Monday, December 3, 2012

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni

Late afternoon sun sneaks through the windows of a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself.

When I first finished the book I was confused and a bit angry at the way the book ended, but as I considered what the message of the book was, I saw that it ended the only way it could.  Brilliant!  I loved all the stories from the different characters.  I read in the author’s notes at the end of the book that one of the books that inspired her in the writing of this book was ‘Bel Canto’. I found this very interesting because at the beginning of this book I thought to myself that this book evoked the same feeling as ‘Bel Canto’.  If you read this book the let me know, because I would love to discuss it with someone.

5 Stars (Rated PG)

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Calpurnia Tate is as spirited a character as the indomitable Anne of Green Gables.  You will fall in love with her and cheer her along. 

5 stars (Rated G)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchey

Four strangers, with nothing in common but a need to escape, meet in a Greek taverna high above the small village of Aghia Anna. From Ireland, America, Germany and England, they have each left their homes and old lives, when a shocking tragedy throws them unexpectedly together. Fiona is a young nurse, trying to make her family understand her need to follow her own path. Thomas desperately misses his young son and fears that his ex-wife will come between them. Elsa abruptly left her career as a television presenter, but someone from her past refuses to let her go. And shy, quiet David is determined to make a stand against his overbearing father. With these four is Andreas, the taverna owner, who badly misses the son who left home nine years ago and has never returned. “Nights of Rain and Stars” is the story of one summer and four people, each with a life in turmoil. With the help of Vonni, a middle-aged Irish woman who lives in the village and is now a near-native, they find solutions - though not necessarily the ones they anticipated.

Although the book is a bit predictable, I still loved it.  Reading a Maeve Binchey novel is like have a conversation with an old friend, warm and comfortable.

4 Stars (Rated PG)

The Puzzle Maker by Betsy Carter

On a gray morning in 1936, Flora Phelps stands in line at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany.  She carries a gift for the consul, whom she will bribe in order to help her family get out of Hitler’s Germany.  This is the story of unlikely heroes, the lively, beautiful Flora and her husband, the brooding, studious Simon, two Jewish immigrants who were each sent to America by their families to find better lives. An improbable match, they meet in New York City and fall in love. Simon—inventor of the jigsaw puzzle—eventually makes his fortune. Now wealthy, but still outsiders, Flora and Simon become obsessed with rescuing the loved ones they left behind in Europe whose fates are determined by growing anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Inspired by her family’s legends, Betsy Carter weaves a memorable tale. You will fall in love with Simon and Flora, they are two of the most endearing characters I’ve ‘met’ in a long time.

4 Stars (Rated PG-13, mild sex scenes)

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Kiss from Maddalena by Christopher Castellini

Some in Santa Cecilia think that a rich, beautiful girl like Maddalena Piccinelli wouldn't look at Vito Leone if he were the last boy on earth. But it is 1943, and Vito is nearly the last boy in the village-and in a few months, after he turns eighteen, the soldiers may come for him too. For now, he is determined to win her. And he is beginning to get past her self-contained reserve and melt her stubborn heart. But as forces from the world outside-including an American stranger-begin to invade their quiet refuge, Vito will face challenges far more daunting than coaxing a kiss from Maddalena.

Against a backdrop of Nazi-occupied Italy, this is an interesting story of life going on despite the horrors surrounding you. I would give it 3 stars for the story, but 4 for history value.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for violence and mild sex)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rise of the Elgen (Michael Vey #2) by Richard Paul Evans

This is book two in Richard Paul Evans YA Sci-Fi series. I think it might have been better than the first book.

Michael was born with special electrical powers—and he’s not the only one. His friend Taylor has them too, and so do other kids around the world. With Michael’s friend Ostin, a tecno-genius, they form the Electroclan, an alliance meant to protect them from a powerful group, the growing Order of Elgen, who are out to destroy them. The leader of the Elgen, Dr. Hatch, has kidnapped Michael’s mother, and time is running out.

After narrowly escaping an Elgen trap, Ostin’s discovery of bizarre “rat fires” in South America leads the gang to the jungles of Peru, where the Electroclan meets new, powerful foes and faces their greatest challenge yet as Michael learns the extent of the Elgen’s rise in power—and the truth of their plan to “restructure” the world

I really enjoyed it and my only complaint is that the ending is a cliffhanger and now I have to wait for book three (I think it is supposed to be a six book series.)

