Seasonal Hope and Joy

<strong>Birds of Pandemonium
(life among the exotic and endangered)
by Michele Raffin (2014)
What started as a rescue operation over 15 years ago, is now a premier breeding facility and conservation program in California: Pandemonium Avaries, now a non profit organization with a volunteer staff of 63. Raffin has a masters from Stanford Business School, and won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan America Olympic Games.
From a wisdom of owls, a murder of crows, an kindness of ravens, an ascension of larks, a parliament of rooks, a lamentation of swans, an ostentation of peacocks, …to a pandemonium of parrots. How appropriate.
She fell in love with birds, they returned the favor. Many breed here and no where else! There are over 360 birds, from 34 species, 6 nearly extinct. This is a remarkable story that doesn’t require an ornithology degree, is full of humor and perfect for the holidays. There are many lovely colour photos full of the characters! Her husband and children were strong supporters, and now the birds are helping her cope with the dissolution of her marriage.
NB: She has done a fascinating TED talk, not to be missed.
NPR recommended. Don’t miss it, especially for your non fiction Christmas readers.
4 stars
Buy the book and help her cause.

A Picture is Worth….

Nina Siegal The Anatomy Lesson
…At least 290 moving pages of this stunning novel. It took Siegal 6 years to write, and I am so glad she persevered. It is a fascinating account of the history behind Rembrandt’s first painting to give him international fame (and the first he signed using only Rembrandt, no initials). The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholis Tulp, was commissioned by Amsterdam’s Surgeons’ Guild 1632. The novel has an intriguing cast of characters in the painting, each voiced in alternating chapters, each very distinctive and true to the period.

There is Aris, (the body), the one handed coat thief, who becomes the corpse of the painting. Flora (the heart) is pregnant with his child, and knows he didn’t commit the crime and presents this information to Rembrandt. Jan Fetchet (the mouth) is a curio collector who also acquires medical cadavers. Dr Tulp (the hands) is a prominent surgeon, intent on debunking William Harvey’s new circulation theory while harkening back to roman Galen. He does one public dissection a year, on an executed criminal. Rene Descartes (the mind) is a foreigner who attends the dissection to understand where the human soul resides. Pia (the story/narrator/discoverer) is a 21st century contemporary art conservator examining the painting, and making astonishing discoveries in the paint.

Rembrandt (the eyes) here is an unknown, in Amsterdam, an outsider and indentured, here because he impressed some burghers with biblical paintings. But he speaks in colour and texture, with humour and insight, and finally, painting/living with truth and justice. After hearing Flora “I want to make him whole again.” he changes the initial painting, covering the scars and restoring the severed hand! He did not want the painting to glorify man’s cruelty, brutality. Instead it is filled with the emotion of loss, while the book describes the power of love. I have seen a copy (unknown artist) in the University of Edinburgh’s Fine Art Museum which shows an extraordinary, ambitious painting. Someday perhaps a journey to see the original.
This will appeal to any one interested in the history of medicine, art history or historical fiction.

Some sons are easier to love than others.”
“We are working in allegory my dear.”
“He will go on painting until he gets it all right.”
“She had loved him, Fetchet bought him, Dr. Tulp had claimed him for science, and I had wanted him for art. All of us sought his flesh. All of us have wanted to make something of this man’s body. But he did not belong to any of us. He was only Aris the thief.”
“This, I thought, was a portrait of human cruelty. It told of how men ravage one another in search of truth. How they carve each other up in the name of justice, and how they fail to see their own brutality.”

Read On
Vanora Bennett Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Elizabeth Kostova The Swan Thieves
Donna Tartt The Goldfinch
Cathy Marie Buchanan Painted Girls
See also WG Sebald 1999 The Rings of Saturn
Laird Hunt 2006 The Exquisite
Siegal has also written A Little Trouble with the Facts (2008)
4 stars
I felt the ending was very rushed, but perhaps I just wanted more. Particularly the voice of Rembrandt. Fetchet also had some wonderful lines. It was also immediately evident that it was of the Iowa Writers workshop ilk.
RPL has a copy, reserve now!

Autumn Mysteries

I confess I read so many books, and many many mysteries, that it is hard to write prompt reviews. So here are several recently read, all available in the library! It’s not too early to be thinking of gift giving (Hostess gift for thanksgiving?!)

1) Susanna Gregory 2013 Death In St James’s Park
This is the 8th book in the Thomas Chaloner series that takes place in the 1600s London. She also writes the Matthew Bartholomew series in medieval Cambridge (I adore the series for the titles alone, e.g. A Plague on both your Houses). Interestingly she was a Leeds police officer before changing careers to become an environmental consultant with field work in polar regions (seals, whales, walruses). As an academic she also taught comparative anatomy and biological anthropology. She has a vivid eye for detail and a strong research bent, which makes for great (but perhaps dense) historical mysteries. Aka Elizabeth Cruwys (Cambridge academic) and aka Simon Beaufort (Author).

Thomas Chaloner is “spy to Earl of Clarendon or intelligencer to The Lord Chancellor” (and given the title of gentleman usher as his disguise). It is 1665 and an explosion at the General Letter Office (PO!) leads to an enquiry. Thomas is something of an inept spy and leads a rather dreary existence, but then Gregory accurately portrays the harsh realities of everyday life. He’s already sent off to Russia on his next assignment at the end of this book. Most of her characters are real people doing their “jobs” which makes for fascinating reading. You’ll be glad of central heating.
4 stars for excellent historical drama.
Read on to CJ Sansom Shardlake series.
Noted similarities to Cadfael, by Ellis Peters/Ellis Pargeter
I prefer the Mistress of the Art of Death series (Diana Norman, Ariana Franklin) and wait for it!!!! Norman’s daughter has continued the series!

