Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway
-by Virginia Woolf

My Rating: 2 / 5

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Me! Me!

Sure she's supposedly lyrical and "la-tee-da". And this book is supposedly haunting and important. And it no doubt has its place in literature somewhere. But quite honestly, I'd be more willing to watch paint dry than read it again.

The story details a entire day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, in high society England, post WWI, as she hurries about London preparing for a inner party to be held later that evening. Complete with flashbacks, it is penned in the "stream of consciousness" narrative mode, that Woolf is well known for, which I must admit isn't my cup of tea generally. This is no doubt why Dalloway didn't appeal to me on so many levels.

It should be read with the approach of a long-winded prose-poem, instead of a novel, with no set plot - a book that goes nowhere. So if you enjoy that kind of a writing style, this will be one for you.

In any case, speaking only for myself, Mrs. Dalloway is one of the dullest books I have ever read.

Listography Journal: Your Life in Lists

Listography Journal: Your Life in Lists
-by Lisa Nola & Nathaniel Russell

160 pages (Sept. 2007)
Chronicle Books, hardcover
ISBN-10: 0811859088
ISBN-13: 978-0811859080


Paradise for the list enthusiast

Do you have a list for just about everything and anything? Ever had dreams of penning an autobiography? Listography Journal offers a fun alternative to the run-of-the-mill diary. Author Lisa Nola and illustrator Nathaniel Russell have teamed up to create a fun way of recording information about yourself – a veritable life in lists!

The tangible companion to the popular website,, the book will get you well on your way to keeping track of life’s big (and little) facts about yourself. It makes a terrific gift, and is also great for time capsules. The journal boasts a sturdy cover and thick pages ready for your exciting facts and details.

If you are a lover of lists, an avid archiver, or chronic chronicler, you’ll love this quirky take on journaling. Not to mention, the original illustrations that accompany each list will have you in stitches!

— reviewed for Chronicle Books

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch
- by Larry Silver

424 pages (2006) Abbeville Press, hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-7892-0901-6

the most fascinating nightmare you've ever had

"Hieronymus Bosch carefully explores the often-nightmarish mind of this ever-illusive artist. Enormously impressive in its scholarly detail." — Art Times, Jan/Feb 2007

"Every page proclaims high seriousness. This is the scholarly volume on the artist for our time." — Arizona Daily Star, January 29, 2007

Swan Place

Swan Place
-by Augusta Trobaugh

304 pages (2004) Plume Publishing, paperback
ISBN 978-0452284142

MY RATING: 3.5/5

warm and delicate like a southern breeze

Trobaugh returns to her southern roots with Swan Place, a coming-of-age tale of familial hardships and triumphs, that unfolds in a sleepy little town in Georgia. Despite the cloud of sad events, Swan Place allows glimmers of hope and contentment to break through, at the characters develop and grow.

At the heart of the story is Dove, a sensitive 14-year-old who loves her mother dearly, and has a sense of responsibility beyond her years. Dove, along with two younger siblings, is raised by her fun-loving "honky-tonking" Mamma who works as a hairdresser at home, and her simple kind-hearted husband, a step-father to the children. Despite the struggles to make ends meet in the small town, the family are close-knit and happy, and manage to instil respect and a sense of duty in their young daughter.

The story unravels with wistful delicacy, as Dove must overcome seemingly insurmountable struggles in the formative years of her childhood — the heartbreak of watching her once vibrant mother wither away with a terminal illness; assuming the household duties and the role of 'mother' to her two younger siblings; and the remarriage of her step-father to Crystal, an inexperienced 17-year-old and former bar dancer, a child herself in many ways.

After yet another family tragedy, Crystal, Dove and the two babies are left to fend for themselves. Ridiculed at school, and fearful of losing her dear siblings, Dove comes to discover that writing offers solace, as she pens stories and experiences in her journals and notebooks.

When Doves dead-beat biological father returns, threatening to break apart the little family, the girls’ only choice is to go into hiding. They enlist the help of Dove’s Bible-thumping Aunt Bett and an interesting array of newfound friends, to assist in their escape. The girls ultimately find themselves in the keep of the gruff but loveable “Buzzard” – the housekeeper of an affluent estate, hidden away on the outskirts of town, known as Swan Place. Buzzard and her fellow devout black women’s Christian group keep the girls safe and help them to bear up under trials.

A common thread throughout most of Trobaugh's books, Swan Place attests to the strength of love, familial relationships, and spirituality and how, combined, they can be a formidable foe in opposition to hopelessness, poverty and racism. It is a simple yet touching – and sometimes saccharine – read that will not be easily forgotten.

reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

Chinese Landscapes Made Easy

Chinese Landscapes Made Easy
-by Rebecca Yue

Publisher: Batsford Books (UK), 176 pages
ISBN 978-0-7134-9047-3


beautifully illustrated comprehensive art course

Imagery of the tranquillity and poetry of nature has remained a compelling source of inspiration for artists throughout the millennia. In particular, Chinese landscape paintings, clearly depict nature as more than a mere facsimile of surroundings. Rather, they are abstract expressions of the heart and mind of the artist — they are images that tell stories, exemplifying the depth and beauty of their surrounding culture.

In Chinese Landscapes Made Easy, author and artist Rebecca Yue’s comprehensive and methodical instruction, not only brings a beautifully painted Chinese landscape easily within reach of a novice artist, but also affords a glimpse into the old world techniques and inspiration behind the art.

Along with clear instructions, requisite materials and equipment are outlined and listed, which include: six basic, yet essential, Chinese brushes; various types and weight of paper to facilitate differing painting methods; ink; and other indispensable accessories. These items coupled with a little time, effort and imagination will help the artist master the basics of creating a beautiful finished painting.

The artist is artfully guided through the steps by systematic instructions, and diagrams, in how to manoeuvre the brushes, angling the brush on the painting surface, along with crucial techniques such as the “press and lift” and “dots and long dots” methods, dry and wet loading, two-color loading, and various brush strokes. The effects achieved by each technique are clearly demonstrated with illustrations and descriptive text.

In the beautifully illustrated “Moods & Seasons” and “Landscape Features” chapters, Yue utilizes her own paintings as a guide to clearly demonstrate how to piece together the elements learned in previous chapters, to produce an inspiring and stunning final painting.

In short, Chinese Landscapes Made Easy encapsulates an entire comprehensive art course, which aids the budding artist through every step of creating beautiful Chinese landscapes, and even facilitates the needs of more intermediate/advanced-level artist, seeking to improve skills in achieving a more true-to-form Chinese technique — an art form, in its own right.

—Reviewed for Batsford Books

The Decorated Journal

The Decorated Journal: Creating Beautifully Expressive Journal Pages
-by Gwen Diehn

Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Lark Books; New Ed edition (August 28, 2006)
ISBN-10: 1579909566 / ISBN-13: 978-1579909567


comprehensive and enjoyable workshop in a book

The Decorated Journal attests that Gwen Diehn, not only competent at binding and embellishing beautiful books, also finds her niche in writing them. From the first page onward, it is evident that Diehn, who teaches journal-creation itself as an art form, takes great pride in sharing the details of her creative knowledge and experience, as much as she enjoys putting them to use.

In this inspiring companion to her previous book, The Decorated Page, Diehn effortlessly initiates and encourages the flow of creative juices with regards visual journaling (complementing descriptive text with visual art), beautifying and personalizing pages/covers, and basic book-binding as a form of artistic expression.

Brimming with instructional gems, each page — amply and colourfully illustrated with expressive images and beautiful examples of creative journal pages — builds gradually on the preceding pages, allowing the reader to progressively observe how the core pieces of the project fit together and visualize the finished product.