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for violence)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Being Santa Claus: What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas

Sal Lizard began to resemble Santa Claus in his twenties, but did not start to play him until his thirties. Sal continued to make appearances as Santa for many years in such varied places as hospitals, private homes, appearances for a radio station and the ubiquitous Santa at the mall.

One of the most poignant stories for me was about Timmy, who was in the burn unit at a hospital and asked Santa a imploring question.

He quickly learned that children have a unique and often more meaningful view of Christmas than adults.  His stories are charming, touching, and funny.  This is a delightful book that would make a great aloud reading for families with older children (you don’t want create suspicions in the youngsters).

I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy from

4 Stars (Rated PG-13 for ‘Santa Secrets’)

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan (modern-day India), where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love. This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal—a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.

Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, recounts their mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own parallel story of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal. Set during a time of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, this impressive novel sweeps you away to a historical Hindustan brimming with action and intrigue in an era when, alongside the brutalities of war and oppression, architecture and the art of love and passion reached a pinnacle of perfection.

Fascinating historical fiction. I learned a lot about the Taj Mahal and the history of India that I did not know. The author, John Shors, also wrote “Beside the Burning Sea” which I read recently. I WILL be looking for more of his books to read. 

5 Stars (Rate PG-13, for mild sex and violence)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story.

What a delight…I tittered, snickered and laughed out loud.  When my husband asked what was so funny I shared with him.  Not being a reader, he didn’t see the humor.  Some of my favorite parts/quotes:

“To use an electronics analogy, closing a book on a bookmark is like pressing the Stop button, whereas when you leave a book facedown, you’ve only pressed Pause.”

“George Bernard Shaw once came across one of his books in a second-hand shop, inscribed To ________ with esteem, George Bernard Shaw. He bought the book, returned it to _________, adding the line, With renewed esteem. George Bernard Shaw.”

The whole chapter about plagiarism is hysterical. I especially enjoyed the parts about ‘anticipatory plagiarism’ (where someone plagiarizes you 100 years before you are born and the quote about Joe Biden and how he cannot NOT plagiarize.

5 Stars (Rated G)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Seventeen Second Miracle by Jason F. Wright

Seventeen seconds can change a life…forever.  This is what Rex Conner learned one summer afternoon in 1970 when his gaze is diverted for just seventeen seconds and tragedy occurred. Forty years later the waves of that day ripple through the lives of many people, including Rex’s son Cole.

Cole Conner is a patient teacher, and has long shared his father’s story with those in need. This fall, Cole has invited three struggling teenagers to learn about Rex Conner—and the Seventeen Second Miracle.

The teens will hear how Rex remade his life—seventeen seconds at a time—by performing small acts of kindness that sometimes had life-altering consequences. As Cole’s students learn, miracles can happen—with a little help from you. When this knowledge is put to a surprising test, what the students discover my transform your world as it did theirs.

From the author of “The Christmas Jars”, this book is a heart-warming, thought-provoking story not to be missed

4 stars (Rated PG – some emotional disturbing scenes that may not be appropriate for young children.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Yes, yes…I know what you are thinking?  This sounds like an odd choice of a book for me to read and you are right!  I don’t remember where I first heard/read about this book, all I remember was that the premise intrigued me immensely and the book did not disappoint.

‘The City’ is a place inhabited by the newly-dead, those people who are still remembered by those living on the earth.  When all those who remember you pass on, you are sent to another place.  The City expands and gets smaller as needed. We are introduced to multiple characters in this city and watch them as they deal with their new state.

Meanwhile, Laura Byrd, is stranded at the South Pole and finds herself travelling through the frozen wasteland by herself. 

The book alternates between the two stories. I loved it!  I could not put it down. I read it within 24 hours and that includes sleeping and working!

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for occasional F-Bombs and profaning of Deity.)

Saul and Patsy by Charles Baxter

Five Oaks, Michigan is not exactly where Saul and Patsy meant to end up. Both from the East Coast, they met in college, fell in love, and settled down to married life in the Midwest. Saul is Jewish and a compulsively inventive worrier; Patsy is gentile and cheerfully pragmatic. On Saul’s initiative (and to his continual dismay) they have moved to this small town–a place so devoid of irony as to be virtually “a museum of earlier American feelings”–where he has taken a job teaching high school.

