Eclectic Closet Litblog, Book Reviews & Knitting Designs

A litblog dedicated to book reviews/recommendations, as well as literary and publishing news. Now enhanced with knitting designs.

BOOK REVIEW: The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah

November1

hannah Many mothers long for a vacation from their life, a few days where someone takes care of them for a change. For most, this remains a dream but Sally Thorning turns it into reality. When a longed-for work trip is cancelled at the last moment, Sally sees the chance to grab a break from her young family. She treats herself to a secret holiday at a remote hotel where she meets Mark Bretherick. In between spa treatments and sleep she indulges in a short affair and after a week she returns home to her life refreshed.

A year passes and one evening Sally is watching the news with her husband Nick when she hears that Mark Bretherick’s wife Geraldine and daughter Lucy have been murdered. In shock she realizes that despite all the details being the same, the Mark Bretherick on the screen is not the man she spent a week with – but what should she do? Going to the police may expose her secret to Nick but keeping quiet may put her and her family in danger. Whatever Sally may have chosen to do is pushed aside when she realizes she’s being followed, and that she could be Geraldine’s twin. In desperation she sends the police an anonymous note but is it enough to spur action?

Sophie Hannah’s third novel The Wrong Mother (published in the UK as The Point of Rescue) is both a psychological detective story and a story of mothers under extreme pressure. Like her previous novel Little Face, Hannah exposes intimate secrets to public scrutiny and explores what it means to be a mother. The police on the case are convinced that Geraldine murdered her daughter and then committed suicide; what woman could write as she did in her diary and not be guilty? Yet Mark is convinced that Geraldine and Lucy were murdered by a man named “William Markes” and slowly, the reader begins to agree.

This is not an easy book to read; Hannah has crossed an invisible line and heads straight into the territory of which no one speaks. Motherhood is difficult and at times very hard work. Many mothers of very young children struggle and dream of walking away, yet still love their children. Some even have moments when they are sure their children are willfully tormenting them. Geraldine calls this the ‘conspiracy of silence.’ Anyone who has spent any length of time in childcare of the very young will recognize flashes of their own feelings in the pages of The Wrong Mother, and that’s what makes this an uncomfortable read, squirm-inducing at times. None of us want to admit that we see bits of ourselves reflected in “the horrible mothers” described within.

Despite the difficult topic, and that there may be hard truths to face within, The Wrong Mother is a captivating read. Full of plot twists, red-herrings and psychological labyrinths, the solution will catch most unaware. Yet the greater prize than figuring out “who-dun-it” is in the personal insight gained. Hannah is a gifted and compassionate writer who gently leads her readers from revulsion into reluctant understanding, taking tentative steps toward discussion of a taboo yet vital subject. By shining light on a “shameful” topic, she opens the way for new mothers to get the help and understanding they desperately require, without feeling ashamed and thinking themselves “the wrong mother.”

ISBN10: 0143116304
ISBN13: 9780143116301

Trade Paperback
432 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Author Website: www.sophiehannah.com
Sophie Hannah’s “soundtrack” for The Wrong Mother: Large Hearted Boy’s Book Notes

BOOK REVIEW: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

February10

“I’m not sure where one should expect to find the bereaved daughter of a wealthy Malibu suicide in need of a trauma cleaner long after midnight, but safe to say a trucker motel down the 405 industrial corridor in Carson was not on my list of likely locales.”

Former grade school teacher Webster Fillmore Goodhue, Web to his friends, has spent the past year relying on the good graces of his friends and generally slacking off. With time, people’s patience begins to wear thin and Chev, Web’s one remaining friend, informs him that his freeloading days are over. Faced with two equally unpleasant options (homelessness or continuing to take money from his embittered Dad), Web grudgingly accepts an offer of employment from a crime scene cleanup crew. One of the first Clean Team jobs is a messy suicide in Malibu; an odd scene that finds Web sponging brain’s from a bathroom mirror while flirting with Soledad, the dead man’s daughter.

When Web receives a late-night plea for help from Soledad, he ends up rushing to her aid even though ever instinct tells him to run fast in the opposite direction. Soon though, Web is the one in need of help when gun-totting cowboys show up at his door. Has Soledad landed him in the middle of her mess or is this really about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web needs to find out soon if he hopes to avoid becoming just another crime scene requiring cleaning.