The Decorated Journal includes various uses of materials such as watercolour, pastels, coloured pencils, crayons, liquid acrylics, ink, and a vast array of techniques to get the most out of your materials. Also helpful are Diehn’s detailed and practical comparisons of various types/weight of paper, varieties of adhesives, and brushes. Other design suggestions include the use of cut-outs, copier transfers, gouache, collage, colour washes, stamping, etc., to enhance the beauty and interest of your journal. The author touches upon dry/wet processes, use of transparencies and drop shadows to add an interesting dimension to the journal’s pages.

One of the book’s highlights is the comprehensive section on creating an actual journal from scratch, using basic easy-to-find materials. Even the most hesitant of bookbinders will appreciate the chapter entitled “The Reluctant Bookbinder” which walks you through the fundamentals: an easy-to-complete 3-minute pamphlet, the 6-minute double pamphlet, the 30-minute multiple pamphlet journal, and ultimately, the beautiful yet functional 2-hour leather-bound journal. Diehn’s tips are also helpful in customizing an unimaginative store-bought blank book that could use a personal touch. Instructions also include altering book covers or using an old book cover to create a new blank book.

Diehn generously offers her readers a comprehensive workshop in a book, which will be sure to delight journal enthusiasts. Whether you are a novice or “journal veteran”, an occasional journal reader/writer or an avid daily archivist, The Decorated Journal will prove to be a valuable creative resource, overflowing with inspiration and imaginative ideas.

— Reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

An Enchantment of Birds

An Enchantment of Birds: Memories from a Birder's Life
-by Richard Cannings

ISBN-10: 1553652355
ISBN-13: 978-1553652359

A flock of praise for An Enchantment of Birds

Biologist, naturalist, and bird enthusiast Richard Cannings’ celebrated oeuvre isn’t just for the birds. Whether you are a devout birdwatcher with binoculars and field book in hand, or someone who just enjoys learning more about the winged beauties that frequent the feeder outside your window, Cannings’ beautifully written compilation of memorable sightings and stories of birds native to North America will delight and divert bird aficionados of any degree.

Harmoniously and skilfully, Cannings complements a delightful menagerie of personal encounters with his fine-feathered friends, with specifications of their niches, habitats spanning the Atlantic to Pacific coasts, identifying characteristics, patterns of behaviour, remarkable details of anatomy, and function in the ecosystem.

From the Preface, where he recounts the beginnings of his fascination (“Once the spell has been cast, you forever experience the world differently, eyeing forests as if you were a woodpecker looking for nesting snags…”), to his childhood memories of early morning meadowlark songs drifting through his window, along with family hikes through woodlands and prairies, Cannings speaks candidly and affectionately about his lifetime love of birds and nature in general. “Whatever the origins of this interest, it is indeed an enchantment”, Cannings writes.

These charming anecdotes and reminisces, while comprehensive, are a refreshing contrast to a birder’s guidebook detailing every statistic in deliberate textbook fashion. Its pages offer an up-close perspective and glimpse into the lives of these enchanting creatures. In addition, beautifully rendered sketches from illustrator Donald Gunn serve as a striking and almost-poetic complement to Cannings’ expressive meditations on these wonders of wildlife.

Whether it is a rare sighting of the remarkably plumed white-headed woodpecker, the majestic bald eagle, and the flammulated owl (“one of those creatures that you do not see unless you go looking for them”), or the frequently sighted crow, bluebird and chickadee, Cannings’ lyrical scrutiny brings these marvels of creation from the page in startling familiarity and clarity. Other birds captured between the pages of Enchantment, include the pygmy nuthatch, calliope hummingbird, evening grosbeak, bohemian waxwing, white-tailed ptarmigan, tufted puffin, and northern gannet, to mention just a few.

The author expresses his hope that “their stories will touch you as well and perhaps begin to cast a spell that will last a lifetime.” Without a doubt, Richard Cannings’ informative, yet delicately tender, labour-of-love, An Enchantment of Birds, will be sure to do just that — not unlike the subjects of his very own musings.

—Reviewed for Douglas & McIntyre Publishing

The Decorated Page

The Decorated Page: Journals, Scrapbooks & Albums Made Simply Beautiful
-by Gwen Diehn

Paperback, 128 pages
Publisher: Lark Books; 1st Pbk edition (August 28, 2003)
ISBN-10: 1579905129 / ISBN-13: 978-1579905125

MY RATING: 4.5/5

In The Decorated Page — an inspiring and amply illustrated forerunner to her most recent work, The Decorated Journal — author and artist Gwen Diehn effortlessly motivates the flowing of creative juices with regards visual journaling (complementing descriptive text with visual art), beautifying and personalizing journals, scrapbooks, and albums as a form of artistic expression.

Diehn’s The Decorated Page, attests that she is not only adroit at binding and embellishing beautiful books, also finds her niche in writing them. From the first page onward, it is evident that the author, who teaches journal-creation itself as an art form, takes great pride in sharing the details of her creative knowledge and experience, as much as she enjoys putting them to use.

Each cleverly laid-out colourful pages include easy-to-grasp instructions and suggestions, which build gradually on the preceding pages, allowing the reader to progressively observe how the core pieces of the project fit together and visualize the finished product. It is literally brimming with beautiful samples of uniquely decorated journals and albums utilizing different materials, equipment, mediums and techniques, that will be sure to inspire even the most hesitant of artists and journal keepers.

The Decorated Page incorporates the use of various contemporary materials such as watercolour, pastels, coloured pencils, crayons, liquid acrylics, ink, and more, along with a vast array of techniques to get the most out of your materials. Also helpful are Diehn’s detailed and practical comparisons of various types/weight of paper, varieties of adhesives, and brushes. Other design suggestions include the use of cut-outs, copier transfers, gouache, collage, colour washes, stamping, etc., to enhance the beauty and interest of your journal. The author touches upon dry/wet processes, use of transparencies and drop shadows to add an interesting dimension to the journal’s pages.

As was the case in The Decorated Journal, Diehn generously offers her readers an additional comprehensive workshop-in-a-book with The Decorated Page — a great companion to its predecessor, which will be sure to delight journal enthusiasts. Whether you are a novice or “journal veteran”, an occasional journal reader/writer or an avid daily archivist, this book will prove to be a treasure trove of inspiration and imaginative ideas.

— Reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co. NY

The Jade Peony

The Jade Peony
— by Wayson Choy

288 pages (2007)
Other Press, paperback
ISBN 0312155565

MY RATING: 4 / 5 stars

a poignant examination of Chinese immigrants’ struggle in Canada

Wayson Choy's beautifully written debut novel, The Jade Peony, is a poignant examination of the Chinese immigrant experience in Vancouver’s Chinatown before and during the Second World War, and its consequence on collective ideals, as well as the immigrants’ personal identities. It is a representation of a proud, dignified people struggling to regain autonomy from the constraints of history, intolerance, destitution, and cultural heritage.

True to memoir-like fashion, The Jade Peony consists of three individual manuscripts, written from different perspectives. Three siblings in the same household of Chinese immigrants, eking out a meager living in Vancouver’s Chinatown, combine their accounts in one volume, to compile a narrative of different acculturation effects within the family and the Chinese community itself. These three very different life experiences and vantage points, bestow an accurate sampling of a new generation desperate to adjust and assimilate the new world culture, often at the sacrifice of the “old ways”…much to their elders’ dismay.

Little sister Jook-Liang, who longs to be a performer like Shirley Temple, befriends family friend Wong Bak, a deformed elderly man from the old country. As the two of them form an unlikely friendship, Jook-Liang ambitiously dreams of escaping the unyielding old ways, while grappling with the old Chinese convention of elevating the life of a boy above that of a girl.