Soon this brainy and guiltily happy couple will find children have become a part of their lives, first their own baby daughter and then an unloved, unlovable boy named Gordy Himmelman. It is Gordy who will throw Saul and Patsy’s lives into disarray with an inscrutable act of violence.

There were parts of this book that were good, where other parts were just ‘meh!’.  Saul’s character was a little hard to believe, and I didn’t really like him.  I thought the plot fell apart a bit at the end. I would try another book by Charles Baxter.

I waffled between 2 and 3 stars.
3 stars (Rated PG-13 for language and sex)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coming Home Crazy by Bill Holm

Bill Holm went to China in the 1980’s to teach English/Literature at a university. The he went home and wrote essays with titles beginning with A-Z about his experiences and travels in China.  Holm covers such topics as dumpling making, black hair, bound feet, Chinglish, night soil (think about it), and banking. 

A delightful, fun, informative and sometime frightening in the details of everyday life in China.

4 stars (Rated PG – mild language)

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

“Cat's Eye” is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman--but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories.

After having read “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood, both very unusual books, I expected something along the same line for this book.  On the surface it is just a story of a young girl/woman and how the events of her childhood help determine who she would be as an adult.  It is beneath the surface that the remarkableness of this book comes to light.  Atwood is a master wordsmith.  She can evoke emotion, describe a scene, and convey a conversation like few authors I know.  This was a delight to read. I would love to discuss this work with someone.

4 stars (Rated PG13)

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Heroines by Eileen Favorite

Although a true lover of books, Anne-Marie prefers not to read to her spirited daughter, Penny, especially from the likes of Madame Bovary, Gone With the Wind and The Scarlet Letter. These novels, devoted to the lives of the Heroines that make them so irresistible, have a way of hitting too close to home -- well, to the Homestead actually, where Anne-Marie runs the quaint family-owned bed and breakfast. In this enchanting debut novel, Penny and her mother encounter great women from classic works of literature who make the Homestead their destination of choice just as the plots of their tumultuous, unforgettable stories begin to unravel. They appear at all hours of the day and in all manners of distress. A lovesick Madame Bovary languishes in their hammock after Rodolphe has abandoned her, and Scarlett O'Hara's emotions are not easily tempered by tea and eiderdowns. These visitors long for comfort, consolation, and sometimes for more attention than the adolescent Penny wants her mother to give.

Knowing that to interfere with their stories would cause mayhem in literature, Anne-Marie does her best to make each Heroine feel at home, with a roof over her head and a shoulder to cry on. But when Penny begins to feel overshadowed by her mother's indulgence of each and every Heroine, havoc ensues, and the thirteen-year-old embarks on her own memorable tale.

The premise of this story was so much fun that it was easy to overlook some of the flaws of the book (too much happening, overwrought characters, etc).  I enjoyed the interaction of the characters from classic literature with the ‘modern-day’ (1970’s) people. 

3 Stars (Rated PG-13, some mild sex and drugs)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews

The Breeze Inn is a place where very classy Southern belle BeBe Loudermilk normally wouldn't be caught dead. But a brief, disastrous relationship with gorgeous "investment counselor" con man Reddy has costs her nearly all her worldly possessions. All that's left is the ramshackle 1950s motel on Tybee Island, "a drinking village with a fishing problem." Moving into the manager's unit, BeBe vows to make magic out of mud, and with the help of the Inn's cantankerous caretaker, Harry, and her junking friend, Weezie, she soon has the motel spiffed up and attracting paying guests.

But all it takes is one Reddy sighting in Fort Lauderdale for BeBe to drop everything and haul her hastily assembled posse south to participate in a somewhat outside-the-law sting. With a little luck, BeBe might get her fortune back, Harry (who's looking hunkier every day) might get his boat back, and Reddy might get the prison stripes he so richly deserves.

While certainly not ‘great literature’, this chick-lit book is thoroughly enjoyable for what it is. 

4 stars (Rated PG-13, some language and sex)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

What fun this book is! I think it might be more fun as an adult than as a child!  It is the quintessential book for boys.  Every young man should read it.

