Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: HILD, by Nicola Griffith

Hild, by Nicola Griffith. Published 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Literary Fiction.

If you've been reading my blog at all for the past, like, five and a half months, you know I've been reading Hild since I got it for Christmas. Now, I don't expect you to spend a whole lot of time thinking about why I do what I do, but maybe you've wondered once or twice, gee, it's taking her a really long time to read this book. Yeah. I dove right in after I unwrapped it; it was the book I wanted the most, what with that gorgeous cover and intriguing premise. Nicola Griffith, a Lambda-award-winning science fiction writer, takes on the story of St. Hilda of Whitby, an abbess and councillor of kings in medieval Britain.

But that all comes later. When we meet her, Hild is a little girl of three, confident and blowzy and bright. "She wasn't frightened. She was three; she had her own shoes."

She'll use those shoes throughout her young life to make her way in the world. Breguswith, her mother and the widow of a poisoned king, puts Hild forth as a seer, the "light of the world," and raises her younger daughter to be a politician and power broker. Hild's sister Hereswith is destined to be a "peaceweaver," to marry to secure an alliance for the new king, Hild's uncle Edwin. By her side through all of her travels is her childhood friend Cian, who starts off as a little boy tumbling through the leaves, sparring, talking, her favorite companion. Hild's path and Cian's will remain parallel as they take different roles in Edwin's court; Hild becomes a mystic and adviser and Cian a gesith or soldier for Edwin- but they will always point towards each other in the end. Or so it seems.

Hild is a book with lots of characters, lots of intricate politics, battles, shifts in power and scheming and plotting. Hilda of Whitby was a central figure in the conversion of Britain to Catholicism and we see glimmers of that here, the rising power of the church as leaders convert for political and material gain. It was sometimes hard for me to keep track even with the map, family tree and vocabulary Griffith offers. The book is extremely dense and immersing; you can't read it in short spells. I had to take at least an hour at a time to read it and it's not always easy to find that much time- one reason it took me almost six months to finish it. But Griffith puts you right there, right in the thick of it, with her deeply descriptive writing, characters that feel like flesh and blood and extensive plumping and embellishing of the setting. You will experience the daily life of the seventh century, from food to clothing to cleaning to all kinds of daily rituals. No aspect of life is left unexplored and the book is a feast for the imagination and the senses.

What I loved most about Hild is the relationships between the characters, particularly Hild and Cian's diverging friendship. I really felt her frustration and helplessness as they grew apart, as Cian's sexuality developed and lead him away from his childhood friend. But Hild also lives in a world of women and Griffith populates her life with amazing female friends, like her confidante and "gemaccae" Begu, Hild's servant Gwladus and the queen Aethelburh, not to mention Breguswith and Hereswith. These women spend their days and nights together, manage households, travel and participate in politics and make up the life of the court. It's so much fun to read about.

So, I really loved Hild. I got lost amid the names and machinations from time to time but Griffith keeps her laser focus on Hild so that I never got bored, never lost sight of this unforgettable central figure. Hild is a must for historical-fiction readers and traditional lit-fic folks and would probably appeal to fantasy readers too- Griffith made her name on the SF side of the aisle and I'm so glad to discover her finally. I wouldn't blame you if you waited for the paperback because it's a big book; you probably don't have long to go anyway but please add Hild to your reading list right away. It's definitely going to show up in my top reads of the year.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So, I finished three books this week, two of which have been lingering for a long time.

I finished Hild. I loved Hild. Go read Hild, please. Yes it's long but it is so worth it. I finished Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist, for which I cannot express the same enthusiasm. It's an admirable book but the stream of consciousness style is not for me. I also finished The Ballad of a Small Player, which I liked a lot.
I picked up Seven Lives and One Great Love, a little confection from Greek author Lena Divani, about a cat and the woman he loves, told from the point of view of the cat. It's fun.

I'm continuing on with I Married You For Happiness, a literary novel I'm enjoying, and have decided to finally dig into Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty as my next Booker Prize-winning novel to read. I enjoyed his book The Swimming-Pool Library so we'll see where we go from here.

