Saturday, November 22, 2008

56. Three Bags Full

The title: Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story
The author: Leonie Swann
Publication: Random House, 2005
Got it from: The library

This review is late. I've been so busy watching the Dance Your PhD contest on YouTube that I can't do anything else. I'm still trying to think up a good dance for my husband's "the effects of Hegel on 19th century American writers" PhD. Nope. Nothing.

First, can I say: this book has a FLIP BOOK SHEEP in the bottom right hand corner! When you flip the pages the sheep hops! For that alone, the book deserves an extra letter. Maybe a letter and a half.

I was drawn to this book by the wacky premise: a flock of sheep solve their shepherd's murder. I really, really love this book. I have decided that I adore sheep now. I just wanted to squeeze every last one of those adorable sheep. I loved this book so much, I am adding a new category to my genre tags: crime-solving sheep.

George Glenn's sheep aren't ordinary sheep. George has read them detective novels, you see, and that makes them smarter than the average sheep, maybe the smartest sheep in the world. George has also given them names like Miss Maple (the smartest in the flock), Othello (the bad-boy black sheep), Mopple the Whale (he eats a lot), Cloud (very fluffy), etc. George turns up dead at the beginning of the book and the sheep, their heads full of detective novels, take it upon themselves to solve this most heinous crime.

The mystery itself isn't the least bit compelling. What makes this book so great is the sheep themselves. Everything is seen through their eyes and by their standards humans are very silly and incomprehensible. The sheep take to finding clues and spying on humans next to open windows. I find it hard to believe that everyone in the village talks next to an open window, but I suppose when one reads about sheep detectives one can't quibble with the plausible. What we see through the sheep is distorted and the mystery is as opaque as black paint. I wish things had been a little more clear at the end, but as the sheep didn't seem to mind I suppose the reader isn't supposed to either. I have to appreciate that the author didn't hit me over the head with the obvious, but let it unravel slowly like...wool. Funny, clever and adorable. Why hasn't there been a sequel? I want a sequel! A-

George Glenn's Sheep's List of Things That Make a Good Shepherd:
1. Clothes himself entirely in the products of his own flock.
2. The quantity and quality of the fodder he provides. Bread and sugar and green stuff, but also concentrated feed and mangel-wurzels.
3. Never docks his lambs' tails.
4. Doesn't keep a sheepdog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

55. Regency Quartet

The title: Regency Quartet
The author(s): Janet Grace, Elizabeth Lowther, Gwyneth Moore and Gail Mallin
Publication: Harlequin, 1993
Got it from: JL for this year's birthday. She undoubtedly got it in Fredericton, but at one point, according to the stamp in the front, it spent time at Annie's Book Stop in the Shop 'N Save Plaza in Portland, Maine. Who knows the journey this has been on??

J got me two books for this birthday, "one classy, one decrepit, just the way you like it." I'll let you guess which one this was. (Hint: the decrepit one has a purple lace parasol on the cover).

As this book features four stories by different authors, very loosely tied together by the fact that the heroines all apparently attended the same boarding school, I'll review each one individually:

Frozen Hearts: It's a classic case of she marries for money, he finds out and is hurt, but they secretly really love each other. I don't remember too much about this one, as I read most of it in the food court of the Galleria in Buffalo, but I do remember a contrived plot with a rival brother-and-sister duo, sneaking around an abandoned monastery at night in the snow and an attempted seduction in a cellar. You know, typical Regency romance stuff. B+

A Singular Elopement: This one kind of creeped me out because the heroine was so, so much younger than the hero and in fact, she kept thinking of him as a decrepit old man. I'm not a big fan of the wide-eyed, heedless innocent but I did like the hero in this one so I'm letting it go with a B.

Pride House: I liked this one the best because it was very Heyeresque. It's about a girl who arranges a marriage with a wounded soldier only to find that restoring her dream home is more like a nightmare. Excellent duel at the end between hubby and a jealous former suitor which ends with the heroine shooting her husband's cousin in the foot. A-

The Eccentric Miss Delaney: This one has one of my all-time top romance pet peeves, mainly a Duke of Slut. I hate, hate, hate it when the hero thinks about all the women he's had or worse, prostitutes. Any man who has so little regard for women is not a hero in my book, and it's a real deal-breaker in my eyes. I don't expect any romance hero to be squeaky-clean, but I don't want to hear about any woman in his past any more than I would with a lover in real life. Plus, the hero in this one starts out practically attempting to rape the heroine (!) because he thinks she's "just" a common maid. He only backs off when he realizes she's "quality." Oh sure, some women go on pedestals, the rest are yours for the taking. I'm sure he'll continue to treat all women with such respect once you're married. Right. C.

I just bought a new Christmas Regency Romance at Borders. I know, I know, I need another one like I need a hole in the head, right? I can't wait to read it. Watch this space for a review!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

54. Sea Queens

The title:
Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World
The author: Jane Yolen
Publication:Charlesbridge, 2008
Got it from: The library

I have to admire Jane Yolen. Not only is she an awesome writer, she has a backlist of something like 300 titles. Seriously, this woman is the Nora Roberts of the children's/fantasy world. No, wait. Nora Roberts is the Jane Yolen of the romance world.