Second brother Jung-Sum, taken from a neglectful family in China, is sent to live with his new adoptive family in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Besieged by childhood trauma of what he had to endure at the hands of his biological parents, he ultimately feels a sense of belonging amongst his new family, and finds his niche in boxing.

Third Brother Sekky, often plagued with illness (and as a result, coddled by Poh-Poh), never quite comes to terms with the plethora of complex Chinese dialects he is forced to study. Overwhelmed, he often retreats into himself, inducing visions of Poh-Poh after she is gone, and filling the void with an obsession for war games. When a forbidden relationship flourishes between Sekky’s Chinese babysitter and a Japanese boy, the lines between friend and foe are blurred by fear of frightful events happening a world away, with devastating consequences.

At the heart of each account is Poh-Poh (respectfully known as the “Old One”, or Grandmother). the mainstay and matriarch of the family, who passes down vivid reminiscences of her life experiences to the children. Not unlike the jade peony, which she bestows to them as an inheritance, Poh-Poh also confers them a more valuable inheritance — their cultural heritage as a people, and the necessity and importance of holding on to a measure of “old way” attitude.

Though discrimination and poverty predominated the early immigrants’ experience, Choy tempers his story with a caustic wit and a gritty humor that brings a certain hope to the often-heartrending chronicle. Given its candor and lucid voice on an important topic, it is no surprise that The Jade Peony has gained many accolades and awards, and has won its way to many readers’ hearts.

Buy The Jade Peony at

- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

Secrets to Drawing Heads

Secrets to Drawing Heads
-by Allan Kraayvanger

Paperback: 112 pages
Sterling (February 2007)
ISBN-10: 1402747438 / ISBN-13: 978-1402747434

MY RATING: 4 / 5 stars

Exceptional guide for the novice

Capturing the quintessence of the human head and face, as well as character of the individual, is the “holy grail” of all techniques, to most artists; also the most complicated and challenging to achieve. This is mainly due to the fact that most struggle with the tendency towards drawing things symbolically, rather than what is actually seen. Allan Kraayvanger’s Secrets to Drawing Heads is a classic of simplicity, yet exceptionally focused, when it comes to helpful direction in this exceptional art, especially for the absolute novice attempting to develop their skills in portrait drawing.

An easy-to-read condensed art tutorial, Secrets to Drawing Head’s 112 pages are copiously illustrated with over 230 drawings, including step-by-step instructions and text outlining the core techniques that will help the budding artist reason on why such methods are taken. The reader is shown the building blocks of an accurate portrait and how to master the techniques in applying the study of basic components such as skin values, geometric shapes, shadows and lighting, perspective, and planes, to develop visual awareness. Advice offered on “individualizing” a face is also exceedingly helpful in capturing the subjects ‘character’ and personal aura in a portrait.

Extremely helpful in guiding and nudging the burgeoning artist beyond the lifeless one-dimensional line drawing, the complexities of the human face and head are abridged to their simplest structures to accommodate easy comprehension. It should be said that, while accurate and recognizable, the final result is akin to a loose sketch, rather than a detailed and refined portrait. Therefore, its richly visual instruction and references are geared more towards the beginner or intermediate, as opposed to the seasoned artist who is looking for a greater echelon of detail in a finished drawing.

Also included are discussions capturing realistic anatomy by understanding bone and muscle structure, advice on capturing tipped profiles and angled views accurately, as well as the use of symbolism. A comprehensive index in the back of the book also aids in rapid look-up of particular topics of interest.

Kraayvanger’s own drawing illustrations, coupled with his pointed text and guidance in Secrets to Drawing Heads, strike a perfect equilibrium, as he demonstrates the quick, rewarding way to master the fundamentals of a favorite genre of expression. The beginner artist will appreciate how the author reduces complexities with fun and easy-to-follow instructions. This book is highly recommended to the artist endeavoring to gain confidence in drawing an accurate likeness.

Buy Secrets to Drawing Heads at

-reviewed for Sterling Publishing, NY

Lock 14

Lock 14 (Inspector Maigret Mysteries)
-by Georges Simenon

160 pages, Penguin
ISBN-10: 0143037277 / ISBN-13: 978-0143037279

My Rating: 4/5 stars

lock14Acclaimed author, Georges Simenon, once again weaves a capturing tale of mystery and suspense, with the astute Inspector Maigret at the wheel. A series numbering over 100 books, the Inspector Maigret series – after a long stint of unavailability – has, thankfully, been reintroduced by Penguin Books to readers hankering for good mysteries. With an intriguing plot and a cast of believable characters, Lock 14, set early on in the Maigret series), is a swift but gratifying read.

Brusquer and less loquacious than Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Inspector Maigret is all business as he takes on a new case that is sure to perplex even the most skilled of sleuths.

Set in France, in the region of a lock located on a busy section of canal, Lock 14, recounts the underhanded goings-on along these extensive waterways. With commercial barge interchange in the lock, coupled with high-class yachts and tourist boats, which were often gathered in close proximity, the result was an aquatic melding pot of working class and “upper crust” societies.

The varying degrees of society in the vicinity of Lock 14 have apparently collided, on a rainy April day, when two dockmen stumble upon the cadaver of elegantly-clad Mary Lampson while rummaging under the hay in a stable; 5 hours dead from apparent strangulation. Inspector Maigret is called to piece things together. First to be interviewed is the dead woman’s husband, Sir Walter Lampson, an Englishman and retired colonel of the Indian Army, whose pleasure craft is docked near Lock 14. The Inspectors sharp instincts are alerted when Lampson, along with fellow passengers of his yacht - who seem only bent on a life devoted to decadence - appear oddly aloof and indifferent to the murder. Ultimately shedding light on a heartrending occurrence of lost identity and lost love, Maigret gradually pieces together the stories of those involved, and how Mary Lampson and a second victim met their untimely end.

Regardless of the descriptive language outlining the characters, conspicuous is the lack of background on Inspector Maigret himself. Simenon leaves the reader guessing about the Inspectors persona, and the depths that lie beneath his somewhat gruff and abrupt exterior.

Despite their small size, Simenon's Inspector Maigret series of mystery books are highly satisfying and concentrated with page flipping “who-dunnit” suspense, keeping readers captured until the final pages. Lock 14, itself, saw publication in 1931 and yet remains accessible and a pleasure to read. These are excellent books that are small and easy to pack for a weekend getaway or outing, and can be easily enjoyed in a few brief sittings.

Buy Lock 14 at Amazon.

- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset

The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset
-by Philip Lee Williams

494 pages (2001) paperback, University of Georgia Press
ISBN 0-8203-2334-9

MY RATING: 5 /5 stars

Williams delivers a classic of our day!

Williams’ impressive loveable tale — The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorset: Consisting of a Narrative by a Retainer, Mr. Henry Hawthorne, Along With the History of Two Households, That of Dorset and Smythe: A Novel — is a more enjoyable and descriptive read than its lengthy title. A refreshing medley of life in 18th century Charleston, it is seasoned copiously with charming wit, sprightly comedy, and intriguing memorable characters. A truly captivating read, this pleasing narrative is written with a sincere heartfelt timbre and comes alive with animated anecdotes that will evoke chuckling, and searing wit that will leave its mark.

As Jenny Dorset, the household’s beautiful but unruly daughter, develops into a resolute rebel against authority as the American Revolution advances, the account charts her maturation, along with the raucous goings-on of the Dorset and surrounding households.

Penned from the observant perspective of Henry Hawthorne, the Dorset’s discerning and subdued family man servant who cares for the family loyally throughout the years, the reader will undoubtedly find the rich storyline highly entertaining, and written in a gratifying dynamic manner. The dedicated retainer, Hawthorne, patiently abides by the Dorset family’s rather eccentric and unruly lifestyle, and writes about his experiences first-hand, in perceptive memoir-like style. Hawthorne, loosely reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, the Moonstone’s elderly garrulous manservant, will surely entertain with his clever maxims, razor-sharp observations, and proverbial quotes. Also noteworthy are the narrator’s observations of the turbulent ‘timescape’ of the pre-revolutionary period, as war loomed on the horizon. (Williams’ tireless research is palpably evident!)