Finally, I started reading Rupert Thomson's Secrecy, a delicious historical novel set in Medici Florence from the very reliable Other Press. I'm only a little ways in but I recommend it for Sarah Dunant readers.

What are you reading? See more at and have a great week!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What's New on the Shelf?

It's been months since I've done a new-on-the-shelf post and I can't possibly tell you everything I've acquired since the last post but here are some highlights!

 A Curse on Dostoevsky is the latest from Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi. I am a big fan of Rahimi's work and will read pretty much anything he writes. I don't have to know what it's about to want to read it, but I gather it is his take on Crime and Punishment set in Afghanistan.

On Leave is a short novel about French involvement in Algeria and the Algerian war for independence. It tells the story of a group of French soldiers and includes a great introduction giving a brief but meaty overview of the subject.

Pushkin Hills is a novel by Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov about a down-and-out writer and alcoholic hoping to be saved by a job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve. It was translated by his daughter and has been widely praised at Dovlatov's most important book.

The Restless Supermarket is a novel by South African writer Ivan Vladislavic about a man dealing with the end of apartheid and the changes on South African society. It's published by a small British press called & Other Stories, which specializes in translations and fiction from around the world. This book is not a translation but I'm always interested in books that come out of South Africa and in getting to know its writers. I can't wait to start this one!

The Bees by Laline Paull takes place entirely inside a hive and is told from the point of view of the bees who make it their home. If that's not enough to grab you, what is? Plus that cover is just stunning. The picture does not do it justice!

That's it for now. What's new on your shelf?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: AWAIT YOUR REPLY by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon. Published 2009 by Ballantine.

Await Your Reply was one of those books that kind of crept up on me. I was aware of it when it first came out and I found the premise intriguing- three interconnected stories about identity theft. I have a personal connection to the theme as my husband had his identity stolen by a man living under his name in New York City (later apprehended and now serving federal time) and I heard raves from readers for months after its release. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to read it but I never quite forgot about it either, and after a long while I picked it up for my ereader.

When I started though, I couldn't put it down and sped through it in about two days.

As I said the plot is based around a trio of linked narratives. It opens with a man rushing a younger man to the hospital after his wrist has been severed in a home invasion; gory and frightening with bullet-train momentum, the opening scene left me breathless. Of course I wanted to know who this young man is, why did this happen, and so on. The younger man, Ryan, is his uncle Jay's protege in crime; Jay and Ryan live in an isolated house in the woods, running small-time electronic scams to rob unsuspecting people. But they seem to run a lot of them, and Jay seems to be grooming Ryan somehow, teaching him the ropes.

Their story, like the others, moves back and forth through time so that piecing together the timeline is a crucial part of understanding the book as a whole. The next story is that of Lucy Lattimore, an unpopular high school girl who has an affair with her handsome teacher and runs away with him. His behavior becomes more and more bizarre until her smarts overcome her trust in him and she realizes what he's actually up to in that locked office of his. Finally there is Miles Cheshire, desperately searching for his missing twin brother Hayden, a mentally-ill genius who has left a trail of destruction all over the country.

Gradually the stories come together, and there are two major twists to the book, one I saw coming and one that hit me like that bullet train at full speed. Both, in their own way, knocked the wind out of me. Chaon has written an utterly compelling, utterly breathtaking character-driven thriller whose solution resembles a jigsaw puzzle less than those posters you stare at until you see the sailboat or whatever. I read the book almost nonstop over a single weekend and regretted every moment I was forced to put it down for things like meals and sleeping. When it was over I read the first few chapters again, just to see what I saw now that I understood what I was looking at, and it's something that's stayed with me long after I put it down for good. Oh, and the writing is superb.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review and Store Staff Pick For April: REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS by Bret Anthony Johnston

Remember Me Like This, by Bret Anthony Johnston. Published 2014 by Random House. Literary Fiction.

This month the bookstore staff has decided to have a single staff pick- Bret Anthony Johnston's novel Remember Me Like This. It was published last week from Random House.