I should start with a warning – The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death isn’t a novel for the squeamish or faint of heart. Full of Charlie Huston’s trademark violence, rapid fire dialogue, and unwavering eye for bizarre and grotesque details, this outrageous tale is sure to spawn a new legion of fans all eagerly anticipating a sequel featuring the unforgettable secondary characters. The action begins in the prologue, immediately dropping readers in the midst of outrageous levels of carnage, guts and gore. This is a novel which keeps readers off-kilter but pays dividends for those able to see it through.

If shocking violence, inappropriate language, and detailed gore leave you slightly nauseous, then The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is definitely not the novel for you. However, if you’re the type who likes your noir served neat, with a side order of hilarity and unforeseen twists, then Huston’s latest will take you on a ride you’ll never forget.

ISBN10: 034550111X
ISBN13: 9780345501110

Hardcover
336 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 13, 2009
Author Website: pulpnoir.com

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BOOK REVIEW: The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

May16

In the late 1970s, Argentina’s Videla ‘junta’ carried out a campaign of violence against its population, a “National Reorganization Process” comprised of the illegal arrest, torture, killing or forced disappearance of thousands of people, primarily trade-unionists, students and activists. Set during this turbulent time, Nathan Englander’s first novel focuses on a poor Jewish couple, Kaddish and Lillian Pozan whose only son, Pato, becomes one of the approximately 30,000 people who were lost during this time.

A novel about community, identity and injustice, The Ministry of Special Cases illuminates not only a dark period in Argentina’s history, but also that of its Jewish population. Embarrassed by their members who were pimps and prostitutes, the larger Jewish community refused to allow them to be buried in the community graveyard, requiring that they be separated by a wall and thus able to be ignored by “good people.” Decades later, their children want to protect their “good name” and they hire Kaddish, the invisible Jew, to remove their ancestors from public record. As The Ministry of Special Cases opens, Kaddish is found chiseling away at a gravestone in a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Ares.

The juxtaposition of the secret “Jewish Reorganization,” with the turbulent family dynamics of the Pozans, the self-policing of identity by the Argentinean population, and the broader political reorganization, makes for a complex novel about community, identity and injustice. Like the Jews who hire him, Kaddish now finds himself eliminating Pato’s history as a student and free-thinker, by destroying his books.

Kaddish, a man who carves his own path in life, is often in conflict with his wife and son who see him as someone who can never get anything right. Lillian is exasperated by his futile efforts to make a living and the need to constantly save him while his son refuses to accept him. It is only when his son becomes ‘disappeared’ that Kaddish finally fulfills his potential, becoming the man Lillian had seen glimpses of when they dated. The irony for Lillian is that in losing her future, she gains a full partner in their marriage.

ISBN10: 0375704442
ISBN13: 9780375704444

Trade Paperback
352 Pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
Author Website: nathanenglander.com

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BOOK REVIEW: The Girls by Lori Lansens

April19

Rose and Ruby Darlen, like any sisters, can be each other’s best friend or worst enemy. Born during a tornado, “The Girls”, as they’ve been dubbed by the residents of their small Southern Ontario town, share a different life than most sisters. Craniopagus twins (joined at the head – they share a skull bone and blood supply), they were abandoned at birth by a desperate teenage mother and raised by Aunt Lovey (the nurse who helped bring them into the world) and Uncle Stash.

Rose has independent motion but her face is pulled to one side and her limbs are no longer perfectly proportioned due to carrying Ruby on her hip since she was a toddler. Ruby, while dependent on her sister for mobility, has the perfect face and beauty both would have shared if not born conjoined. Determined to beat the odds and provide her girls with a life of value, Aunt Lovey pushes them from infancy toward independence. Now 29 years old, The Girls have lived much longer than the doctors predicted and, with their 30th birthday approaching, Rose decides to write the story of her life, convincing the reluctant Ruby to do the same.

Told in the alternating voices of Rose and Ruby, Lori Lansens’ The Girls is a haunting novel. The voices of The Girls are unique and their viewpoints on events fascinating. Rose, as the aspiring writer, initially composes the majority of the chapters but as the novel progresses, Ruby relates more of her own thoughts and memories.

The sisters can’t see each other without the aid of a mirror and so each writes their chapters in isolation, with the intention of reading the other’s work after it is finished. The most fascinating aspect of The Girls is the assumptions each makes about what the other related and how that dictates what each in turn shares with the reader. What is most illuminating is what each chooses not to share. Rose portrays herself as the more reliable narrator, speaking to her readers in a serious, methodical tone while Ruby’s contributions are breezy. Their accounts of the same events often contradict and the reader is left to ferret out the truth.

