on the Amazon product page takes you to a version that is unavailable in the US due to publishing rights restrictions, but if you search for the book on the Audible site you'll find that it is available.

Linda Bulger, 2010

Damaged: A Maggie O'Dell Novel
Damaged: A Maggie O'Dell Novel
by Alex Kava
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from CDN$ 1.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good start but a little too easy on the reader's nerves, Nov. 7 2010
DAMAGED is my first Maggie O'Dell book, though it's the eighth in the series. On the whole I prefer not to have a lot of back-story in series books and Damaged satisfies on that count, though the downside is that I didn't feel I knew Maggie all that well by the end of the book.

A Coast Guard team from Pensacola, Florida finds a fishing cooler floating in the ocean and it turns out to be filled with body parts. Maggie, an FBI profiler fresh off a bloody case, is enlisted by the Deputy Director of Homeland Security, her friend Charlie Wurth, to investigate the body parts case. It's not exactly clear why a profiler would be needed on this sort of case but it does put Maggie right in the eye of the Category 5 hurricane bearing down on the Panhandle--and in the same city as her friend and possible romantic interest, Colonel Benjamin Platt. The Colonel is investigating a virus attacking wounded soldiers in an army hospital there.

The other thread of the story involves the family of the Coast Guard rescue swimmer, Liz Bailey. Her brother-in-law Scott has a new, very creepy business associate turning up at odd hours at Scott's funeral home.

There are a number of quirky characters in the book but aside from Maggie, the one with the most depth is the rescue swimmer, and I'd like to read more about her. Maggie, as one would expect, is a tense and complicated character. Will she and Platt ever take a chance on their relationship?

Author Alex Kava dishes up the story in short, tight chapters that move from one character and plot thread to the next. It keeps the reader turning pages but doesn't allow much depth--I'd like to see a more extended style from her. While many books seem to be fifty or a hundred pages too long, DAMAGED errs in the other direction and doesn't provide enough sustained tension. All the ends are tied up but it's not really a thriller. The hurricane theme may have been done and done again, but since the author chose to play the hurricane card, we could have done with more "storm coverage."

I understand that the Maggie O'Dell series has its ardent fans, so I think it's safe to say that DAMAGED is not the place to start. It's a good light read, but misses on a few important aspects. Three stars.

Linda Bulger, 2010

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day Audiobook
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day Audiobook
by Winifred Watson
Edition: Audio CD
7 used & new from CDN$ 128.67

5.0 out of 5 stars "Here's mud in your eye", Nov. 7 2010
Fans of the Golden Age "grande dames" of detective fiction are oh-so-familiar with the young, fast set in 1930s London. Lord Peter Wimsey could talk "piffle" till the wee hours at clubs and parties, and Roderick Alleyn--until he met the artist Agatha Troy--was known to enjoy the company of actresses. These detectives were the creations of Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, but their London came to life as a backdrop to the wildly popular books.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is by no means a crime novel, but it was written in 1938 by Winifred Watson, a contemporary of Sayers and Marsh. It was a best-seller in its day but went out of print until resurrected by Persephone Books, a London-based publisher of "neglected classics" from the 20th century. "Miss Pettigrew" was made into a movie, which I have not seen, in 2008.

Miss Pettigrew is a drab middle-aged spinster out of a job and looking for work as a governess (which she hates, being afraid of both the children and their parents). An agency sends her by mistake to the apartment of nightclub singer Delycia LaFosse. Miss LaFosse's personal affairs are in an uproar due to a surfeit of suitors, and Miss Pettigrew discovers in herself a talent for sorting out difficult situations. The day brings one situation after another and there is never a chance to inquire about the position. How does timid Miss Pettigrew find it in herself to send unsuitable young men packing and become the toast of cocktail parties and night clubs? Simple--she takes her inspiration from haughty former employers and of course from the movies she loves so much. It's all so wonderful for her; she's never had a scrap of glamor and excitement in her life until this wonderful day.

After inciting a fight at a late-night club to save Miss LaFosse from herself, with whom will Miss Pettigrew find herself sharing a cab? And what will come of THAT adventure? Predictable but so much fun...the entire book is a piece of delightful "piffle," and of course everyone gets the very thing they want most in the end.

There are a few passages that are culturally inappropriate by today's standards, and of course you wouldn't want your daughters lying about in negligees drinking all day and staying up until 4 a.m. throwing themselves at tantalizing men in night clubs. But the book is a product of its era so if you can cut it some slack on that account, then by all means pick it up and enjoy it.

