Why Cleaning Has Meaning

The cover of Why Cleaning Has Meaning

The cover of Why Cleaning Has Meaning

I was hoping this book would be a socio-anthropological examination of cleaning as a profession and its paradoxical place in our lives. I was expecting an exhortation to live a tidier life, complete with that life’s incumbent benefits. It wasn’t either of those things. Instead, it was a rambling, poorly-if-at-all-edited mishmash of the author’s personal religious views and her childhood reminiscences. None of this was apparent from the book or its promotional summary. Normally, I enjoy rambling looks at oddball topics, but this confusing stew of disparate thinkers and experiences left me wondering what, if any, point the author may have had. A quarter of the way through this book, I found myself making excuses not to read it — for an inveterate bookworm like myself that was an unusual experience to say the least! Also unusually, I found myself unable to finish this book, but I just couldn’t force myself to continue it.

I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone.  This book’s potential audience just deserves better.

small black starNote: I received this book as a free Advanced E-Reader Copy from NetGalley.  This book was available for general purchase on February 20, 2014.

I haven’t forgotten this blog

My lack of a post in February does not mean I have forgotten this blog. A book I had intended to review for February (as a two-fer along with a thematically related short work) has not yet arrived. I’ll get that review out as soon as I can.

Deep-Rooted Wisdom

 the cover of Deep Rooted Wisdom

The cover of Deep Rooted Wisdom

“Enjoy the mystery and get your hands dirty”, says Augustus Jenkins Farmer, author of Deep-Rooted Wisdom: stories and skills from generations of gardeners. This back-to-basics gardening book is full of luscious, lovely photos that add both to the art and craft of the book.  It features horticultural personalities and stories about ‘the old (new?) way of doing things’ in the garden.

Each chapter in the book is divided into three sections.  The first outlines a gardening skill or idea and how it used to be used by gardeners or horticulturalists in the past.  The second features someone who has taught the author about the older ways of doing things.  In the third section, the author adapts these teachings for modern gardening.  Along the way, we learn of the practices and consequences (both good and bad) of our actions in the garden, such as catastrophic soil depletion in the southern United States.

Throughout the book we are treated to informative parentheticals relevant to the topic under discussion at that point in the book, on topics as diverse as Bokashi composting, mycorrhizal fungi, the plant collectors’ code of conduct, and the proper way to choose a hand tool.

In addition, the book is infinitely quotable, and during my reading, I found myself writing down innumerable quotations to potentially use in this review.  Farmer clearly loves the English language, and writes with a thoughtfulness and meandering intensity that reads as limpidly as poetry.  But pithy as the book is, two quotes seem to best sum up the book’s contentions.  The first appears at the beginning of this review.  It is an exhortation to engage in the art and science that combine to make gardening so rewarding.  The second is the observation that, “It’s important to remember that you don’t always need those material things on display at your garden store”.   Look around you, get creative,  and use what you have,  or what you can find or borrow.  Using creativity’s new eyes, much so-called “trash” can be turned to treasure, and we can do without much of what we think we need.

This book is very much oriented to the South as a region; this is understandable in a book that draws on so much history and local wisdom, as the author lives in and is from the south.  When I lived in the South, this book would have been even that much more interesting because of its regional focus.  However the book is so enchanting that I found myself wishing for that kind of history and storytelling in a book that focused on my region. And perhaps one day I will find that book.  For now, I can enjoy this one.  I would recommend it to people interested in gardening, and people interested in the local histories of the South and Southern gardens in particular.  It would be an indispensable part of any library collection in the southern United States.

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Note: I received this book as a free Advanced E-Reader Copy from NetGalley.  This book will be available for general purchase on March 25, 2014.

The Cassandra Project

the cover of The Cassandra Project

The cover of The Cassandra Project

Jerry Culpepper is a PR man and former political operative who landed a job as NASA’s Public Relations Officer.  This former hired gun has become a true believer in NASA and its ideals, and is increasingly disappointed in those who pay the agency mere lip service (before slashing its budget — yet again).

“Bucky” Blackstone is an eccentric multibillionaire who has decided that private enterprise must pick up where NASA left off and go into space on its own, lest “the dream of the stars” be lost in an increasingly difficult workaday world.

These two unlikely partners will team up to find out just what was really going on during the so-called “manned development Apollo missions” that were preparatory to the mission made famous by Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, and how it was connected to the Watergate break in.