I loved all the stories; it seemed to speed from one story to another.  From Tom convincing the other boys to pay him for the opportunity to paint the fence, to attending their own funeral, to pulling the wig off the schoolmaster, to his sweet relationship with Becky Thatcher, the reader is amused and entertained and swept along with Tom through a most enjoyable vision of a young man’s adventures.

I was filled with nostalgia for my childhood; while not as adventurous as Tom’s, it was nevertheless filled much outdoor exploration and imaginative play. I also felt bad for the youth of today whose lives are filled with video games and television that will never know this kind of enjoyment.

5 stars (Rated G)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

It’s WWII and the US hospital ship Benevolence has just been bombed and torn in two.  Nurses (and sisters) Annie and Isabelle are helped out of the ship by an injured Japanese soldier Akira.  They swim to a nearby deserted island find themselves joined by six others from the ship, one of whom (unbeknownst to the others) is the traitor who informed Japan and caused the attack.

What ensues during the next eighteen days, as they learn to live on the island and plan for an inevitable invasion by the Japanese makes for a fast paced, engrossing read.  Shors is a master storyteller, penning breathless action scenes equally as well as incredible breath-taking romance.  The characters are authentic and endearing.  I find myself continuing to think of them even after finishing the book. There is something in this book for everyone.  I loved it.  And I must say a word about the gorgeous cover, somehow, having such a beautiful cover makes the book that much better.

I don’t hand out 5 stars easily, but this book earns every one of them.

5 stars (Rated PG-13 for mild sex and violence)

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

This book tells two seemingly separate stories.  Lexie Sinclair is a young woman making her way in the magazine industry in London in the 1950’s.  She is bright, independent, and a colorful individual. 

Fast forward 50 years and we have the story of Elina and Ted, who have just had their first child and both have an affliction of memory. Elina’s comes from a gruesome birth where she lost copious amounts and blood and seem to remember nothing of it. Ted is beginning to have flickers of his early childhood which seem to contradict everything he knows about himself.

I was more than half way through the book before I began to see where their stories would meld.  Ms. O’Farrell does an excellent job of spinning a tale and keeping you reading. Sometime when one reads a book like this you find yourself caring more about one story than the other; not so with this book…I was just as invested in Lexie as I was Elina and Ted.

4 stars (Rated PG – very mild and brief sex scenes, maybe a few obscenities)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian

This is riveting medical thriller about a lawyer, a homeopath, and a tragic death.  When one of homeopath Carissa Lake's patients falls into an allergy-induced coma, possibly due to her prescribed remedy, Leland Fowler's office starts investigating the case. 

But Leland is also one of Carissa's patients, and he is beginning to realize that he has fallen in love with her.  As love and legal obligations collide, Leland comes face-to-face with an ethical dilemma of enormous proportions. 

Done in Bohjalian’s typical manner the book is fast-paced and riveting. I love everything of his that I have read.

4 stars (Rated R for brief but explicit sex)

Life is So Good by George Dawson & Richard Glaubman

This book was published in 2001 when George Dawson was 103.  Born in 1898 to an extremely poor black family, Dawson tells the story of his life to Mr. Glaubman who does an excellent job of capturing his voice and personality.  As Dawson reflects on his life (he learns to read at the age of 98) he gives us a fascinating view of America in the twentieth century and bring to the forefront some quite interesting differences between his life and the life that most of us experience.  One that I particularly enjoyed was a point when Richard said some was as easy as learning to ride a bike to which George responds, “I rode a mule.”

George Dawson lends his bright outlook and incredible work ethics to this narrative.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and found George to be someone with whom I would enjoy talking.

5 stars (Rated G)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America's heartland would never be the same.

This is a well-written and well-researched account of a blizzard that came upon the people of the northern plains so quickly; most were caught in it without recourse.  It is known as ‘The Children’s Blizzard’ because a lot of school children were sent home at the first signs and never made it to safety. 

Included are meteorological (I’ll admit, I skipped most of these) and medical details (which I found fascinating). 

4 stars (PG-13 for disturbing details of children’s suffering)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

I will admit that I am a sucker for a book that takes place in New England, especially if the word ‘lobster’ (one of my favorite things in the world) is in the title.  The ‘lobster’ referred to in the title of this book is “Red Lobster”. 