I listened to the unabridged audio, wonderfully narrated by Frances McDormand who played Miss Pettigrew in the 2008 movie. It was six hours of pure escapist enjoyment, though I'm sorry to have missed the original illustrations in the Persephone edition.

Linda Bulger, 2010

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
by Deborah Blum
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.94
42 used & new from CDN$ 10.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science and history, Nov. 7 2010
In the early 1900s New York, like any sprawling city, exhibited the best and the worst of human behavior. Some of New York's worst came under the lax scrutiny of the elected coroners, not always the sober and honest guardians of the public that they should have been. Poisoners, among other criminals, were often able to walk away scot-free because the devious ways of poison were poorly understood.

In 1918 the city established its first true medical examiner system, and the wealthy and well-educated Dr. Charles Norris took over as its leader. Norris and his top forensic chemist, Alexander Gettler, were in the vanguard of the new science of forensics. The Poisoner's Handbook is the story of these innovative men, and of the toxic substances they worked so hard to understand.

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum devotes each chapter of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York to a different poison, explaining its chemistry and effects, a case or two in which it's used with nefarious intent, and the work of Norris and Gettler in developing tests and conducting forensic examinations. Blum discusses arsenic, chloroform, mustard and other toxic wartime gases, cyanide, mercury, carbon monoxide, radium (pity the clock-dial painters who sharpened their brushes between their lips!), lead, and less well-known but deadly substances such as thallium. These poisons are used for fumigation, to hurry inheritances, in support of sheer greed, and sometimes out of desperation or ignorance.

The science is not at all overwhelming, if you don't mind some talk of minced organs and dismemberment. Blum's vivid language describes the chemistry in terms of icy crystals, brilliant layers in beakers and tubes, and "the sizzle of gas burners...and the bubbling of flasks over flames."

Blum frames her book around the years of Prohibition, the so-called Noble Experiment, which was ratified as the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in January 1919 (and repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in December 1933). Blum makes thorough work of the harm that accrued to the public from drinking poisonous methyl alcohol and concoctions such as "smoke" and "Ginger Jake." By government policy, industrial alcohol was "denatured" by toxic additives; Norris and Gettler saw so much death from this policy that they became ardent crusaders against Prohibition.

It's interesting to read social history through a very specific lens; and this book is a fascinating social history. Yes, it's about poison, and about the birth of forensic science, but there's also much to be considered about public policy and the growing awareness of industrial responsibility in this cross-section of American life from 1915 to 1935.

Linda Bulger, 2010

The Greengage Summer
The Greengage Summer
by Rumer Godden
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 1.66

5.0 out of 5 stars "An older, more truthful world", Nov. 7 2010
This review is from: The Greengage Summer (Paperback)
Originally published in 1958, The Greengage Summer is a lush coming of age novel that might have been aimed at the young adult market, featuring as it does the five Grey children virtually on their own in France. Their father is a botanist and seldom home, so their long-suffering mother marches them to the champagne country of the Marne for summer holiday, intending that they should be edified by seeing "what other people have given." The bedraggled troupe arrive at a hotel named Les Oeillets where the proprietress, Mademoiselle Zizi, is horrified at the sight of them. Her "special friend," the cheerful Englishman Eliot, arranges for Mrs. Grey to have hospital care and appoints himself guardian of the children.

The eldest, sixteen-year-old Joss, is taken to bed for some time with a stomach upset. That leaves her thirteen-year-old sister Cecil, our narrator, in charge (so to speak) of the three younger children. They spend their days roaming the gardens, gorging themselves on plums in the greengage orchard, picnicking along the river, and getting their noses into everything while remaining invisible to the adults who don't want to see them anyway. Their slim command of French just adds to the hazy, exotic quality of their holiday.

Ah! but Joss and even young Cecil are "standing with reluctant feet / where the brook and river meet," writes Godden, quoting Henry Wadworth Longfellow's poem "Maidenhood." They learn very little about the war (other than from the bullet holes, blood stains and buried skull carefully restored from time to time at the hotel), but they learn much, much more about the pleasures and risks of adulthood. Joss has blossomed and Eliot can't take his eyes off her, to Mlle Zizi's rage, and then there is the kitchen boy, Paul ...

This book has flashes of humor that remind me of another long-loved book: Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. But English author Rumer Godden reveals the dark side of growing up in "Greengage," as adult passion and greed lead to actions that the children see as betrayal.