Remember Me Like This is a luminous and beautifully written family story about what happens when a disappeared boy returns home and his parents and brother reintegrate him back into the family all the while dealing with their own demons. It's a book that everyone should read, a lovely and engrossing page-turner that will break your heart and make it whole again. It deserves all the support we can give it.

Set in the present day, it tells the story of Justin Campbell, a Corpus Christi teen who went missing years before the book opens. His father is having an affair with a neighbor,  his mother loses herself in volunteering with sick dolphins and his brother Griffin is just doing his best to grow up. Then one day Justin is found. His father gets the call, and Justin is back. And, it turns out, he was never that far away. Now the family must navigate the tricky terrain of bringing Justin back into the family and dealing with the fallout from the arrest of Justin's captor.

I like this book a lot for domestic-fiction readers and book clubs; Johnston writes the interior lives of all of the main characters except Justin, so we experience Justin's return the same way his family does,  without Justin's own experience, his own point of view and private thoughts remaining just that- private. I like the way this choice plays out and the work that we must do as readers to fill in the gaps.

So I definitely recommend Remember Me Like This. Make sure to read it soon!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House.

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I didn't finish any books last week but I'm rolling along with a few anyway.

Ballad of a Small Player is turning out to be a moody and setting-driven story about a gambling addict lost in the salons on Macau and engaged in a love affair with a woman who may not even be there. "Lord" Doyle is an Englishman fleeing his past and troubles of his own making as he navigates high-end casinos and hotels and the problems and pleasures they present. Lawrence Osborne is a travel writer and author of the wonderful novel The Forgiven; this is his follow-up and it's proving itself a worthy successor.

I'm thisclose to finishing The Conservationist, by Nadine Gordimer, not my favorite novel about South Africa or my favorite Booker Prize winner but a fascinating book nonetheless. She tells the story of Mehring, a rich man who owns a farm he keeps as a kind of hobby. The story, which is slight and often told in stream of consciousness style, is about troubles coming from apartheid.

I also started Lily Tuck's marvelous little I Married You For Happiness, about an elderly widow looking back on her life after her husband's sudden death. It's neat. I chose it because it was at the top of one of the piles on the floor.

I haven't found a new audiobook yet. I'm sure the right one will come along soon.

What are you reading? See more at

Friday, May 16, 2014


So, every now and then I tell you about a cool book that I saw go by at the store- not necessarily something I own or have read, just something that looks neat.

Seven Sisters Style: The All American Preppy Look, by Rebecca C. Tuite and published by the wonderful Rizzoli, is such a book.

As a Seven Sisters graduate (Wellesley) was naturally drawn to this volume about college women and preppy style. I love preppy clothes; I don't dress exclusively, or even mostly, like that, but it is my style ideal. L.L. Bean, plaids, cable-knit sweaters and lace-up shoes- bring it on.

I don't own this yet but I plan to buy it soon. I can't wait to read it and flip through the pictures, which I know are great because I've already looked through it as it passed through my hands at the store. So much fun!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: LAVINIA, by Ursula Le Guin

Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Published 2009 by Mariner Books.

I picked up Lavinia at Readercon, a science fiction/fantasy literature convention I attended this past July; this was my first time at Readercon and I wasn't expecting to buy anything at this very popular and informative event, but then again although Ursula K. Le Guin is an established fantasy author (her Earthsea series is practically required reading, or so I'm lead to understand), Lavinia is neither fantasy nor science fiction. Instead, it's about as literary as literary fiction can be- a midrash on Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid, from the perspective of Lavinia, Aeneas's second wife, who is barely mentioned in the poem itself but who here is given a life and a voice of her own.

It's a little jewel of a novel, starring an intelligent young woman of royal lineage and bearing. As the novel opens she is of marriageable age and will soon have to end her days of running through the woods with her best friend Silvia, sister of the man whose death will eventually start the great battle ending in Lavinia's marriage to Aeneas. In the mean time, Lavinia is being offered up as the bride of Turnus, a macho hero-type not-so-secretly in love with Lavinia's mother, Amata. Amata wishes the marriage to keep Turnus close to herself. Lavinia finds Turnus repulsive and bargains with her father, the king Latinus, because she knows her fate is to marry Aeneas.