I didn't actually realize this was a Jane Yolen book until I took it home (Jane Yolen: Codename SHE'S EVERYWHERE). I was mainly interested in reading about women pirates, a subject which I know almost nothing about but was only too eager to learn. But Be Ye Warned: this is a children's book, so it's not like there are detailed histories. In fact, much of what we know about pirates is heresay and old salt talk, so there's not a lot of material to work with as it is. In general, this is a very excellent overview of the history of women's pirates. I had never heard of most of them, except of course for good old Grace O'Malley (Granuaile Mhaol!) and I think somewhere in the back of my mind I vaguely recalled Anne Bonney and Mary Read. A lot of these women had very rough lives, and disguised themselves as men to get ahead. Sometimes they were found out, sometimes (and I'm still not sure how this could happen) they didn't. As one woman noted, she knew Anne and Mary were women "by the largeness of their Breasts." A dead giveaway, I would have thought. Guess everyone else was thinking: man boobs!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

53. Inventing Niagara

The title: Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies
The author: Ginger Strand
Publication:Simon & Shuster, 2008
Got it from: The library

Whew! I've just finished reading this dense book about Niagara Falls, and it's taking me just about a month. I've been interested in the falls ever since moving practically down the road from them a year ago. It's always exciting when someone comes to visit and I get to show them the sights of Niagara. Although at this point I'm usually more excited by the aviary and Hershey store than the falls themselves. Go figure. By reading this book, I was hoping to find out more information on how Niagara Falls became such a carnival for tacky amusements.

Each chapter chronicles a different epoch in the history of the falls, some of which I found more interesting than others. I learned, for instance, that a suspension bridge at the falls provided a major escape route for black slaves as part of the Underground Railroad, and that Niagara was a major player in the construction of the atomic bomb. My favourite chapter was probably on the long-gone Niagara Falls Museum, a sort of precursor to Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not! Imagine my surprise when I discovered much of the museum's artifacts are stored right here in a warehouse in St. Catharines, including a two-headed calf. Here's the real kicker: scientists scoffed at the authenticity of the "mummies" in the collection, but one was recently discovered to be that of Ramses I. Anyone interested in shrunken heads and deformed animals should probably read this book for that chapter alone.

Other chapters, like the one on Olmstead's vision for a back-to-nature park and parts about the Niagara environment were more slow going. But I have to admire Ginger Strand's relentless research and ability to get interviews out of just about anyone. And there are definitely some great turns of phrase in this book. She described a 19th century publicity stunt where animals were sent over the falls in a boat as "zooicidal" and calls the Canadian Niagara Falls "a shame stick used to smack Americans into better planning" (funny and true!). If you've never been to the falls, the descriptions may leave you feeling baffled. Heck, I've been there half a dozen times and I found it baffling. And there were some things I would have loved for her to talk about in more detail, like Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive the falls in a barrel, and she was 63! Also, I'm fascinated by the story of the falls running dry in 1848 and would have happily devoured a chapter on that, but it's not even mentioned. But I think overall there are more hits than misses. If you've ever wondered why the falls are "turned up" for tourists in the summer (yes they are!) or if engineers could actually turn off the falls if they wanted (heck, yes), this is your cup of tea. B.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

52. The Blue Castle

The title: The Blue Castle
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 1926
Got it from:'m guessing probably PEI, c.1994

Dear Blue Castle,

How wonderful to read you again, old friend! It's been many, many years, hasn't it? Yes I've skim-read you a number of times over the past decade or so, but have I ever thoroughly read you since I was a child? I'm sorry about the awful condition you are in because that mean boy ripped the cover off you in seventh grade and threw you at the chalkboard. You were just never the same after the shoddy glue job I gave you. I live in hope that I'll be able to find a decent used copy of you someday.

I have only the fondest of memories of you, and how delightful it is that you're even better with time. I'm practically Valancy's age now, when once she seemed impossibly old, and I can sympathize with here even more. How much more dreadful and petty and controlling her family seems than they did before! And how much sweeter it feels when you find out she's going to die and she flips her family the bird and does whatever she pleases. I particularly enjoyed her telling her family to eff off at a dinner party after being under their thumb all her life! And how much more appealing is Barney Snaith now, the man Valancy asks to marry? Most notable is the scene when he rescues her from a hillbilly dance by punching her assailant out and practically throwing her through a window. Now that's devotion! But what's with the awful prep boy on your cover? He is certainly no Barney Snaith!

Anyone who has a soul should read you, Blue Castle. You still have the most beautiful ending I've ever read - in fact, the last five or so chapters are sheer brilliance. Thank you for being there when I needed you, and I hope I may enjoy reading you many times to come. You are a true "A" novel.

Your humble admirer and longtime companion,