Most remarkable is the method in which Williams characterizes each member of the families involved in the story’s captivating plot — from the oddball dueling plantation patriarchs, Mr. Dorset and Mr. Smythe, hell bent on out-doing one another; to Old Bob, eldest of the family’s service staff, in his comedic stages of senility; and the spirited and ostentatious Jenny Dorset herself. Insertions of correspondence between characters, candid glimpses into their lives, and even excerpts of sheet music penned by the fictional Mr. Dorset, brings this beloved story alive and lends a realistic feel to the personal accounts.

Indeed, Williams’ novel is a great story-tellers’ delight! The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset manifests very engaging humor with every flip of a page. A classic of our day, it will quickly ascend as one of your favorites. Highly recommended.

Buy at The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset

orginally reviewed 10/28/2000
re-reviewed 04/23/2007

- reviewed for University of Georgia Press

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre
-by Charlotte Brontë

ISBN-10: 1593081170 / ISBN-13: 978-1593081171
594 Pages (2005) Barnes & Noble Classics

My Rating: 5 / 5

a timeless classic

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a well-loved contribution to British classic literature, not only conjures images of mysterious gothic edifices and windswept moors, but more importantly, traverses the immeasurable depths of human emotion and its relation to the rigid social structure of the 19th Century. An exceptional amalgamation of ardent sentiment, extraordinary yet accessible characters, mystifying somber ambiance, and intelligent prose, Jane Eyre, is every bit as enrapturing as it was upon its first publication in 1847 by Smith, Elder & Company of London.

Orphaned as an infant, spirited 10-year-old Jane Eyre is sent to live with her rich relatives at Gateshead. Her aunt, Mrs. Reed, who had formerly promised her husband on his deathbed to love and treat Jane as one of her own, outwardly treats her adoptive niece with contempt. Reed’s own children, torment and treat Jane with hostility, constantly reminding her that she is destitute and reliant, and at their family’s mercy. Ultimately finding the antagonistic treatment insupportable, Jane resolves to stand up for herself, ending in a physical altercation with her vindictive cousin, John. She held accountable for instigating the clash and is severely castigated by her Aunt Reed. At the suggestion of a kind-hearted physician, Mr. Lloyd, Jane is sent away to Lowood School, a charity institution for orphan girls, run by Mr. Brocklehurst, in the hopes that she can escape her unhappiness at Gateshead and attain a sensible education. Jane’s Aunt Reed seems happy to be rid of her troublesome “possessed” niece, and instigates the cruel and unyielding Brocklehurst to keep her “in line” – singling her out from her peers, for discipline and ridicule.

Despite continually being made the target of the mean-hearted minister’s ire, Jane makes two special friends – a teacher, Miss Temple, and fellow student Helen Burns, who is eventually overcome by the poor living conditions and a typhoid epidemic that sweeps through the school. Due to the growing public outcry of the terrible conditions at Lowood, the school gradually is improved. Jane excels in her studies and flourishes in the improved surroundings, attaining a respectable education and becoming a teacher at the school. At age 18 she decides to advertise. As a result of her self-sufficient resourcefulness, Jane obtains a post as a governess and tutor at Thornfield, a sprawling country estate. She is warmly welcomed by the estate’s the friendly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As the months pass, the estate owner’s ward, Adèle Varens — a 10-year-old French girl of dubious parentage — begins to excel under Jane’s watchful eye and tutelage.

Walking to Thornfield one misty evening, Jane quite literally stumbles upon, Mr. Edward Rochester returning home from a long absence — the owner of Thornfield and her employer — a rugged, brooding man in his late-thirties. Although often aloof and “changeable”, Rochester is gradually bewitched by this young “other worldly” governess, and the two steadily form an unlikely attachment. Thus begins the greatest romance in literature. As the astounding drama unfolds, Jane also discovers that Thornfield harbors a secret…one that will change her life forever.

Brontë’s acute consciousness and understanding of the complexity of human emotions lends an unrivaled splendor and depth to Jane Eyre. She artfully molds what is a fundamentally mournful account into a tale of hope and happiness, imbuing it with vibrant, albeit succinct, metaphors of man’s immense capacity for kindness, decency and love.

Buy Jane Eyre at


- reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

The 6th Lamentation

The 6th Lamentation
-by William Brodrick

ISBN 978-0142004623
400 Pages (2004)

My Rating: 4.5 / 5

brilliant debut demonstrates storytelling at its best

The 6th Lamentation — Brodrick’s dazzling debut on the events leading up to, and following, the Nazi’s occupation of France during World War II, and the impact on those who lived through it — is a novel of immense ethical intricacy, startling enlightenments and turnarounds. An effectual combination of fact and fiction, the story melds the past and present, spanning three generations…concluding in place where modern day retribution and past atrocities converge.

When Father Anselm, a barrister turned monk, is called on by a suspected war criminal, Eduard Schwermann, to provide asylum, Larkwood Priory (at Papal request), risks public scandal and harbours the former Nazi throughout his ensuing trial. When Anselm discovers that the Church earlier granted Schwermann and a French associate sanctuary after the war, providing them safe passage from France to England and new assumed identities, he launches a private investigation to find out why. Meanwhile, French expatriate Agnes Aubret, struggling with a debilitating terminal illness, discloses to her granddaughter Lucy her past involvement in a secret assemblage in the French Resistance, called The Round Table – a group that intended to conceal Jewish children from the murderous Nazi regime. The group was ultimately exposed by an infamous SS officer: Edward Schwermann. As Anselm peers into Schwermann iniquitous dealings and Lucy explores her grandmother's painful past, they discover the two seemingly unconnected histories are entwined, and are both connected to a French collaborator by the name of Victor Brionne.

Through his meticulous plot formation and ethically multifarious depiction of primary and secondary characters, Brodrick proves a leader in contemporaneous historical regeneration, in this acutely suspenseful drama/thriller. While avoiding being overly detailed on the horrendous atrocities of the Holocaust, he maintains a balanced pace throughout the novel, and often takes a step back from the bigger picture, focusing on poignant details that are often missed in novels of this genre.

Not unlike Shakespeare's tragic protagonists, whom are capable of both good and evil, Brodrick’s complex characters are anything but static, as they explore the possibilities of complex human nature — and how, ultimately, a single good work can often be used to justify countless crimes against humanity.

While disparaged by some for being too loquacious, The 6th Lamentation is not a book to be hurriedly perused. Brodrick, unlike many of today’s contemporary authors, makes a substantial ‘meal’ of the English language, which deserves to be savored and relished. Its eloquent literary verbosity and prose is effectively counterbalance by the story’s harrowing plot and white-knuckle twists and turns of plot, which will assuredly keep the reader on tenterhooks until it’s final pages.

The author’s own intriguing life experience as a practicing lawyer, and former monk, in addition to excerpts of his family history, add a rich density that elevates this story to more than just another good novel on the bookshelf. The 6th Lamentation is highly recommended for those who yearn for a historical drama and mystery, with a well-written literary aptitude.