And here is where Lavinia reveals itself to be not just beautifully crafted literary fiction but metafiction, because Lavinia is aware of her status as a literary creation. She meets with Virgil in the woods, talks to him about what's happening to her, about what will happen to her. She's knows she's part of the poem, and that Virgil has written her life- and that he has left so much out, and she says, even got some of it wrong:

My poet could tell how heads were split and brains spattered armor, how men witha sword in their lungs crawled gasping out their blood and life, how so-and-so killed so-and-so, and so on. He could tell what he had not seen with his mortal eyes, because that was his gift; but I do not have that gift. I can tell only what I was told and what I saw.
Le Guin plays with historical accounts of events in the Aeneid as she, for example, contradicts Livy's account of Latinus's death during the war; in her version, he lives on into old age. I'm not enough of a classics scholar to tell you why she does things like this, but she does, and it's interesting, and I'd love to know what other people think. But even putting that aside, I loved Lavinia as gorgeously written, absorbing and fascinating literary fiction. I wish every book were like this; I'm very, very glad to have found it and I'm sure I'll be back for more Le Guin someday soon.

Rating: BUY

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: TIME PRESENT, TIME PAST, by Deirdre Madden

Time Present and Time Past, by Deirdre Madden. Published 2014 by Europa Editions.

Fintan Buckley is a middle-aged, middle class man, with a wife of 24 years and three children- two teen-aged boys and a 7 year old girl, Lucy, the apple of his eye. They are Irish and live in Howth, an upscale seaside suburb of Dublin. His mother Joan lives nearby, as does his sister Martina. The time is just before the financial crash of 2008. Fintan enjoys history and finds himself fascinated by autochrome photography, an early form of color photography that had its heyday between 1907 and the early 1930s when it was replaced by subtractive color film. Fintan's interest in autochrome photography leads him to have certain hallucinatory experiences, taking him, and the narrative, in and out of his present life in ways that he never expects.

At the same time the life of his family goes on around him. He and his wife, Colette, manage their family as their sons grow up and their little girl explores her world; Fintan, who had thought he was finished having children, has found himself quite besotted with his youngest and enjoys being a father to her more than he ever thought he would. Colette gets to know his sister Martina, a beautiful woman with an eye for clothes and a good business sense but a slightly shady past. Martina is just returned from time spent living in London but won't tell anyone why she's come back. Now Martina's opened a boutique, and seems to be settling in, but questions remain. Joan is a fashionable lady with firm ideas about family but she harbors her own secrets as well. The family must deal with its past just as the future is about to launch itself onto their lives.
Howth Harbor, October 2013
I had not heard of Deirdre Madden when I picked up this book but it just looked like my kind of thing, and I have to say I really loved it. Madden is an excellent writer with a keen eye for detail and psychology and Time Present is solid, strong literary fiction that will appeal to lots of readers. I want domestic and family fiction readers to read this, and litfic readers generally. I know I want to read everything she's written now- I feel like I made a real discovery when I found this book sitting out in a bookshop in suburban Dublin, not far from the actual setting. And I was thrilled to see Europa publishing it and bringing it here, because I think lots of readers will love it and feel about Deirdre Madden the way I do- that she's one to follow.

It's my fourth book for the 2014 Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Game of Thrones S4E6- Tyrion on Trial

Spoilers Ahead! Don't read if you haven't seen this week's episode and don't want to know what happened.