The book concerns the closing of a Red Lobster in a strip mall in a sleepy New England town. It is four days before Christmas and the last day of service for this location.  Manny is the manager and he takes us through the day from the time he enters the parking lot in the morning.  On one level it seems a bit mundane but there is something about it that keeps you reading.  Mr. O’Nan has been called “the Bard of the Working Class” and I think that is pretty accurate.  He has a way of turning normal ‘work-a-day’ situations into moving prose. 

4 Stars (Rated PG-13 for a few F-bombs)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

5 Book in One Review

I’m doing this just to catch up.  I’ll give you the summary from Goodreads and then my rating.

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood and Mayhem by Sonja Sones

Celebrated YA novelist Sones delivers her first adult novel, weaving together a seamless narrative in free verse--a funny, fierce, and piercingly honest coming-of-middle-age story about falling apart and being put back together.

I love book that are in an innovative format. This one was extra-fun and a very quick read as it is all told in free verse.

4 stars (Can’t remember anything too objectionable.)

The Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders."

Awesome book. Geraldine Brooks is a master!

5 Stars (PG-13 for gruesomeness)

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Winner of the 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, COLD COMFORT FARM is a wickedly funny portrait of British rural life in the 1930s. Flora Poste, a recently orphaned socialite, moves in with her country relatives, the gloomy Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm, and becomes enmeshed in a web of violent emotions, despair, and scheming, until Flora manages to set things right.

Funny, funny, funny book!  When you read it, print out the family tree on WikiPedia it will help you keep the characters straight.  Then, after (and only AFTER) you read the book, watch the movie on streaming Netflix. You’ll love it!

4 Stars (Rated PG)

Marshmallows for Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson
Kendra Tamale is looking for a fresh start and a simple life when she rents a room from Kyle Gadsborough. But against her better judgment Kendra soon finds herself drawn into her new landlord’s household: a young father in way over his head, a beautiful mother out the door, and six-year-old twins, Summer and Jaxon, with hearts full of hurt. Kendra has plenty of issues of her own, but this family seems to need her so desperately that she’s soon falling in love—with Summer’s constant chatter, Jaxon’s soulful eyes, and the sugar-laden Saturday breakfasts she invents. But when a secret from Kendra’s past resurfaces and the children are taken away by their mother, the only way to fix things is to confess to the terrible mistake she made many years ago—and the choice she makes now could break more than one person’s heart.
Nice chick-lit book with a good message.
3 Stars (Rated PG-13, some mild sex)

In the Shadow of the Ark by Anne Provoost
Re Jana and her family are driven from the marshes that were their homeland by rising waters and follow other fleeing refugees towards the desert. There, a boat of unprecedented proportions is being constructed to save a select few from the coming flood that will drown out the rest of humanity.
And as the rain shows no sign of subsiding, Re Jana falls in love with the builder's son, presenting her with an opportunity to save her family-but in the end, she will have to act to save herself.

Interesting re-telling of Noah’s Ark.  Brings up some issues I hadn’t thought of; however, I did not feel it was reverent enough.  Being a Christian I believe Noah was a Prophet of God and was a good man and his son’s were just as good as he was.  I enjoyed it until at the end where it takes a very odd and unnecessary turn.
3 stars (PG-13)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

There are three major characters in this book: Henri, a young soldier with an ardent desire to serve Napoleon and receive the honor of “serving” the nightly roasted chicken to the self-appointed Emperor; Villanelle, a daughter of a Venetian boatman, who spends her evening cross-dressing as a young man; and the other main character, is passion itself.  Passion is discussed, displayed and analyzed in its many forms. The story is part mystical realism, part historical fiction and thoroughly enjoyable.

Interspersed in the story are little, mystical, anecdotes. One is of a man who has a set of old boots which are thumb-nailed sized from an encounter with goblins.  Another of a diamond necklace made from a woman’s tears and an icicle that doesn’t melt. 