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- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

Art of Still Life Drawing

Art of Still Life Drawing

160 pages (March 2006), paperback
Sterling Publishing Co., NY
ISBN: 978-1402732843

MY RATING: 5 / 5

Next best thing to a personal instructor

Whether you are a budding artist on the cusp of exploring drawing for the first time, or at a more advanced level and looking to embellish your proficiency, Art of Still Life Drawing makes accurate still life drawings uncomplicated and approachable for every level of sketcher. The book’s clear, precise step-by-step illustrations and explanations demonstrate the logic behind drawing, and thoroughly examine the fundamentals of attaining an amazingly vibrant and expressive composition. The building blocks of creating an accurate and successful still life, presented in coherent progression, will make even the most unskilled artist feel comfortable with delving into a more complex piece of art, and launch the emerging artists off on a great journey of creating something they’ve never attempted before.

Chapters include well-written and easy to follow instructions on the initial basic line drawing, perspective, incorporating light and shadow depending on the shape of the object; discussion of shapes, qualities and subjects of still life; amazingly informative instructions on rending the texture of an object (glass, metal, pottery, textiles, etc.); demonstration of creating accurate reflections and representing transparency; exploring the composition of the still life; and step-by-step studies of drawings from beginning to end, using different techniques and drawing implements.

Each comprehensive section of this lovely book is color coded for quick and easy reference at your fingertips, and a comprehensive index is also included at the back of the book for specific topic look-up. The reader will enjoy the sequential how-to’s in each chapter, with beautifully informative illustrations and understandable descriptive text, which offer helpful hints and different perspectives to each technique explored. Different drawing equipment and tools are discussed in achieving distinctive looks and renderings. The book also leaves room for coupling its instructions with the utilization of one’s own individual style, techniques and ideas, aiding in the creation of a still life that is anything but dull.

As a self-taught artist who is constantly endeavoring to better her drawing and painting skills, I can honestly recommend Art of Still Life Drawing as one of the better-end instructional drawing books available. It is the next best thing to having a real-life instructor by your side, guiding you through every step. With endless possible variations, Still Life Drawing offers artists, of any echelon, the ideal instruction for creating - and perfecting - still life compositions. Its inspirational lessons cover all the crucial precursors for capturing a realistic image, and is a must-have for any artist.

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- reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces

Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces
- by Brad Mee

160 pages (2005)
Sterling Publishing Co., NY
hardcover with jacket

MY RATING: 4 / 5

Fresh innovative design

Living spaces are literally the heartbeat of our home – where we meet, entertain, and relax and unwind. It is where we spend the majority of our time, at home. Therefore, it is only natural that we aspire the design of these rooms to work along with, and complement, the purpose and function of these beloved areas of our dwellings.

In Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces, renowned HGTV interior designer Brad Mee offers unique and inspiring tips for decorating these “living spaces” with professional finesse. Whether it is a living room, a great room, an entertainment room, or a special space such as a library or drawing room — these living spaces are given new life with Mee’s innovative steps to attaining a beautiful and livable space. Spanning from the subtle to the bold, he demonstrates how attainable attractive designs can be, no matter what the budget, resources, or floor plan, and provides ample tips for making your designs easier.

It all starts with the crucial initial assessment. Mee encourages analyzing the potential of the space you have to work with. The next step is to then outline and identify any special eye-catching feature in the room that you would like to enhance and, on the other end of the spectrum, note problematic characteristics you wish to conceal in that space. After listing the said characteristics, it is then suggested to prioritize the room’s advantages and disadvantages. What do you have to work with? What ‘feeling’ or ambiance is desired for the finished product? Does the room require any special needs, layout wise?

While claiming to meld style with a hospitable family-oriented space, many readers may find the design layouts featured in the photographs do not lend an overly practical feel to them. Most room designs are targeted to those who lean more towards the contemporary-modern look, and perhaps those who prefer more traditional colonial designs may lose interest in his more modernistic approach. However, even the most traditional of decorators will be able to garner helpful ideas from Mee’s wealth of interior designing experience — especially when it comes to the unique techniques of making optimum use of space and shape, and how it relates to the interplay of lighting, color, texture, and fabric in the overall design.

Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces is a comprehensive guide containing innovative ideas and eye-catching design for an exclusive and multi-functional space for all to enjoy. Mee’s demonstrates how attaining a signature look is truly all in the details that make up a collective workable design.

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- reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

Eating Up Italy

Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa
-by Matthew Fort

296 pages (autumn 2006)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

Bella! Bella!

Matthew Fort’s infatuation for all things edible and Italian are wonderfully palpable in this gastronomic treasure. Heady and sumptuous as a fine red wine, Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa — part travel memoir, part specialty recipe book — recounts Fort’s journeys all over the stunning Italian countryside, while lavishly showcasing each region’s own unique culinary “nuances”.

Italy’s romance and mystique lay in its beautiful language, hearty people, culture, fascinating history...and, of course, its wide array of mouth-watering edible delights. One would be hard-pressed to find a better qualified author for the task. Fort, one of Britain’s most renowned food critic and writer, formed an enthusiasm for Italy at the tender age of 11. The love affair with the country and its cuisine has only deepened with time, as Fort, at age 50, takes a “gastronomic tour” of the beautiful country from its southernmost tip at Melito Di Porto Salvo to the northern region of Turin.

Fort brings the tastes, aromas, and regional culture of Italy directly to the reader, in stunning clarity, coupled with a signature wit. Eating Up Italy is a bonafide travelogue on its own merits — nonetheless, Fort doesn’t rest on his laurels, expecting us to take his word for it. The tried-and-true age old recipes, generously peppered throughout, involve the reader and add an inimitable richness to Fort’s personal experiences, on his travels.

From regional delicacies to every-day local cuisine, Fort’s selected recipes and instructions, layered amidst engaging anecdotes teaming with insight into the lives and food of the locals, are easy to follow and tempting to try. Fortunately, many of the recipes are ‘formalized’, using easily recognizable standard measurements, as many Italian cooking techniques are known to use vague measurements such as “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.“ Some recipes may be easier than others, as some call for ingredients that would be challenging for a typical North American ‘foodie’ to find at their local market.

The book, itself, is bound beautifully with a ‘foodified’ rendition of Venus di Milo. Its lovely thick buttery paper and dark brown ink, lends itself an “old world” feel. At the back of the book is a comprehensive index, in case a particular recipe or notation requires reference on a whim.

Truly a voyager’s enchantment and a food lover’s bible, Eating Up Italy captures the incredible country that has it all, and will have any food lover or travel enthusiast shouting “Bella! Bella!”

One can only wait with bated breath - and grumbling stomach - for Fort’s upcoming labour of love, Eating Up Sicily.

Buy Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa at


- reviewed for Book Pleasures

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice
-by Jane Austen (annotated & edited by David M. Shapard)

740 pages (2004)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

a more focused glimpse into Austen’s world

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, indefatigably researched by David Shapard, contains intriguing particulars ranging from regency-period events, economy, society and customs of the time, to facts about Jane Austen’s family life and personal history, as they apply – verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph – to her most beloved of novels, Pride and Prejudice.

Not only a lovely bound volume of Austen’s masterpiece, Shapard’s meticulous work is also a uniquely comprehensive reference tool, or glossary, for the analytical prowess of the Regency-period zealot. Even more enjoyable are the literary commentaries, and “enlightenments” of certain ambiguous passages and behaviour of Austen’s enduring characters.

Within its tirelessly investigated annotations, in simple easy-to-read terms, Shapard effectively explores the development of Austen’s novel, drawing from the historical context “behind the scenes”, that the Regency-period author drew from -- the society from which Austen lived, and the world that shaped her creative mind to produce such a well-loved story.

The striking detail and explanations, encompassed by ample definitions, maps, illustrations and how it all fits into the novel’s context, will add a full, rich dimension to one’s reading.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice is a book every avid “Austenite” and Pride and Prejudice aficionado would not want to do without – it is a more focused glimpse into Austen’s world, which will offer immense delight to the book’s enthusiasts.