So this week's episode was decent.
  • Daenerys is starting to deal with the real-world consequences of her grand, symbolic gestures. A man came to ask for her for a decent burial for his father, whom she crucified last week. She was agreeable to that.
  • Stannis visited the Iron Bank on Bravos and was given a chilly reception to say the least. 
  • Sightings of the Hound were reported back to Tywin. I was amused that no mention was made of Arya and I wonder what to make of that. I know the Arya-Tywin reunion scene I've been longing for for months now will never happen but it still makes me giggle to think about it.
  • Yara tried to rescue Theon/Reek from the clutches of Ramsey Snow, to no avail. Then Ramsey let him have a bath. Another day at the office for Theon "Bad Choices" Greyjoy.
  • No sign of Jon Snow, Arya, or Sansa, except in flashback.
  • The big thing this week was Tyrion's "trial". Even Jaime was disgusted by the farce of it. Tywin told him privately that he intended to send Tyrion to the Wall after the guilty verdict comes down, and Jaime told Tyrion, who proceeded to ask for trial by combat after being thoroughly betrayed by Shae, his old lover who made a surprise appearance in court. Now we know she never got on that ship. Wonder what she's been up to in the interim?
The scenes with Yara trying to rescue her brother were pathetic in their pointlessness. I felt bad for her. You just knew it was going to fail and she is an almost-sympathetic character, tough and resilient. Tyrion's trial has been the joke I expected and his anger was impossible to turn away from. Peter Dinklage really commands every scene he's in. Jaime continues his good-guy arc. He's a complicated person but on the whole I'm still rooting for him. This episode flew by for me. I found it very suspenseful and almost riveting. Of course this whole season has been so boring so far, that might not be saying much. The only sexual violence was off-screen- Ramsey Snow was shown having sex with a woman and then emerging from his boudoir covered in lacerations, so who knows what went on or what shape she was in. But at least it was off-screen this time. 

Overall I thought it was an above-average episode. I felt cheated that it ended at 9:52- where's the other eight minutes, David Benioff? But what can you do.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I finally finished The Cemetery of Swallows this weekend. Oh my. I will write a full review soon but, well, I just don't know. All. Over. The. Place.

I also finished Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, on audio. I enjoyed it a lot. Memoirs are personal and idiosyncratic and I understand the reviewers who didn't like it, mostly because I think they didn't like her, but I liked the book. More soon.

I also read the new book by Antonio Skarmeta, A Distant Father. Skarmeta wrote Il Postino; this new one comes out in the fall and it's about a young man searching for the father who abandoned him and his mother, supposedly moving to France. But it turns out he's closer than the son ever expected and what comes next will amaze everyone.

All of this leaves me with some gaps in my reading so of course I'm moving to fill them up. There are so many things I'm dying to get to right now but I have to choose, so anyway here goes.

I started Lawrence Osborne's new book, The Ballad of a Small Player. Osborne is a travel writer whose last novel, The Forgiven, was a favorite of mine for its moody writing and page-turning plot, about a British couple who kill a Moroccan boy on their way to a fancy party in the desert. This new one shifts the scene to the Far East and a British gambler playing and losing his ways through the casinos of Macau. I'm not sure where the plot is heading but I'm loving Osborne's writing once again.

And then I have a few others from which I'm choosing right now. Jeff Vandermeer's Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, is out; I also want to read Molly Fox's Birthday by the wonderful Deirdre Madden and I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck. Have you read any of these? Do you have another suggestion for me?

I need a suggestion for a non-fiction audiobook too. What's your favorite history or sociology on audio?

Have a great week! More at

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Crafturday: Tea Wallets!

Do you carry tea bags around with you in your purse? A nice way to do that is to use a tea wallet- little pouches that can carry up to four tea bags or a combo of tea and sugar packets. They can also hold gift cards or business cards. Here's the inside of one:

I made a whole bunch of these this week and put them on sale in my Etsy shop for $8.00 a piece. You can see the shop at Pandora's Craft Room!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. Published 2012 by Ecco. ISBN 9780060885595.

I don't read a lot of contemporary war novels, that is, books about wars that happened during my lifetime, and I hesitated a long time before picking up Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. I guess I'm always just a little worried about the point of view I'm going to encounter and how that's going to affect my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I'm not sure what it was exactly that pushed me over the line and persuaded me to give it a try, but I'm glad I did.