In the end, it is the reader’s own assumptions and reflexive reaction of pity for The Girls which is destroyed. Rose and Ruby are so much more than objects of pity, but to discuss much more of this special novel would be to give away too many of its secrets – ones readers should discover for themselves.

ISBN10: 0316066346
ISBN13: 9780316066341

Trade Paperback
368 Pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: April 10, 2007

(Mass Market edition available in Canada from Seal Books)

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BOOK REVIEW: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

April6

“All my life since Aeneas’ death might seem a weaving torn out of the loom unfinished, a shapeless tangle of threads making nothing, but it is not so; for my mind returns as the shuttle returns always to the starting place, finding the pattern, going on with it.”

Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, enjoyed a typical girlhood as the daughter of a nobleman in the time before the founding of Rome. A life of peace and freedom that is, until the day she saw a line of great, black ships coming up the Tiber from the sea. Her mother has determined that she marry her kinsman Turnus, but the omen Lavinia received at the sacred springs tells that she is destined to marry a foreigner and start a bitter war. These ships presage the epic war for a kingdom and the founding of a great new empire, with Lavinia herself as the prize.

The arrival of the ships marks the meeting of Lavinia’s story with Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid. While Virgil’s poem tells Aeneas’ story, Lavinia herself is mentioned only once – on the day before his landing in Latinum when her hair is veiled by a ghost fire, an omen for the coming war. In Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin gives voice to an invisible heroine, brings to life an ancient world and creates a powerful companion to one of western literature’s greatest works.

Lavinia is a book of love and war, ritual and duty. Le Guin has crafted a fascinating story of Lavinia’s life in the Regia (the women’s quarters in a great house), filled with her duties as the only daughter of a noble house: keeping the storerooms; joining in the rituals of worship in the atrium; and keeping the peace between a mother driven mad with grief and a father quick to punishment. Well-researched with epic battles and many interwoven threads, Le Guin has captured the spirit of Virgil’s work and presented it faithfully in her own measured, lyric prose. Le Guin’s Lavinia is a strong, fascinating woman, with a tale to rival any hero of old.

ISBN10: 0151014248
ISBN13: 9780151014248

Hardcover
288 pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: April 21, 2008
Author Website: www.ursulakleguin.com

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BOOK REVIEW: Work Shirts for Madmen by George Singleton

December10

“If you can’t make sense of life, you can at least scratch your head and laugh at it.” – Michael Ray Taylor on how southern writers approach literature, Nashville Scene

Harp Spillman has lost count of the years spent living in the bottle. He’s ruined his reputation as metal sculptor, joked himself out of a lucrative career as a freelance ice sculptor and is now living off the good graces of his wife Raylou. When a commission of twelve-foot-high metal angels made out of hex nuts for Birmingham, Alabama gets approved (although he can’t remember applying), Harp realizes it’s time to hang up the bottle and return to the mig-welder. Fate decides he needs some moral support and sends him the Elbow Boys, although Harp wonders if isn’t just another of Raylou’s schemes…

Confused? Don’t be surprised – George Singleton’s writing epitomizes Michael Ray Taylor’s quote from Nashville Scene, this is Gonzo fiction at its finest. In Work Shirts for Madmen, Singleton paints with words using wide brush strokes; readers may not always know what is going on but there will be a vivid picture running in your head while you try to figure it out. With novels and short stories chock full of unfathomable characters and surreal situations, Singleton’s forte is his uncanny ability to keep readers laughing even while their hearts are breaking. Many of Singleton’s characters seem to have just stepped off a film set; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Elbow Boys showing up in Tarantino’s next movie. And Harp’s ice sculpture creations melting at the Republican convention begs to be captured on film.

Even though there is such a strong cinematic quality to Work Shirts for Madmen, beneath all the laughs and eccentricities at its heart this is a novel about making sense of life after hitting rock bottom. Whether you’re attracted by the title or fiction featuring anteaters, make sure to grab this one for a day when you need a dose of surreal, you’ll be awfully glad you did.

Check out largehearted boy for George Singleton’s picks of music to accompany to accompany Work Shirts for Madmen.

