Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls (Review)

Title: Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls
Author: Karl Friedrich
Publication Information: McBrooks Press, hardcover, 2011, ISBN 978-1-59013-570-9
Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Sally Ketchum was taught to fly by a man called Tex, who brought love and excitement into her dreary life in Texas before he died in a fluke crash, which she survived. When World War II creates a need for women pilots, Tex’s aviation lessons enable Sally to escape the poverty and misery of her home by joining the U.S. military’s Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. Although she turns out to be one of the most gifted pilots (and better than some of the instructors!), various men plot against the success of the WASP program and against Sally, in particular. Ira Waterman, a high powered Washington lawyer, has been authorized to shut down WASP. In a different type of book he would be won over by these determined and patriotic women and doubtless become the hero, but this is not a romance. Waterman is a bitter and unbalanced man who becomes Sally’s worst enemy. However, Sally grimly overcomes every obstacle put in her way and as she gains confidence she will do whatever it takes to make flying her career.

What I liked: I have always been fascinated by women’s contribution to war, so the plot of the book appealed to me right away. The author brings to life all the details of the WASP training from the hideous, badly fitting clothes to the exhilaration these women feel when they are flying, and how little the US military values their dedication and service. However, the book most comes alive when Sally’s friend Dixie appears. Dixie is an ex-model of flexible morals and has all the sophistication that Sally lacks – she tells Sally she’s the daughter of a man who could sell ice to Eskimos. Behind her brash personality, Dixie is a surprisingly loyal friend to Sally, when she’s not sneaking out for illicit rendezvous with men the WASPS are forbidden to socialize with. Both mature over the course of the book, and I hope the author is planning a sequel as readers will be eager to know what happens to them next.

What I didn’t like: The book is very dark. Three years after the tragic death of the man she loved, Sally is still recovering, and she is wary and, for much of the book, lacking in confidence. While conveyed realistically, this made it hard to embrace her as a character. The irrational hatred of Ira Waterman and his vendetta against Sally became somewhat ridiculous but it was comforting that some of the dour men assigned to work with the WASPS take her side against him.

Recommendation: Fans of vivid historical fiction, of WWII settings, and of coming of age novels will enjoy this novel as much as I did. And you’ll love the beautiful cover! 4.4/5. Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours, which you can visit to find other stops on the tour. I have one copy to give away - please leave a comment if you'd like it! If there's more than one request, I will do a lottery.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Goodbye to 31G!

My parents moved to Newton in 1967 and it has been difficult and sad to empty the attic of the possessions of many years as they sell it this week to a young couple with toddlers. Some things were easy (moving the Georgette Heyers and Janet Lamberts to my home just under 6 miles away) and some were difficult (throwing away school papers and letters and my mother's stained wedding dress, used for dress up by her wicked offspring)(I did discard one bad report card without a qualm).
Among the surprising things discovered in the last mad rush of Downsizing the Parents, Part 2 (following their move to a condo three years ago) was a box of my aunt Lillian's china. It is a pattern called American Limoges Tea Rose with 22 carat gold trim - sadly, not really to my taste but as I am named for this aunt I will certainly save a platter and think about how she raised my father after his mother died when he was six, sending him to Roxbury Latin and to Harvard by working three jobs.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Forthcoming Fiction

Some of you will remember how much I enjoyed the Dairy Queen trilogy about DJ Schwenk, a Wisconsin girl who finds herself playing on the football team at her high school. I highly recommend this series, for fans of YA whether or not they like sports. Front and Center was one of my Best Reads of 2009, although it didn't end exactly the way I wanted it to.

Even before I was the football manager of the Harvard team, I enjoyed football related fiction.