The book takes place over the course of one very long day. The men of Bravo squad, recently returned to the United States after their heroic acts in battle in Iraq were captured by an embedded journalist, are spending the day at a Dallas Cowboys game. They are at the tail end of a long "victory tour" across the country- mostly in swing states, as it happens- and they are all wiped and worn out. They've been feted and fussed over and Hollywood wants to tell their story. Word has it Hilary Swank wants to star. Now, though, they've got one day to get through before the next phase of their journey- not back home, but back to war.

The reader spends the day in the head of Billy Lynn, a private at the center of the action that went down, the action for which they're famous. Other members of the squad come in and out of the story, especially Dime, their commanding officer, an antiauthoritarian authority figure who provides a backbone of cynicism and skepticism but has his mens' love and loyalty absolutely. These guys are a unit, truly; whatever threatens one, threatens all, and as the day unfolds the men learn who is and is not truly on their side. In the mean time, they go through their day; they meet Cowboys honchos, flirt with cheerleaders and receive, not always happily, adoration, worship and appreciation for their service.

Tension builds slowly as we traverse Billy's memories, his family and his time in the service. The most important day of the story and maybe Billy's life, the day of the battle, plays like music in the background as the men negotiate the mundane events of this day at the stadium. Everything leads up to the halftime show, when the football field becomes another kind of battlefield for these men whose pent up stress and exhaustion threaten to overwhelm them.

The book is so completely engrossing that sometimes I forgot I wasn't reading about real people. I read it quickly; often the narrative slips into a sort of stream of consciousness but one that still kept me glued to the book. I think Ben Fountain has written a very brave and difficult book that takes a hard look at the cost of war both for our country and for the men and women tasked with fighting it. It undercuts a lot of the blind obedience and herd-following that goes on in civilian culture with respect to attitudes about the military while showing a great deal of empathy and respect for the private struggles of the armed soldier. It reminds of the sections in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, the parts where we see a character's cynicism around attitudes about soldiers and veterans. It's a book whose implications and meanings I know I'll struggle with for a long time, and one that I'd highly recommend to every reader.

Rating: BUY

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Game of Thrones Episode 5: The First of His Name = The Fifth When Nothing Happens

Spoilers Ahead! Be Warned!

So this week we were treated to an exceptionally boring episode.
  • Jon Snow dispatched Torchwood Guy and Hodor wasted the Bolton toady. That's it for substanstive goings-on- two minor bad guys buy the farm.
  • We had one scene with Daenerys where she says she has to be a better leader.
  • We had once scene with Arya and the Hound when basically nothing happened.
  • Sansa and Peytr show up at the Vale and Peytr and crazy aunt Lysa get married. Sansa enjoys one peaceful night in her new (and, I assume, temporary) home before Lysa goes batshit on her. We did find out who killed Jon Arryn, if you even remember who that is. I had to be reminded.
  • Tommen is crowned. Cersei seems not so peevish towards Margaery for once and Tywin explains the economic benefit of her marrying the gay guy.
Now, a lot has been made recently, and continues to be made, about the level of sexual violence in the books and in the show. And I agree sometimes the show is hard to watch and I'm sure the books are hard to read. But here's the thing. You don't have to. I know "Game of Thrones" is all cool and trendy and you want to be cool and trendy like all your friends, but you don't have to be. Not only that, George R.R. Martin and David Benioff aren't obliged to tone it down to better suit their critics' delicate sensibilities. I had a bookstore customer ask me, where is that book for kids Game of Thrones and become angry when I explained that the books are written for adults and contain both graphic sex and violence, because she wanted it for her 11 year old and how dare he write something so "trashy." There are plenty of kid-friendly books written just for them. Art isn't always safe.

First, I don't know why this conversation is starting now, four seasons in. Did these folks just tune in last week for the first time? You haven't noticed for the past three years but now it's a big deal? Does it have something to do with the culture of political correctness around books and media generally, or folks' expectations that media be sanitized and safe and not hurt their feelings? George R.R. Martin has responded to this criticism by saying, and I'm paraphrasing, that life and war are filled with rape and torture and it would be dishonest if his work, about war, did not include those elements. To some degree I agree although we can argue about specifics. Does Tywin Lannister need to have that Bolton toady killed (in the book) by forcing him to eat himself? Maybe not. But at least we're not seeing that on TV. Likewise, did Benioff have to change the tone of the sexual encounter between Jaime and Cersei from consensual to rape (even though he's denied he did that)? No, but it's his choice to make, and he made it.