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- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

Sophie & the Rising Sun

Sophie & the Rising Sun
-by Augusta Trobaugh

224 pages (2002)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

delicate as a paper crane

Simply, yet beautifully, written and poignant, Sophie and the Rising Sun — a narrative, in the plaintive voice of various characters — takes place in a sleepy southern town in Georgia.

Sophie, a refined southern lady and middle-aged spinster, finds she has depleted her “young and beautiful years” caring for her elderly mother and aunts, after her beau, Henry, never returned from WWI. Finds herself quite resigned to the idea of never finding love at her age, Sophie, finds solace in painting by the town’s beautiful river, and meeting with her dear friend Miss Anne — that is, until Grover Oto moves into town, under mysterious circumstances.

Gentlemanly and kind, Mr. Oto, an American-born man of Japanese decent, is soon commissioned as Miss Anne’s gardener. Despite being limited to mere greetings in passing, Oto and Sophie form a suppressed friendship. Discovering they both share a passion for creating art, they meet weekly at the river, painting in comfortable silence as their connection to each other flourishes. However, between the antics of Ruth - the prejudiced town meddler - and the rigid racial and social structure of the time, it is almost guaranteed that the unconventional duo of Sophie and Mr. Oto will be expected to keep a formal distance. Forced into hiding from the enraged townsfolk, after the Pearl Harbour bombing, Oto experiences the full consequences of the attack, as Sophie and Miss Anne courageously support him. Will he and Sophie ever be able to realize their true feelings for each other, in a society that is so obstinate regarding their cultural differences?

Through the words and reactions of her characters, the author offers a unique perspective of the events at Pearl Harbor. In its own way, the entire substance of the novel serves as a social commentary on the war’s psychological fall-out — including the malicious treatment (thinly veiled as patriotism) of Japanese immigrants, American citizens, living in United States.

And yet, the elegiac cadences of Trobaugh’s prose, coupled with her tender imagery and ambiance, adds an emotional richness to this touching account. Lovely for a light, but unforgettable, weekend read, Sophie and the Rising Sun is highly recommended.

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Snow Flower & The Secret Fan

Snow Flower & The Secret Fan
-by Lisa See
272 pages (2005)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

A history lesson with heart

Lisa See's beautiful, yet heartbreaking, tale of women's intimate relationships, and the rigid customs of 19th century China, is set in a remote village in Hunan province.Often in poetic, tender prose, the dynamics of the lives of two girls are recounted -- Lily, the narrator of the story, a sensitive daughter of a poor farmer; and Snow Flower a well-bred daughter of privilege -- spanning childhood ("milk years" and "daughter days"), adolescence ("hair pinning days"), mature married days as wives and mothers ("rice and salt days"), to old age ("sitting quietly days").From childhood the two girls' lives are bound together, at the instigation of a match-maker, by the customary laotong tradition - linking them to become life-long bosom friends (or "old sames"). Even at a distance, both geographically and status-wise, Lily and Snow Flower's correspondence reaches out across the boundaries as they write to each other in nu shu, a clandestinely-kept writing form known only to women, and a temporary respite in their oppression.Along with life's everyday hard lessons for a woman living in 19th century China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan unveils the traditions behind arranged marriages, the superstitions and the ceremonies, the unyielding codes of conduct for daughters, wives and mothers, and the disturbing traditions of foot-binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty; only through suffering will you have peace"), and the placing of little value on women's life, except for their facility to bear sons for their husband.With a stoic acceptance - and, often times, eventual resignation - of their fate as the unappreciated sex, Snow Flower and Lily go their separate ways in life, due to a grave misunderstanding in their correspondence.

As both an excruciatingly poignant story and an enthralling historical account, See's beautifully portrayed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will be sure to touch your heart.

Buy Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel at


The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
-by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
512 pages (English ed., 2004)


histrionic but fabulously riveting

"You mustn't tell anyone what you're about to see today."So were the words of Daniel Sempere's father, a dealer in antiquarian books in brooding post-civil war Barcelona, when he introduces his young son to the esoteric Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There he has his young son "rescue" any book he wishes, from a lifetime of neglect. "The Shadow of the Wind", the boy's selection, was written by author, Julian Carax, purported to have enigmatically perished in a duel shrouded in ambiguity.As Daniel grows into a young man, he becomes obsessed with the book and its mystifying author. He also comes to the realization that Carax's books are conspicuously starting to disappear - a mysterious cloaked collector has been buying them up and setting them ablaze, one by one...and he has made it very clear that he is after Daniel's copy too.

Daniel enlists the assistance of Fermín Romero de Torres - an erudite vagrant who just happens to be a former Republican emissary - in piecing together the story of Carax's life, which turns out to be a superbly macabre Gothic-style epic. As a result, Daniel and Fermín are thrust into the middle of a perilous escapade as they struggle to avoid the perils of a psychopathic fascist agent.

Some brilliant passages induced comparisons to Gabriel García Márquez or Arturo Perez-Reverte, whereas others occasionally read like a melodramatic over-sensationalized screenplay (which makes sense, as Zafon is a former screenwriter). Zafon's use of comical relief in Fermín Romero de Torres is effective in offsetting the story's oftentimes far-fetched intensity.

Nonetheless, despite all its flaws, Ruiz Zafon's post Spanish Civil War thriller will indubitably entertain.

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The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
-by Diane Setterfield
416 pages (2006)


Tell me the truth..."

“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in books they write, they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved....”

Setterfield’s novel The Thirteenth Tale is a captivating debut — brimming with complex twists, secrets, confused identities, squeaky staircases and gothic-like intrigue — conjuring up loose comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Brönte’s Jane Eyre.At the heart of the story is Margaret Lea, a plain bookish girl who works in her father’s antiquarian bookstore in London. Constantly surrounded and preoccupied with books, she has also written a minority of amateur biographies of relatively unknown historical figures.The intrigue commences when a mysterious letter arrives for Margaret, from Vida Winters – an eccentric famous author who insists on confounding her aficionados and biographers with fictional adaptations of her life story with an oath of their authenticity. Aside from countless best sellers, Winters has also written a book entitled “The Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation” which, curiously enough, only contains 12 stories. The letter summons Margaret to Winter’s home where she is asked by the terminally ill author to embark on a biography of her life at the tragic Anglefield Estate. It is a story of twins, shadows, scandal, and deception.

As work on the biography begins, both Winters and Margaret struggle to deal with the truth of their painful pasts. Not before the dreadful realities are skillfully revealed by the author, the secret behind the strangely absent “thirteenth tale” is finally uncovered.

The Thirteenth Tale succeeds in being equally heart-pounding and heart-wrenching, and most definitely worth a read. One can only look forward to Diane Setterfield’s next novel.

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The Woman In White

The Woman In White
-by Wilkie Collins
720 pages (1860)

Wilkie Collins’ most captivating oeuvre

A master craftsman of timeless classics that still garner accolades today, Wilkie Collins’ brilliance was often eclipsed by the illustriousness of his well-known contemporary, Charles Dickens. Fortunately Collins’ literary tour de force can still be enjoyed and appreciated today.The Woman In White is unquestionably one of his best works — a superbly written, gripping gothic mystery that will enthrall Victorian lit and ‘whodunit’ lovers alike. Complex, yet incredibly involving, the novel is full of atmosphere and rich description. Collins is also verified as a superb stylist with his evocative array of unforgettable characters.Throughout the novel, Collins’ allows several of his characters to espouse the role of narrator, which lends an exciting edge, where readers are unsure which characters, can or cannot, be trusted.