Ms. Winterson’s prose are mesmerizing. She has a way of stating the most mundane things in ways which cause you to squirm and think.  A few of my favorite passages:
This is about young men arriving to the war zone for the first time, “Most of these recruits aren’t seventeen and they’re asked to do in a few weeks what vexes the philosopher’s for a lifetime; that is, to gather up their passion for life and make sense of it in the face of death. They don’t know how but they do know how to forget, and little by little they put aside the burning summer in bodies and all they have left is lust and rage”

“To survive the zero winter and that war we made a pyre of our hearts and put them aside forever. There’s now pawnshop of the heart. You can’t take it in and leave it awhile in a clean cloth and redeem it in better times.”

“Snow doesn’t look cold; it doesn’t look as though it has any temperature at all. And when it falls and you catch those pieces of nothing in your hands, it seems unlikely that they could hurt anyone. Seems so unlikely that simple multiplication can make such a difference.”

Overall, I really loved this book, but I have to give it four stars instead of five just for the violence and sex.

4 stars (Rated R – for a lot of violence and bawdy sex.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fairy Tale Blues by Tina Welling

On the night of her twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, AnnieLaurie leaves her Jackson Hole, Wyoming home for Hibiscus, Florida (near her Father and sister.)  She decides she needs a six-month sabbatical from her marriage. He husband Jess is clueless as to why she left.  As she sets up a new life for herself, what she discovers along the way is fun, and surprising.

I really enjoyed the journey, and wanted to give this more stars but the story was kind of weak.  There was a sub-plot of spies and espionage, that while was enjoyable to read did not seem to fit into the story.

What I LOVED about this book was its moral message.  While most books of this genre would have the couple divorce, or at least have an affair, neither do! They both are tempted and see where it would be easy to do, but back away because they love their spouse and honor the vows they made.  The author in the conversation in the back of the book states that she wanted to say, “See! Look what you can do instead of divorce.”  Great message!

3 stars (wish I could give it 4) (Rated PG – just for adult situations)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young

Cyrla's neighbors have begun to whisper. Her cousin, Anneke, is pregnant and has passed the rigorous exams for admission to the Lebensborn, a maternity home for girls carrying German babies. But Anneke's soldier has disappeared, and Lebensborn babies are only ever released to their father's custody-- or taken away.

A note is left under the mat. Someone knows that Cyrla, sent from Poland years before for safekeeping with her Dutch relatives, is Jewish. The Nazis are imposing more and more restrictions; she won't be safe there for long.

And then in the space of an afternoon, life falls apart. Cyrla must choose between certain discovery in her cousin's home and taking Anneke's place in the Lebensborn--Cyrla and Anneke are nearly identical. If she takes refuge in the enemy's lair, can Cyrla fool the doctors, nurses, guards, and other mothers-to-be? Can she escape before they discover she is not who she claims?

I had heard about the Lebensborn program before and so when I saw what this book was about I knew I had to read it.  It is a part of the Nazi program for world domination that is not much talked about.  This book was eye-opening and very fascinating.  While I thought some of the characters did not ring quite true, the plot more than made up for it.  I pretty much devoured the book.

4 stars (Rated R – there are just a couple sex scenes that, while not crude, are very steamy)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Thoughts: The Classics Club Challenge

I came across  The Classics Club web site the other day. 

The premise is inspirational.  It is a challenge for book bloggers to read at least 50 classic books in the next five years and blog about them.  I'm up for the challenge and I think I will limit my list to 50:

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  2. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. Stranger by Albert Camus
  6. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  7. Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
  8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  9. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  10. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  11. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  12. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
  13. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  14. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  15. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  16. Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
  17. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
  18. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  19. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  20. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  21. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  22. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  23. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
  24. Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen
  25. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  26. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  27. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  28. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  29. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  30. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  31. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  32. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  33. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  34. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  35. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  36. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  37. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  38. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
  39. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  40. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  41. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
  42. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  43. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  44. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  45. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  46. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  47. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  48. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  49. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  50. Nana by Emile Zola
Wow! That's a lot of reading. Most of these are new books for me (no judging!). If I have read it, it was so long age that I do not remember much.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Starting From Scratch by Susan Gilbert-Collins