And we have a choice- to watch or not. I almost backed out of "Battlestar Galatica" for the same reason and I wouldn't blame you if you backed out now. I wouldn't. But the show (and the books) should stay true its vision and individuals have the choice to vote with their remotes.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, pretty much the same stuff I was reading last week!

I'm close to finishing The Cemetery of Swallows, and pushing my way through The Conservationist, and listening to Orange is the New Black. All of these books I'm loving more as I turn the pages. The Conservationist is the most challenging by far but it's a fascinating read.

 I do think I need something a little snappier just to keep my attention focused, so I started a short little galley I got from an Other Press sales rep, A Distant Father, by Antonio Skarmeta. Skarmeta wrote Il Postino, which was made into a movie way back when. I like it. It's very short; the galley is M&M tiny but it's packing a punch, about a father who abandons his family and has some kind of secret. I like it!

What about you? See more at

Friday, May 2, 2014

Crafturday! Dolphin Hawaiian Pillow

Another UFO (UnFinished Object) bites the dust. I finally finished quilting and making this Hawaiian applique of dolphins into an 18-inch pillow cover. I learned Hawaiian applique on my first trip to Maui in 2004 and made this sometime that year. Until about a month ago it just sat in a pile in my sewing room but now it's all done and ready to be stuffed and leaned on. I love dolphins and though it's not perfect, it captures something of the feel of the ocean for me!

By the way, Pandora's Craft Room now has a Facebook page. If you "like" it, you will get coupon codes and news about what's new in the shop. It's a great way to stay in touch!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: BLOOD & BEAUTY, by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty, by Sarah Dunant. Published 2013 by Random House.

Being a big fan of 2009's Sacred Hearts, I was thrilled to get my hands on a galley of Sarah Dunant's latest foray into Renaissance Italy, Blood & Beauty. But where Sacred Hearts focused on women shut up in convents far from the world, Blood & Beauty is about women and men whose lives are fully engaged with the world. This book is about the notorious Borgia family, particularly about Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI and his family- his young lover Giulia, the aging courtesan Vanozza, mother of his children, and most especially those children- Lucrezia, Cesare, Juan and Jofre.

Renaissance Popes were like kings in more ways than one, and Alexander is the ultimate power broker. His children are his pawns and agents; they do his bidding while he orchestrates and finesses and schemes. Lucrezia is destined for a series of political marriages, and she has to learn along the way that love is the one luxury she can never afford. Cesare starts off as Alexander's agent inside the Vatican as a young cardinal. Alexander plans for Juan to act for him in the world, and Jofre is, well, Alexander loves Jofre.

Dunant starts with historical fact (and includes a bibliography) but that's just where she starts. She creates believable psychologies for her real-life characters, fleshes out their relationships and draws a fascinating portrait of life at the Vatican court. Dunant includes a family tree at the beginning and I used it to track the complicated interrelationships of Italy's noble families. I found the book totally riveting. It's rich in historical detail- some readers call it textbooky and it is sometimes, but these people were living history, so to understand their lives it's important to follow the ins and outs of politics and military strategy and maneuvering- but she always gets back to the people at the heart of these events.

In tone Blood & Beauty reminds me of Wolf Hall but with more sexual content. One bookstore customer came in after listening to the audio ranting that it was a "bodice ripper" and I can see his point. Also, I think the book would probably sound different than it reads. Overall though- not even "overall," because that sounds like I'm hesitating to give it a full endorsement- I really enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it for most readers of historical and literary fiction. I loved the characters- scheming Alexander, maturing Lucrezia, angry and mercurial Cesare and charming, doomed Juan. I loved watching their games and struggles and shenanigans. Dunant's writing a sequel and I would start reading it right now if I could. Check it out, okay?

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Random House.