ISBN10: 0151013071
ISBN13: 9780151013074

Hardcover
336 Pages
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: September 17, 2007
Author Website: georgesingleton.com

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BOOK REVIEW: KnitKnit: Profiles & Projects from Knitting’s New Wave by Sabrina Gschwandtner

October18

The Fall 2007 issue of Vogue Knitting (25th Anniversary Issue)featured two articles of particular interest: “Knitting’s Old Guard Speaks Out” [an interview with Kaffe Fassett, Alice Starmore, Mari Lynn Patrick and Meg Swanson]; and “Chatting with Knitting’s New Guard” [Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Clara Parkes, Debbie Stroller, Shannon Okey and Vickie Howell]. By featuring the “new guard”, Vogue Knitting highlights the influence that knit bloggers and the “next generation” of knitters are having upon the craft. This influence is something which Sabrina Gschwandtner has been capturing for several years in her publication KnitKnit which looks at knitting “as a vehicle for artists” as well as crafters.

In her new book KnitKnit: Profiles & Projects from Knitting’s New Wave Gschwandtner looks at how a new generation of knitters is blurring the boundaries between conceptual art and craft. These unique individuals “whose work reflect[s] knitting’s current ideas, venues, and forms” are in many cases unknown to the average knitter and so Gschwandtner profiles each one, exploring their art, their motivation and how their work has progressed. KnitKnit includes twenty-seven profiles; from Dave Cole who knits with “heavy, toxic, industrial, or otherwise unusual materials”; to Althea Merback who knits knits miniature garments the size of a quarter; to Debbie New who knit a navigable boat.

In addition to their profile, each individual was asked to create something readers could make and the results are as unusual as their creators. The projects included the expected clothing, as well as 14 foot tall fiberglass teddy bears, miniature sweater earrings and room installations which knitters can “wear”. Even the sweaters are often approached in unusual manners; Liz Collins’ Stretchy Stocking top made from nylon stockings and Debbie New’s Scribble Lace Bolero made with labyrinth knitting.

KnitKnit is a perfect coffee table book for the knitter on your holiday shopping list. The artists profiled will help get knitting creativity flowing, the patterns feature unusual construction techniques and this book will spark conversation for knitters and non-knitters alike.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1584796316
ISBN13: 9781584796312

Hardcover
176 Pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publication Date: September 1, 2007
Author Website: www.knitknit.net

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BOOK REVIEW: Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair by Laurie Perry

October17

Laurie Perry, now best known in knitting circles as “Crazy Aunt Purl,” did not set out to become a blogging superstar. The introverted Southerner transplanted with her husband to L.A. and was stunned when said husband coolly informed her that he was leaving “to get his creativity back.” Left alone with four cats and a penchant for wine as comfort food, Perry quickly finds herself “three minutes from crazy” and grudgingly agrees to join a friend at a knitting class. There she discovers a new best friend – knitting can always be fixed, it helps you keep busy and find your own creativity, and it’s not about to leave you.

As Perry slowly sticks her head out into the world, she finds solace with her new knitting friends and begins to blog about her adventures with a distinctive self-deprecating humour. She quickly gained a loyal following who shared her joys, sorrows, dating mishaps and knitting adventures. Her stories are ones which everyone can relate to and readers love her trademark writing style – her voice just leaps off the computer screen and she immediately feels like a long-lost best friend (as evidenced by the seventeen-hundred condolence messages left on her blog after the death of her beloved cat Roy).

Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair: the true-life misadventures of a 30-something who learned to knit after he split is much more than simply a self-help book on life after divorce or about learning to knit. Perry has penned a book about heartache and self-discovery and each reader will find something here to which they can relate. Readers will laugh, cry and moan along with Perry as she conquers her wine and cheetos problem, heads out on her first post-divorce date and discovers that life does go on after “he splits.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0757305911
ISBN13: 9780757305917

Trade Paperback
284 Pages
Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.
Publication Date: October 15, 2007
Author Website: www.crazyauntpurl.com

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BOOK REVIEW: Inspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis

October16

Much of Fiona Ellis’ design philosophy is contained in this statement from her introduction: “Even though many of the techniques we use in knitting have been around for practically forever, there are always new ways of using them to achieve fashionable and contemporary-looking garments.” In Inspired Fair Isle Knits: 20 creative designs inspired by the elements, Ellis explores fair isle knitting, combining traditional with modern to create the unique garments showcased in this collection.

Like her first collection Inspired Cable Knits, Ellis draws inspiration from nature. Each of the four natural elements – earth, air, fire and water – influence her choices in colour palette, design elements and fair isle pattern. While Ellis has provided 20 stimulating and challenging patterns, her hope is that her designs will inspire creativity and new ways of thinking in her audience and to facilitate this she includes design notes and reflections.