2) Silent Murders 2014 Mary Miley
This is the second book in the not to be missed series (The Impersonator 2012 won Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers First Crime Novel Award).
25 year old Leah Randall, now Jessie Beckett (after impersonating Jessie Carr, book one) is now in the silent film industry after a lifetime in Vaudeville (first with her mother) working in the Pickford/Fairbanks studio. She’s reinventing herself while using past skills to investigate an increasing body count. She’s quirky, plucky, intelligent, fun loving, plucky jack (Jill) of all trades.
This has a who’s who in early film stars feel! Movie buffs will enjoy this.
(Myrna Loy is her new friend, roommate and a friend of hers is Gary Cooper!)
And as Hollywood, there’s starlets, booze, drugs and genuinely lovely people. This is really the roaring twenties, fabulous Jazz Age and the Silver Screen era. It is also well researched, providing a great escape into a period piece. I look forward to the continuation of this cozy series.
4 stars
Prohibition laws were treated with the scorn they deserved.”
“I’d rather have met ‘little Mary’ than the queen of England.”
“That night Myrna showed me how to toast a cheese sandwich with ham, adding another recipe to my short list of culinary accomplishments.”
“Jessie Beckett, girl detective.’ Sounds like a feature film, doesn’t it Mary? Too bad women
can’t be policemen.”
Read On
Mary Miley Theobald 2012 Death by Petticoat: American history myths debunked
Reminds me of the spunky heroine Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood) novels, without the money!

3) Blood on the Water 2014 by Anne Perry
This is the 20th Inspector Monk mystery, but it feels like yesterday to me. I love the period detail and the character development (can Scruff really be 15?). It is 1865 and Victorian London is still seething with politics, class and empire. Beloved characters are struggling to balance their ideals with actual human behaviour, which still resonates today. But we enjoy living with Monk, Hester, Scruff and Oliver for 309 short pages.
Monk and Orme witnessed an explosion on a private water craft which caused the death of 200 people. His investigation is particularly gruesome and chilling, literally and figuratively with politics quickly coming into action. The first part of the book concerns the criminal investigation, while the latter is primarily courtroom drama and discovery of motivation, which of course is what finally determines the true killer. It is often the insight of Hester, with help from Scruff that provides import at information to the case. But Rathbone also has a vast understanding of the law, as well as a moral code. Perry is a master in this era, and particularly with these characters, and delivers another outstanding historical novel. I particularly liked the insight noting the fallibility of eyewitness accounts and testimony, and what we chose to see and hear. Many thought provoking moments.
4.5 stars

4) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)
10 Short stories
I am exhausted from reading these tales, and not sure I would have survived if they had been novellas or full length novels. They are penetrating, unsettling, unnerving, unpredictable, ingenious, fascinating and revealing. There are fractured dysfunctional families, yet dreams in every one. I also feel like I have just had a college English class – intense descriptive yet sparse, short stories, beautifully written, evocative, scary to terrifying, full of the unknown, reeling from the passage of time.
5 stars
In Audio books, Jane Carr’s brilliant reading truly rewards the ears. And adds dimension if possible (I listened to most of the stories, after reading them!).
Hilary Mantel is the only woman to win two Man Booker prizes for her amazing novels a out Thomas Cromwell and Tudor England. The third book of the trilogy will be some time but eagerly awaited by all her fans. Don’t miss this stunning collection.

Celtic mystery

Tana French The Secret Place (2014) 518 p
This is the latest edition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.
French is a master of complex Irish/Celtic whodunits. This is atmospheric literary fiction, with great use of language and dialogue, with deep insight into complex twisted characters. Numerous characters (18) with 8 perspectives and two timelines make for an intricate, elaborate plot. I found there were too many teen voices, but perhaps it was just the lying, destructive behavior, babble, which also seemed unfathomable to the detectives. French’s descriptive writing has a keen sense of drama which provides an indepth analysis of teen culture while creating tension as they have less than a day to find the killer.
Teen Holly Mackey (2010 Faithful Place, daughter of a favourite detective Frank Mackey, who still has the best lines) brings a note detective Stephen Moran claiming to know who killed a boy from the neighboring school St Colm’s. He has been waiting to get onto the squad even it it means working the cold case with detective Antoinette Conway, who is angry defensive and bitter mostly, justifiably, at the old boys police network. Two rival cliques in the posh St Kilda’s school portray the bitter, secretive and ruthlessness of spoiled teens. I found it very disturbing in many ways.
Themes of bullying, loyalty, emotional maturity, trust, mysticism, old traditions and current situations.
Insp. Moran’s voice alternates with the flashbacks of several girls, including Holly-
of rapidly changing teenage angst and psyche, Americanized language of adolescents.
Holly is the odd one out in this school as all the rest are from wealthy families. I can see her becoming an important character in the continuing series (and will be disappointed if this doesn’t happen!)
As usual French’s keen sense of detail creates an intense suspenseful thriller. I love her proper use of language, descriptive sentence structure. This is also a great audio book read by Lara Hutchinson and Stephen Hogan with lovely lilting Irish accents.
Read On
If you like Donna Tartt, Muriel Spark, Declan Hughes, Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt.
Do not read of you haven’t read her previous books. Or if you are tired of teenage drama (in any culture).
Conway wasn’t going to want me. She was getting me anyway.

4 stars