So yes, the story is mesmerizing, but oh, the language! It's so rich and atmospheric. "...I can smell the Les Oeillets smells of hot dust and cool plaster walls, of jasmine and box leaves in the sun, of dew in the long grass...I can hear the sounds that seem to belong only to Les Oeillets: the patter of the poplar trees along the courtyard wall, of a tap running in the kitchen mixed with the sound of high French voices, of the thump of Rex's tail and another thump of someone washing clothes on the river bank; of barges puffing upstream...of the faint noise of the town and, near, the plop of a fish or of a greengage falling."

I listened to this old friend of a book, brilliantly performed by Nicola Pagett. I didn't understand the French conversation quite so well as I did at fifteen, but that was no obstacle to my complete enjoyment of this beatiful book.

Linda Bulger, 2010

The Possibility of Everything: A Memoir
The Possibility of Everything: A Memoir
by Hope Edelman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.82
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The center of the cosmos, Nov. 7 2010
A high-anxiety lifestyle, an acting-out three year old, a vacation in Belize, and toes dipped into the mysterious power of the spiritual world. These are the ingredients of author Hope Edelman's The Possibility of Everything: A Memoir.

Edelman and her husband Uzi are at a loss when their daughter Maya starts showing aggressive behavior and blaming it on her imaginary friend, Dodo. The pediatrician says not to worry, a therapist friend says the same, but Edelman's not the laid-back parent who can do that. Something's not working in their household.

Hope and Uzi decide on a Christmas vacation and after an over-achiever selection process, Belize it is. During the Central America planning, the idea of consulting a shaman or spiritual healer for Maya takes root. Uzi is the kind of person who easily accepts the unknown but Hope believes in what she sees. For her, the idea is a reach. The trip starts off badly: Maya has croup and the Central American airline's schedule has a meltdown that keeps them in transit an extra day.

Hope Edelman's tourist narrative about Belize and Guatemala is very detailed and slows the pace of the book; if you enjoy travelogues, you may not find this a bad thing. I enjoyed the Mayan history and the visit to Tikal, an excavated Mayan site in northern Guatemala. Be aware that you're signing on to a tour that includes a sick and sometimes troubled three-year-old at the center of the action, along with her imaginary Dodo, and that you may wish her parents to be a little less helpless and introspective in dealing with her. You will have to form your own opinion when young Maya objects to the Tikal tour guide "saying her name" during his narrative, and especially when he does his best to talk about the powerful rulers who lived and worshiped there without saying "Maya" or "Mayan."

The shaman experience: Hope and Uzi take Maya to see two very different types of spiritual healers, and follow their prescriptions (ointments, burning herbs, flower baths, prayer). Will the wicked Dodo stay in Belize as they hope? Will the trip be a turning point in Hope and Uzi's high-stress marriage? The answers are not what will stay with me from this book, but I won't forget the honesty and thoughtfulness of Hope Edelman's writing. Whether or not you resonate to Hope's personal journey, you will find that she's a fine writer.

I listened to the recording of this book from Amazon's partner Audible, narrated by the author.

Linda Bulger, 2010

A Fatal Grace (Three Pines Mysteries, No. 2)
A Fatal Grace (Three Pines Mysteries, No. 2)
9 used & new from CDN$ 71.45

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fire and ice, Nov. 7 2010
Author Louise Penny writes beautifully, creating atmosphere and evoking the personal struggles of her characters in an effortless fashion. A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel is her second Three Pines mystery, set in a fictional village east of Montreal, off the beaten path and as self-contained as a snow globe. Three Pines, shockingly, has become a focal point for murder. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache was sent from the Quebec Surete during the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday in late October to investigate the murder of a local woman ("Still Life"), and now fourteen months later Gamache and his team are back in Three Pines.

This time the murder victim is an outsider; or at least a newcomer, which amounts to the same thing in Three Pines. Thoroughly unlovable author CC de Poitiers is pitching herself as the new self-help expert and arbiter of style, while she and her nearly-as-unlovable husband and daughter model chaos and misery to the village.

My first Three Pines book was a later entry in the series, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Going back to start from the beginning I found "Still Life" excellent, but this second book staggers a bit. There is still the promise of depth, but "A Fatal Grace" has a couple of rough patches, albeit non-fatal ones. For one thing, there are too many "new" characters whose backgrounds are keys to the plot and need to be rushed out to the reader. Second, there is a simmering sub-plot in Gamache's professional life that (while it may eventually add depth to his character) distracts from the story at hand; this sub-plot seems to be the excuse for some dangling ends, which are unwelcome in a mystery--even one that is part of a series.