When a mysterious woman clad in white, accosts Walter Hartright, a young art master on his way to a new commission to teach two half-sisters, the catalyst emerges upon which the entire narrative turns. The idealist Hartright is soon introduced to and fast becomes close friends with his two new pupils at Limmeridge House -- Laura Fairlie, the young naïve maiden and heiress, who abides by her father’s deathbed-wish to marry Sir Percival Glyde; and Marian, head-strong, independent, and fiercely loyal to her younger half-sister Laura. Despite Marian’s belief that her sister’s wedding should continue according to their father’s wishes, Marian soon becomes suspicious of Sir Percival’s intentions in marrying Laura, who she believes is only pursuing Laura for her fortune. Enter the cunning and rapacious Count Fosco from Italy, who is also strangely suave and genial a villain as one is likely to meet in literature. Sir Percival, together with his intelligent ally, Fosco, conspire to ruin the lovely Laura Fairlie, for her family fortune. There is also a secret of Sir Percival’s that he will keep, whatever the cost. As a result, the sisters and Hartright are drawn into the intrigue and danger as the plot unfolds. What is Sir Percival’s secret? Who is this woman in white? And how will she affect the lives of those at Limmeridge House?

The engaging mystery wrapped up in The Woman In White vies three sanguine youth against the likes of avaricious, black-hearted villains who will stop at nothing to get what they want. It is truly a riveting classic that encompasses romance, drama and mystery. The Woman In White is a timeless favourite and a must-read for any classics lover!

Buy The Woman in White (Penguin Classics) at



-by James MacKean
320 pages (2003)

a noteworthy first attempt

Expert violinmaker, McKean, ventures into new territory with his ambitious debut novel, Quattrocento - a story of fine art and love, cleverly disguised as time-travel conceit.At the heart of the story is Matt O'Brian, an art restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who struggles with the realization that he has revealed a never before discovered quattrocento* masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci; a painting of a beautiful young woman, who O'Brian names "Anna". The painting and the subject become the focus of his obsession, and O'Brian fears its discovery, as he does not wish to be parted from it. In the meantime, the Metropolitan Museum has finished the restoration of Federico's Studiolo, an ancient study, a placeO'Brian is often drawn to for quiet reflection.Unwilling to psychologically part with the painting that he has worked tirelessly on, O'Brian ultimately loses himself to the mysterious allure of the studiolo, and finds himself unwittingly whisked across five centuries to the quattrocento to be with the painting's beautiful subject, Anna. There he discovers she is a Contessa and also an artist, married to an elderly man. It is not long before O'Brian also encounters her dangerous suitor, a covetous knight named Leandro, who plunges the art curator into a treacherous love triangle, vying for the Contessa's affections. After falling in love and sharing their affection with a discreet kiss, Matt is parted from Anna, and is returned to present day.

O'Brian, desperate to return to Anna summons the aid of some ambiguous quantum mechanics, and is somehow jettisoned back to the quattrocento to pursue her again freely. Her elderly husband has since passed away, and most importantly the jealous suitor Leandro is (somewhat too conveniently) gone.

McKean's imaginative Quattrocento is a sprawling tale that is more fantasy than it is drama. The author's artistic background serves him well throughout the novel, as details regarding the beautiful world of art are truly breathtaking. Several passages meld "castle in the sky" whimsy and reality as O'Brian loses himself inside various art works. And yet, throughout the novel, it seems as though McKean has bitten off a bit more than he can chew with regards to physics and the idea of time travel, as the descriptions become often tedious and lack a lot of logic. But his efforts do deserve at least a nod of appreciation from art and book lovers alike.

*The cultural and artistic events of 15th century Italy are collectively referred  to as the Quattrocento (from the Italian for 400, or from "mille quattrocento," 1400).  Quattrocento encompasses the artistic styles of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. -Wikipedia

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The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm: A True Story of a Japanese Woman
-by Lala Okamoto
227 pages (2006)

when cultures collide

The Art of Loving is a memoir that that recounts Lala Okamoto's travels abroad and the relationships she experiences with foreigners -- some upbuilding, some devastating.As a young naïve Japanese woman, susceptible and completely enthralled with other cultures, Lala candidly recounts the details of her quixotic disaster with Rolf, a German "cassanova" who seems bent on ruining Lala's life.Throughout the chronicle, Okamoto's includes several interesting disparity between cultures she has encountered, and evaluates them to her own Japanese background. It is an interesting case study in how the collision of cultures can be constructive or destructive, and how a hastily made decision can easily lead to heartache.


The Herb Bible

The Herb Bible
-by Jennie Harding
256 pages (2004)

an attractive and practical reference tool

The Herb Bible is a beautiful book both to look at and to read. It offers a comprehensive way to discover the wonderful world of herbs and how to grow them productively in your own garden or home. It is also a wonderful incentive to return to healthy, natural eating.It clearly and attractively outlines the uses and medicinal properties of many common herbs, what soil and environments the herbs require to grow successfully, and also includes many examples where each herb will enhance the tastes of certain dishes.The Herb Bible will quickly become a favorite reference book. It is both enjoyable and practical and will constantly be off your bookshelf being put to good use.

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Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
-by Arthur Golden
512 pages (1999)

cliché Geisha?

While a piece of fiction, Memoirs of a Geisha is presented as an actual life story from the viewpoint of a Geisha - definitely an ambitious undertaking, if one considers the fact that the author is a white male from America.

The voice of the story is Chiyo (who is later given the Geisha name "Sayuri"). Her memoirs chronicle her life as young girl sold into a Geisha's life by her poor widowed father. In a stoic, frank way, she narrates the challenges, the desperation, the achievements, the abuse, the secrets, and the cruelty that she experiences as she becomes one of Japan's most prominent Geisha.

While the milieu of the novel is often described in luxuriously striking detail, the characters are never really developed to a great extent throughout the novel. Despite the fact that the plot is charged with emotional intensity, the main characters remain fundamentally cardboard-like and stereotypical - "the antagonist", "the protagonist", "the love interest", and "the benefactor" are painfully obvious and often 2-dimensional and insipid.

Granted, Golden's attention to detail and research into the life of a Geisha is apparent from the outset of the novel. However, the actual writing of the account, while at times enjoyably metaphoric, was mediocre at best.

Nevertheless, Memoirs of a Geisha, in spite of its many flaws and clichés, remains a weekend page-turner that gives us a westernized glimpse into the disquieting life of a Geisha, often shrouded in mystery.

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Love In The Time of Cholera

Love In The Time of Cholera  (El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera)
-by Gabriel García Márquez
348 pages (1985)

cholera: an effective metaphor for love

Love in the Time of Cholera, an arresting tale of unrequited love, dramatically chronicles a 50-year love triangle set in Columbia, spanning from roughly 1880 to 1930. Gabriel García Márquez's novel, with an intensity that rivals the classics, explores the concept that suffering for love is akin to a genre of nobility. Based on the perception that love-sickness is a literal infirmity, the author effectively uses cholera throughout the novel as a metaphor for love - love as a malady comparable to a devastating ailment. 

The condemned vertices of the love triangle include the obsessive lyricist, Florentino Ariza, who falls desperately and dangerously in love with the beautiful headstrong Fermina Daza. After meeting only briefly, the two commence an intense 3-year romance-by-letter. As years pass and Daza matures, she ultimately casts off any feelings towards the romantically love-sick Ariza, and instead, offers her hand in matrimony to the practical and respectable Doctor Juvenal Urbino - a specialist in overcoming the wide sweep of choleraic outbreaks. 

Heartbroken and rejected by the only woman he will ever truly love, Florentino Ariza does everything in his power to try to forget Daza, to no avail. And so, for over 50 years, he is left to be tormented by his passion for the woman he cannot forget, attempting to move on and yet hoping all the while she will return to him, even in the winter years of his life. 

Aside from the unnecessary sexual content in certain chapters, the story-line and García Márquez's poetic style are captivating.

The touching bitter-sweet conclusion to the severity of Love in the Time of Cholera will be sure to satisfy.