This book, based in a world as close as today (and as realpolitik as yesterday), is blessedly free of sci-fi jargon and made up words. Though still satisfiably science fiction, this book has none of the fabulosity that marks the outliers of the genre, and could be considered a good entry point to science fiction for those who have steered clear of it before.    In fact, it is less science fiction than it is an alternate history — but going too far down that path would inevitably lead to spoilers.  Fans of such history revision thrillers as The DaVinci Code will enjoy this book, no matter if they are sci-fi fans or not.  However I found the denouement to be somewhat stock-thrillerish and  a bit overwrought.  Still, it was a nice distracting read, suitable for airplane or beach reading.   It wasn’t deep reading, or deeply thought out writing, but sometimes you don’t want those things in a book — sometimes you just want to be transported.  And this book does that admirably.


I would recommend this book to sci-fi or alternate history fans, or to fans of such popular thrillers as The DaVinci Code.

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Note: I bought this book for myself, and it is available for purchase by the general public.

Breathing life back into this blog

I dropped the ball on this blog a long time ago, but my New Year’s resolution is to breathe new life into it.  I intend to review — even if only briefly — the books I read in 2014.  So watch this space for future posts.

Crochet Saved My Life

Crochet Saved my Life

The cover of Crochet Saved My Life

Crochet Saved My Life is both a memoir of depression and anxiety, and also an exploration of crochet as therapy for dealing with both of these conditions.  The book features interviews with about two dozen others who have dealt with a number of kinds of clinical depressions, as well as other issues both psychological (most prominently anxiety) and conditions with psychological features as well.

The personal stories are both powerful and moving, but when the author delves into neurochemical explanations, the book loses a bit of its steam.  Luckily, the personal anecdotes are spread throughout the book, maximizing their use and emotional impact.

Some of the benefits of crochet that are explored by this book include: mindfulness, visualization, stress reduction, the setting of achievable goals & pride in accomplishment.  Also explored are the benefits of the social component of the so-called crafts such as knit and crochet, in that the social component is optional, online, and low-stress.

The author repeatedly emphasizes that crochet is “one tool in the toolbox” and not a cure for anything — and something that some individuals may not even find helpful.  She also emphasizes that she is a layman, not an expert in any of the fields explored by the book, and that such explorations are to be understood as an educated layman’s view of the subject matter, and not as an expert’s opinion.

The book could have benefited from having a good editor go through and trim down the prose.  It is undeniably well-written, but it could have been trimmed down a bit, I think.  Still, the tone was friendly and inviting, and the author clearly has spent a good deal of time thinking about her subject, in addition to researching and writing about it.  I’d like to think that would be true of most books, but it somehow doesn’t seem that way to me.  In my experience overall, and especially in an indie publication, this is a treat.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the benefits of crafting, or who are looking for some ways to self-help themselves into a better frame of mind, in addition to people who have a history of psychological issues who are open to alternative therapies.

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Note: I purchased this book through the Kindle store and read it on my e-reader.  It is available to the public.


P.S.  I can’t wait until Vercillo’s newest project comes out — a book that, by the way, she is crowdsourcing through indiegogo.  This book is designed as “a book of creativity exercises for crocheters. It will show how crochet can be used to achieve mindfulness, release artistic fear, push to the next level of creativity, celebrate life and more. Many topics of creativity will be explored in this book that challenge you to find new ways to craft yourself to wellness.”

Crochet One-Skein Wonders

Crochet One-Skein Wonders

The cover of Crochet One-Skein Wonders

If you’re like me — a crocheter and not a knitter — you approach the needlecrafts section of the bookstore with a feeling of impending disappointment, and just a touch of envy.  After all, there are many more knitting books than there are crochet books, and the crochet stock never seems to rotate frequently enough.  One of the most glaring needs in the crochet book universe is for a book of patterns that only takes one skein of yarn to complete.  There has been a veritable parade of choices for knitters in this vein, but scant pickings for crocheters.

Well, the waiting is over!  Crochet One-Skein Wonders offers 101 great patterns for crocheters to use in using up those odd balls of yarn that tend to collect at the end of projects.  Sorted by yarn weight — a nice detail — crocheters can choose from patterns ranging from standard fare (such as baby booties), to the lacy (several toothsomely airy scarves in varying yarn weights  make their appearances) to the outright adorable (the alligator featured on the cover).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tunisian and bead crochet were also featured in this book.