Why is someone who just defended her doctoral dissertation still wasting her time at her childhood home, two months after her mother’s funeral, making coq au vin and osso buco? Olivia Tschetter, the youngest of four high-achieving South Dakotan siblings, is not returning to “normal”—or to graduate school— quickly enough to suit her family. She wants only to bury herself in her mother’s kitchen, finding solace in their shared passion for cooking.
Threatened with grief counseling, Olivia accepts a temporary position at the local Meals on Wheels, where she stumbles upon some unfinished business from her mother’s past—and a dark family secret. Startling announcements from two siblings also challenge the family’s status quo. The last thing she needs is a deepening romantic interest in a close but platonic (she thought) friend.
But while Olivia’s mother is gone, her memory and spirit continue to engage Olivia, who finds herself daring to speak when she would never have spoken before. Told with humor and compassion, “Starting From Scratch” is a lovely story about finding one’s way after losing a parent. I loved it…and it contains recipes as well!
4 stars (Rated PG – nothing too objectionable)

The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage without Apostrophes! By Lynn Truss, Bonnie Timmons

I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting with this book.  It’s been on my wish list on PaperbackSwap for over a year.  I read “Eat, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss and LOVED it so saw this book and wanted to read it as well.

Imagine my surprise when what I receive in the mail is a picture book.  This is her book on apostrophes for children.  It’s wonderfully delightful for a word nerd like me. I would imagine that it would be fun to share in a classroom.  I’ll probably give it to a friend that teaches school.

The illustrator, Bonnie Timmons, was also the illustrator from the TV show “Caroline in the City”.

4 stars (Rated G)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobb’s is a private investigator in London in the late 1920’s. She is the daughter of a widowed costermonger (green grocer). He has her go into service as a maid at age 15. She is incredibly bright and the owners of the home invest in her education. When World War I breaks out she goes into the nursing service and spends a few years in France at the battlefront hospitals.

The investigation in this story is about ‘The Retreat’; a place where soldiers with facial injuries go to escape from their deformities.  When Maisie discovers the graves of several of these men, which only list their first names on the gravestones, she starts to feel that something is not quite right.  She goes on to uncover the mystery.

One of my friends in review of this book on Goodreads said, “This was a good story, just painfully slow.”  I would totally agree with this. Part of the slowness of the story, I think, comes in the middle half where the author interrupts the main story to go back and fill in Maise’s story.  Because of this, I will try the next book in the series.

3 stars (Rated PG – war violence)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Raney by Clyde Edgerton

Raney is a young, small-town Southern Baptist and Charles is an educated, large-city, liberal from Atlanta and “Raney” is the story of the first two years of their marriage. Charles and Raney struggle to bring their lives together and meld themselves into a cohesive unit.

I’m not sure what to say about this little book.  All the way through I kept thinking, “Are you sure this is a book about a marriage? It seems like it is more about racism.” And then when I finished the last page and closed the book I found myself chuckling and loving the message about marriage.

There were, however, a few things I didn’t like. The racism in the book highly offended my 21st century sensitivities, but I believe it was probably a fair portrayal of the time and place.  The other things I didn’t like were that Charles convinces Raney to accept alcohol and ‘girlie magazines’ as a normal part of live when she was offended because of religious reasons. I felt like the message was that not wanting these things in your life was ‘backwoodsy’ and not an educated choice, which I do not agree with.

Overall, I guess I’m glad I read this book. It did have a good message about marriage.

3 stars (Rated PG – nothing too offensive except blatant racism.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

On Bear Mountain by Deborah Smith

Dirt-poor, sensitive as poets, and proud as kings, the Powell family has lived on a Georgia mountaintop for generations. Then, during the 1960s, young Ursula Powell's father convinces the Tiber family, owners of everything in nearby Tiberville, to commission a huge iron sculpture of a bear for the town. Decades later the strange sculpture --- rejected by the townspeople and left to rust on the Powell farm --- symbolizes a family's failure and thwarted dreams. But, unknown to Ursula, it is now worth such a huge fortune that the artist's embittered son, Quentin Ricconni, is coming to reclaim it ... and to change everything Ursula believes about the past, the choices that break a heart, and the redeeming powers of art and love.

This book is a gentle love story, yet filled with action and interesting side story characters.