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Bleak House

Bleak House 
-by Charles Dickens
1088 pages (1852)

quite possibly Dickens' magnum opus

Bleak House boasts all the hallmarks of brilliant Dickens - a sprawling and ambitious plot (without the sacrifice of an iota of suspense or impetus), brimming with eccentric characters and an almost gothic thriller appeal. 

With wit, complexity and lack of guile, Dickens' winds through an unflattering vision of the Victorian legal system, to heartrending household drama, to an investigation of homicide. All characters are intricately drawn, hitting a compelling balance between austere emotional honesty and caricature subjects.

At the outset, we are introduced to Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, two young orphans and wards of Chancery, who learn they are potential heirs to a vast fortune. As they learn more about their prospective windfall, they quickly find out that their destiny is at the hands of a shady legal system. Notwithstanding, the two orphans, particularly the young and naïve Richard Carstone, become entangled in a colossal protracted legal battle for their fortune, known as "Jarndyce & Jarndyce". 

But at the root of the story is another orphan, Esther Summerson - poor and plain, trustworthy and kind - whose unknown descent proves to be entwined with the cool and aloof Lady Dedlock, a rich noble woman of 'dubious breeding'. The story unfolds further as Esther, and the young wards of court, Ada and Richard, are sent to live with a kind-hearted and benevolent guardian, John Jarndyce. While developing a deep love for Esther, which is truly touching and yet ultimately abandoned, John Jarndyce harbors a deeply unsettled past which inevitably comes to light. 

Bleak House validates the fact that pathos, social disparagement, and absurdity, and can all be contained in one wonderfully compelling chronicle. 

Dickens ambitious tale has fast become a personal favourite, and is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed over and over again - and has been, for generations.

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-by Douglas Coupland
448 pages (2005)

Book Rule #15: Sequels are always disappointing.

Coupland’s' JPod is no exception to that rule. Although never blatantly publicized as a ‘sequel’, it is hypothetically purported to be Coupland’s new millennia answer to his early 1990s geek epic, Microserfs.

My comparison, Microserfs vs. JPod, in short?

Microserfs, in my opinion, was Coupland’s zenith of writing aptitude — fresh and original with ‘real’ characters that many a geek could relate to. The microserfs made you want to care about what happened to them. The story actually went somewhere.

JPod? Stale as 3-week-old bread, artificial as Twin Equal ‘sugar’ packets, featuring two-dimensional unbelievable characters. Gone are the refreshingly all-too-human disillusioned "microserfs" with their witty repertoires and flat foods. They are replaced with JPod'ers — dusky, gutter-mouthed and aimless, with their couldn’t-care-less-about-anything attitudes. The result? We could care less about them. Coupled with an implausible, over-the-top, and insipid plot, it is a novel that evokes apathy and indfference. Coupland’s frequent referrals (blatant plugs) to his other works of fiction were uncomfortable and tawdry.

Not that there weren’t any redeeming qualities in the book. The reader is treated to a few remaining bits of Microserfs-esque laurels — the memoir-like narrative, the fun cubicle surveys (“if you were to sell yourself as an item on eBay”) and splash pages with binary, spam, and technical what-not. However, it was not enough to compensate for JPod's weak plot and characters, which ultimately made the novel uninteresting and difficult to finish. As much as I wanted to like it, I didn’t. At all.

It was mentioned by a friend and fellow Microserf-aficionado that it’s “harder for authors to write like disenchanted young people when they have been rich and famous for 20 years.”

I agree 101% and couldn’t put it better myself.


The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table 
-by Primo Levi
240 pages (1985)

"a poetic causal nexus known only to chemists"

Primo Levi, a chemist and a young Italian Jew, grew up during WWII in Mussolini's Italy. The Periodic Table relates his story. Part autobiography, part poetry, part history and science textbook, Levi fuses these together in a "life-thesis" filled by both comedy and drama. This unique and unforgettable memoir is organized by the periodic table of the elements. 

The chapter titles range from Argon to Zinc and, like the elements themselves, each with its own distinctive characteristics. The element denoted in each chapter heading is often literally represented in the particular chronicle. And yet, if the reader delves further in interpretation, the element often relates metaphorically to the human experience depicted within the text. While the majority of the novel's chapters orbit various important biographical events in Levi's intriguing existence, three of the book's chapters are fictional: Carbon, Lead and Mercury. 

Often deceptively simple, Periodic Table is hardly an elementary read — Levi's concepts, philosophies and frequent use of veiled symbolism, require and deserve lengthy deliberation to digest their hidden depths. Beautiful in its precision, it is the story of a life touched by the experience of science, war and love.

Curious, unconventional, poignant and memorable, The Periodic Table is the magnum opus of memoirs. Read it.

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A Room With A View

A Room With A View 
- by E.M. Forster
250 pages (1908)

an enchanting Edwardian-caricature

"If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it  will be very exciting - both for us and for her."  - Rev. Mr. Beebe

A young Englishwoman's "coming of age", E.M. Forster's acclaimed A Room With A View is set in the Edwardian era of England's history. The heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, is a well-bred upper-middle class girl who possesses an extraordinary vivacity for life. However, her future happiness and fulfillment in life seems ultimately doomed by the decorum and pretensions of society's expectations.

Little does Lucy know that her life will be changed forever under a loggia in Florence and amidst the beautiful Tuscan countryside. On a Baedecker-style grand tour of Florence, Lucy is accompanied by her chaperone and elder cousin, Charlotte Bartlett (an incompliant spinster "much discomfited by any unpleasant scenes"). They stay at an eclectic pensione filled with British expatriates. There, Lucy becomes acquainted with the handsome and unconventional George Emerson, a modern freethinking Englishman who is staying at the loggia with his like-minded father. The two men kindly exchange their rooms with a view, with Lucy and Miss Bartlett, who were given rooms with no view. 

The plot revolves around Lucy's inward struggle with what high society expects of young women, versus what she desires for her own future. Lucy frustratingly finds herself at a crossroads. Should she bow to society's "rules" of 'proper' women of her day, and marry the stuffy and priggish Cecil Vyse back in England, a wealthy and learned gentleman who embodies all things viewed with favour in England's high class society. Or should she follow her heart and marry the broad-minded and genuine, yet penniless, George Emerson?

Forster's delicate and playful story-telling spirits us from an escapade through in the cobble-stoned alleyways of Florence and the lush fields of Tuscany, to the ceremonious rigidity of English lawn parties and drawing rooms. A Room With A View is brought alive by the impetus of a perceptive and contemplative mind. Highly recommended.

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Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby 
-by Douglas Coupland
256 pages (2005)

look at all the lonely people…

"Death without the possibility of changing the world is the same as a life that never was."

Enter lonely Liz Dunn. Thirty-something, overweight, friendless, neglected by society, and under appreciated by her dysfunctional family and workmates. Struggling under the millstone of loneliness, Lizz is resigned to the idea that anything interesting will ever happen in to her. Often misunderstood, her extremely pragmatic outlook on life is often mistaken for as morbid and apocalyptic.

Little does Liz know that her life will change forever, after an unexpected phone call from a local hospital. Her name and contact number just happen to be on the medic-alert bracelet of a stranger, barely clinging to life in a hospital bed. 

Eleanor Rigby takes readers on a bizarre but stunning journey of self-awareness, explores the waking nightmare of loneliness, and ultimately bestows a sense of hope. Coupland cleverly maneuvers believable characters in-and-out of nearly unbelievable circumstances, all the while maintaining his hallmark – sharp, sardonic humour and wit. 

Amidst the pain-filled past and present of his characters, Coupland always allows a thin ray of light in through a trap door. 

Eleanor Rigby is a rewarding read -- classic Coupland!

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