The formatting in my e-copy was wonky to say the least, but that may be an artifact of the e-book format.  The patterns appear sound, and varied enough to satisfy a wide range of crochet tastes.  I’ll definitely be buying this book in print when it comes out!  I would definitely recommend this book to my fellow crocheters.

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Note: I received this book as a free Advanced E-Reader Copy from NetGalley.  This book will be available for general purchase on March 12, 2013.

City of Dark Magic

City Of Dark Magic cover

The cover of City Of Dark Magic.

“This deliciously madcap novel has it all: murder in Prague, time travel, a misanthropic Beethoven, tantric sex, and a dwarf with attitude. I salute you, Magnus Flyte!” —Conan O’Brien

I’ll admit it — it was this quote by Conan O’Brien on the cover of City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte that initially made me pick the book up.  And I was expecting to be disappointed.  After all,  what book could possibly live up to a quote like that?  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  City of Dark Magic is just as fantastically uncanny as Conan O’Brien’s quote suggests.

Graduate student Sarah Weston has worked hard to get where she is.  And her hard work has paid off.  She has just been offered a dream job.  She is to journey to Prague, reside in a castle, and catalog Beethoven’s letters and papers — all for a tidy (and sorely needed) sum.  Only, what has happened to the professor who originally had the job? Surely he couldn’t have committed suicide like everyone seems to be saying he did.  And her otherwise level-headed roommate tells her that Prague contains a hell portal.  Even armed with these warnings, Sarah has no idea just how weird her life is about to get.

Who is murdering the academics working at the Prague Castle museum?  What was that weird mark left on her ceiling in Boston, and why is she seeing it in Prague?  Who is that strange dwarf that delivers her job offer?  He can’t really be immortal, can he? What is the secret of Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved”?  And what is the deal with handsome Prince Lobkowicz?  Sarah is drawn to him, but can he be trusted?

Through it all is Prague — drawn broodingly and layered under quilts of history and the people who inhabited it.  The city breathes like another character.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine a better, or even different, setting for the book. But for all it’s good points (and there are many),  the plot has a cobbled-together feeling.  Perhaps this is suited to a story set in a city with such a varied history.  Regardless, the pace and characters keep the plot moving.

Overall, City of Dark Magic is a fun book.  However, with themes as varied as ambition, fatherhood, and social class, this book packs more than just a fluffy good read.  It strikes a good balance between entertainment and mental gymnastics that will serve the reader well.  I recommend it.

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Interested? Read an excerpt via Google Books.

Note: I bought this book for myself, and it is available for purchase by the general public.

Etiquette & Espionage: Book 1 of the Finishing School Series

The cover of Etiquette & Espionage.

The cover of Etiquette & Espionage.

Sophronia Temminick is a tomboy in a time and place that values ladylike and proper behavior far above an adventurous spirit in girls.  Her daredevil exploits and plucky ways (not to mention her horrible curtsey) are the bane of her mother’s existence.  In order to ‘fix’ Sophronia — or at least to get her out of her mother’s hair — she is shipped off to finishing school where she will, it is hoped, replace her rowdy ways with refinement.

But Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is not at all what it seems.  It isn’t in a Swiss castle, for one.  And while the pupils do learn the arts of music, fan waving and eyelash fluttering, they also learn the finer points of intelligence gathering, dagger throwing, and fending off werewolves.  The school is training a group of very polite intelligencers and assassins!  Surprised, Sophronia settles into her new school but retains her daring ways — even making some friends as maverick as she is. A good thing, too, for over the course of the term, she has to face down a school for evil geniuses, outlaw airship pirates, and spiteful, secret-keeping classmates.  Sophronia puts her newfound etiquette lessions and covert skills to the test over the winter holidays, which culminates in a battle royale involving a riot, a fire, and a cheese pie.  She even almost pulls off the social niceties.

Sophronia is not only the main character, but the narrator of this story, though it is written in the third person.  This affords author Gail Carriger the opportunity to use  Steampunk/Victorian slang and worldview, which tends to lend an air of realism to the story.  The first in a four book YA series, this book is set 25 years before Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but in the same universe. In addition, fans of the previous series will be charmed to encounter some old friends — albeit the younger versions of them.  All in all, Etiquette & Espionage is is witty, charming, clever and fun.  It is well-written, and has a strong, well-characterized female protagonist that people of all ages can identify with.  I heartily recommend it.

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Interested?  Read an excerpt via Google Books.

Note:  I received this book as a free Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publisher.  This book will be available for purchase on February 5, 2013.