4 (3.5) stars (Rated PG – mild sex scenes)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

In a busy little city in a forgotten corner of the Baltic, in an office on the square, the beloved mayor of Dot lies on his office floor, peering beneath his door. Tibo Krovic has come to work from his house down at the end of a blue-tiled path. He’s taken, as usual, the tram seven stops, and walked the final two. He’s stopped for strong Viennese coffee. And now, Tibo Krovic is looking at the perfectly beautiful feet of his voluptuous, unhappily married secretary, Mrs. Agathe Stopak. The Good Mayor is badly in love.

And over the course of days, months, and years, amid life’s daily routine—a fallen lunch pail, a single touch, a handwritten note and then a terrible choice—Tibo and Agathe must come to terms with this thing that has seized hold of them both, exploring the tastes of desire and despair, love, friendship, and betrayal…until fate, magic, and their own actions lift them from their moorings toward an unexpected future.

Their tortuous road to bliss is fraught with phantom circus performers, malevolent painters, rotund lawyers, mysterious fortune-tellers—and every single one of love’s astonishing little cruelties and miracles.

I loved this wonderful, meandering love story. The characters are well-developed and Nicoll fills the book with wit and magic.

4 stars (Rated PG – mild sex scenes)

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

As much as I wanted to read this book, I was a little sad as it is the last of my stash of Sandra Dallas books.  I have now read them all. (Boo hoo!) This was a great one!

Set in the late 1800’s in New Mexico and Colorado, it is a true “Wild West” story done Sandra Dallas style. The plot has more twists and turns than a labyrinth. The whopper at the end had me so stunned it took halfway through the chapter before I figured out what was going on and had to go back and start the chapter over.

The story begins with Addie French, the ‘proprietor’ of a ‘hookhouse’ meeting Emma Roby, prudish spinster. They meet on the train going to Nalgitas, New Mexico where Addie is from and where Emma is to meet her husband-to-be.  Emma thinks Addie runs a boardinghouse and when her husband-to-be doesn’t show up she goes to Addie’s for a room. 

Emma tells Addie that her brother has cheated her out of her inheritance and together with Addie’s housekeeper Welcome and her boyfriend, Ned, they come up with a “investment” plan to get Emma’s money from her brother.  This is where the plan begins…

Dallas keeps the story moving forward and the reader doesn’t know who to trust.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 – There are a couple gruesome ‘Wild West’ scenes.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

In the waning days of World War II, a small group of people start out for the journey of a lifetime.  They start out walking from Eastern Germany/Poland and plan to keep walking until they meet the American/British Troops.  The group contains eighteen year-old Anna, a daughter of Prussian aristocrats, her mother and younger brother. Also in the group is a tall, handsome Scottish POW and Manfred, a German Jew who jumped from a train on its way to a ‘camp’ and had been pretending to be an SS member to survive.

As any story of World War II and the holocaust it contains the normal pathos, but also included is the viewpoint of a ‘good German’ coming to grips with what their beloved country has done.  All the characters are well-developed and you feel their concern and anguish with them.  Once again Chris Bohjalian has written a masterpiece.  I am amazed at the varied subjects of his novels.

4 stars (Rated R – for war violence and one short, explicit sex scene)

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

This book is a derivative of “Jane Eyre”, and Ms. Livesey does a marvelous job, however, I think anyone would enjoy the book whether or not they had read “Jane Eyre.”

Gemma Hardy was born in Iceland, which she left at age six to live with her Uncle in Scotland, after the death of both parents.  By the age 10, her beloved Uncle has also passed away and she if left in the guardianship of her Aunt, who vehemently dislikes Gemma.  Gemma is blessed (?) with an honest tongue and lets her Aunt know how she feels.  Gemma is sent to a boarding school as a scullery maid/student. Her years there are full of too much drudgery, not enough learning and too little friendship, yet her bright spirit gets her through it all. 

At age 17, the school is closing and she is found a position as an au pair for an eight-year old in the north of Scotland on the Orkney Island.  Life at Blackbird Hall was a relief after the school.  She had her own room, was in charge of little Nell and was intrigued by the mysterious Mr. Sinclair….

I can’t tell you anymore, it will ruin the story.  But let me say this.  The first half of the book follows the story of “Jane Eyre” quite closely.  The second half changes a bit.  I didn’t quite like the changes, I thought it made the story a little weaker; however, if I am not comparing it to “Jane Eyre” I love the story.

4 stars (Rated PG – nothing too objectional)