Each element is the focus of one section of Inspired Fair Isle Knits and is distinguished by its own colour palette, yarn properties and design elements. For example, the water section is worked in blues, greens and purples with shiny or smooth yarns that “recall water’s reflective properties” and wavy edges brings to mind the movement of water or snowflakes.

Ellis designs for a wide range of sizes with finished chest measurements ranging from 32” – 56”, with the average falling between 38” – 50”. Inspired Fair Isle Knits includes two child’s patterns, as well as designs for two wraps, a pillow cover and a felted bag. Many of the patterns here are geared to advanced or experienced knitters with a few suitable for those starting out in colourwork. Those wishing to explore colour theory further should consult the reading list included at the end of the volume.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits focuses on colour and Ellis has pushed the boundaries with some of her design choices, thus knitters’ personal preferences are more likely to affect their opinions of this volume. Knitters may not like every design but Ellis’ strong writing and clear instructions have produced an instructive volume which showcases her growth as a designer.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0307346862
ISBN13: 9780307346865

Hardcover
144 Pages
Publisher: Potter Craft
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website: www.fionaellisonline.com

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BOOK REVIEW: Samedi the Deafness by Jesse Ball

September4

On a Sunday morning in a Washington park, James Sim – loner and professional mnemonist (someone who can memorize large amounts of data) – is witness to the aftermath of a stabbing. With his dying breath, Thomas McHale tells James: “I was one of them, but I left, and they didn’t want me to leave. Have you seen the paper? Samedi? The conspirators? I was one of them…You must do it. You must expose them.” The “them” in question is a group of individuals who commit suicide in front of the White House, one each day, all bearing a message from Samedi of doom to come on the seventh day.

McHale leaves James with a few clues; however, he is loath to get involved until a chance encounter with a young woman spurs him to action. James sets off to follow the dead man’s clues and, in the process, ends up a prisoner in an asylum for liars. As he searches for truth amidst the lies, James struggles to find out who Samedi is and what will happen on the seventh day.

Samedi the Deafness
is the very strange novel from poet Jesse Ball. His language is terse yet lyrical, evoking a feeling that each word is carefully planned for and placed. “He looked at the napkin. He felt then that there were two of them in the room, he and the napkin, and that one of them would have to go. He crumpled up the napkin.” Even when dialogue is of little sense to the reader, each word is weighty:

“James drew from his pocket a book, drew from the book a pressed flower, and shook from the flower a bit of stone shaped like a crescent moon.

– Here it is, he said. I found it in the passage by the cellar.

They were both silent. Grieve took the stone.

– You mustn’t got there again, she said. You might meet me there, and then we would be through.

A dark name like a walking stick broken in anger.

– When I am out on the wind, said Grieve, I wear four arms and the trails of my dress consume me.

– Before you say any more, said James, say no more.

And so no more was said.”

As Ball states in an interview, “
Samedi
is an investigation of lies and responsibility.” Despite this clear statement of intent, and the ease with which it reads, reality is quickly undermined in Samedi. This is a novel which will frustrate, confound and challenge readers, who will quickly feel as if they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, into a David Lynch film where political commentary is provided by Hunter S. Thompson.

This is not a comfortable read, just when the reader is sure they’ve understood what is happening, Ball flips the tables. He delights in misdirection. Not only is the main female character named Grieve, but many of the maids are named Grieve as well. Nothing in the verisylum is simple: characters’ dialogue can’t be trusted as this is an asylum for liars; the house is a veritable labyrinth with absurd rules of conduct; and it is often unclear which residents are patients and which are the staff. At times the confusion is such that readers may wonder if James is a patient of the asylum and early events are purely his delusions. Lies form the foundation of Samedi the Deafness – but can truth be found in the midst of deceit?

The character of Samedi has direct ties to “Baron Samedi,” the all-knowing loa of death from the Voodoo tradition, known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery. It should come as no surprise that Ball has chosen to take that disruptive influence for his work which undermines the very concept of the novel.

His underlining message is vital; readers who choose to fall into his dream world will find unexpected and important rewards hidden within.

Read a condensed review at Armchair Interviews.

Read the full review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0307278859
ISBN13: 9780307278852

Trade Paperback
304 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Original
Publication Date: September 4, 2007
Author Website: www.jesseball.com

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