Penny writes most effectively of the here-and-now, of the vignettes before our eyes and the personal responses of her characters to them. The bitterly frozen Quebec winter, the horror of fire, the village's traditional Christmas festivities, all are vividly atmospheric. But a mystery investigation carries the baggage of all the back-story uncovered by the detectives, and to saddle it with even more is risky.

Even with these reservations, Penny's writing is absorbing and intelligent. Having read a later entry, I know this Three Pines series gets better and better, so I'm carrying on. I notice that each of these books has a U.K. title and a different U.S. title, so I'm being careful not to buy the same book twice.

Linda Bulger, 2010

Victorian Lace Today
Victorian Lace Today
by Jane Sowerby
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 30.68
39 used & new from CDN$ 11.20

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is why people knit, Nov. 7 2010
This review is from: Victorian Lace Today (Paperback)
Most of the knitters I know are drawn to knitting for the creativity of the craft. We could buy sweaters, hats, mittens for our loved ones, toys and blankies and darling baby underthings, often in materials as fine as those we use for our knitting. And we can often buy them for less money than we spend on our lovingly hand-painted yarns of squishy, silky fiber. We knit because we want to knit some love into every stitch; because we can afford to; because we have the skill and creative energy; and we knit because we have the time.

Knitting was a more utilitarian pursuit until the Victorians, who are sometimes said to have invented the leisure class, took it up as a leisurely pastime. This gorgeous book from author Jane Sowerby traces the growth of creative hand knitting of lace from the 1830's to the end of the Victorian era. During these decades the codification of knitted lace designs began to appear in pamphlets and magazines. There was no standardization of directions and abbreviations, so some of these patterns are unknittable today; but they're a treasure trove, and Sowerby has now made them so much more accessible to modern knitters with this book.

Though Victorian Lace Today is much more than a pattern book, it does contain 38 patterns for shawls, scarves and stoles that are taken straight from the pages of The Ladies' Knitting and Netting Book, The Ladies' Assistant, and other publications of the era. Sowerby knitted them up, often in her own homespun yarn, and translated the designs to modern language for the modern knitter. In addition to the patterns (all of which are charted), this volume contains a wealth of general information on shawl construction, and deconstructs the patterns in a way that makes the reader feel it's all do-able. Yarn choices are discussed in a very helpful way.

Beyond the patterns and instructions, however, "Victorian Lace Today" is a big, beautiful book with glorious photography. The shoots were done in the English countryside, along the River Cam, in London and Brighton, and at the wonderful Belton House, where some filming was done for the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice." Photographer Alexis Xenakis captured the detailed shots of the knitted pieces, along with wonderful vistas of lawns, formal gardens, and half-timbered buildings. The photography and the social history would make this book an object of desire, and then there are the knitting patterns too.

I understand that the cautious knitter should look on the publisher's website for errata before picking up yarn and needles for one of these projects. That's a price I'm willing to pay for the pleasure of owning this book and, energized by Jane Sowerby's gift, I look forward to undertaking some of the projects in it. They are a living link to a rich creative history.

Linda Bulger, 2010

A Deluge of Dogs: Hounds Without Bounds
A Deluge of Dogs: Hounds Without Bounds
by H. C. Fargot
Edition: Hardcover
6 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Treat yourself to a happy little book, Nov. 7 2010
This precious, beautifully produced little hard-cover book is clearly written and illustrated by people who like dogs. The text is simple, an alphabet book with each letter standing for a dog engaged in doggy work or play; dogs of all breeds, good dogs, smart dogs, naughty dogs, even a few dogs doing very undoggy things. Author HC Fargot comes up with a name for every letter--Barkley, Ivan, Quentin, Wishbone.

The joyful illustrations by Wrolf Bronesby are easy to get lost in. As in the cover illustration, there is often a lot going on. I intended to describe my favorite picture but can't decide between Ivan, gazing with such longing at his walking lead dangling in the foreground, and the business-like little Opus performing his stunts on command. Charming! Some of the pictures will give you pause: what's a dog doing herding a yak? or for that matter playing cards and lapping up Scotch? but in the world that exists between the covers of this book, anything seems possible for dogs.

I was interested in seeing what else this publisher has in print to go along with A Deluge of Dogs - Hounds Without Bounds. Of course there is the companion book "A Nuisance of Cats," from the same winning duo of Fargot and Bronesby. According to the company website and Facebook page, Little Known School Press has only one other book out besides the two mentioned. I'd like to see much, much more work of this caliber.

Buy this book for a child, or forget the subterfuge and buy it for yourself. Either way, you'll go back again and again to the happy doggy world between its covers.

Linda Bulger, 2010

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