Catherine Gilbert Murdock has a new book coming this fall, a fantasy called Wisdom’s Kiss. If you are interested (and I know I have introduced a lot of friends to these books), the author is hosting an online chat on Tuesday, September 20th at 8 pm. Visit the author’s Facebook page for more information.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Elswyth Thane

I love organized bookshelves (daughter of a librarian) so it was painful to remove all the books on the first floor from their bookcases in preparation for the whole floor being painted. In particular, I had to stop to admire two shelves of Elswyth Thane's books. She has been one of my favorite authors since I was about 14 and my mother left a copy of Dawn's Early Light on my pillow. Those with good eyes will see I include two books by Thane's husband, William Beebe, the Jacques Cousteau of his day, although I have not read them yet, rescued by my mother from the discard pile at her library. I believe I own every book Thane wrote except The Bird Who Made Good. Naturally, some are better than others and I notice that Tryst, a standalone that is somewhat dated, has gained new fans recently.
Here is a picture of the guest room with all the books from the living room and my office piled on the floor:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Falling Together (review)

Title: Falling Together
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Publication Information: William Morrow, October 2011, ISBN 978-0061670879
Genre: Fiction

Plot: Everyone has a cherished friend from college – this book is about Pen, Will, and Cat, who met cute the first week of college after a Beowulf lecture and became inseparable. Their friendship insulated them from much of the angst of college life and was so all-fulfilling it made other people envious or resentful, not that this three cared. After college, they shared an apartment in Philadelphia until Cat left the group abruptly, and without her, Pen and Will’s relationship faltered and disintegrated. Now, just before their 10th reunion, Pen and Will receive an email from Cat asking them for help and to meet her there. Although still bitter and hurt, neither hesitates, and the ordinary college reunion turns into a quest to resurrect a friendship.

What I liked: I loved the author’s first book, Love Walked In, from the very first page, and enjoyed the sequel, Belong to Me, nearly as much, so had been eagerly anticipating a new book from this author. I liked Pen and her daughter Augusta (although that name is better suited to a Georgette Heyer), her brother and Will. De los Santo is one of the most lyrical writers I have ever read and it’s impossible to put down one of her books (it’s also dangerous: my mother swiped it for several hours when I did). My sister and I wonder if the lyrical quality of her writing is because she was a poet before she started writing fiction or did she become a poet because her writing is lyrical? What might seem over the top in another writer irrestiistbly captures and conveys her characters’ feelings:

But she found her voice was shaky. “Okay, maybe. Once or twice, in my darkest hours.”
Will didn’t say anything. Then he said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“No, I’m sorry you had darkest hours.”

The story is told primarily from Pen’s point of view, and her adorable quotient is offset by a fairly messed up personal life or it would be too much. I guess that is true of all de los Santos’ heroines but they are appealing nonetheless. There are also many appealing literary allusions. While you are waiting for this one to come out, hustle on out to get a copy of Love Walked In, which was full of movie allusions.

What I disliked: While delightful, the first two books were quite improbable, and although the plot of this book was more likely (estranged friendship) the parts relating to Cat dragged at times. I think this was because the author better conveyed the appeal of Pen and her family and Will and his family than she was able to capture Cat. I understood why Pen and Will needed to find Cat – but I suspected she was the member of the triumvirate I would have disliked in real life.

Source: I received an advance reading copy from William Morrow/Harper Collins.
Goodreads Grade: 4.5

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Reason for Roses (review)

Title: The Reason for Roses
Author: Babs H. Deal
Publication Information: Doubleday, 1974
Genre: Adult Fiction

Plot: This is a melancholy look back by Spencer Howard at the last summer of her childhood in a small Alabama town, not long before WWII. Although Spencer, an orphan, is being brought up by her grandmother, her cousins and their parents converge on Bellefonte to spend summers together. It is unclear how old Spencer is in this book, probably about 15, with four attractive cousins about her age or several years older.



What I liked: Like the Betsy-Tacy books and Elswyth Thane novels I love so much, there are picnics and projects and secrets and squabbling and scavenger hunts.

What I disliked: I waited somewhat impatiently for something to happen (summer ended). Spencer implies that she, the normal one, survives because the memory of her grandmother's roses provides her with strength to deal with life's challenges, but I found it hard to understand why three attractive young women and two presumably attractive young men would have a hard time surviving, even with WWII in the horizon.

Sadly, the close-knit family relationships did not endure, and Spencer's children did not grow up knowing their cousins because the older members of the family that had kept it together passed away. I did not enjoy all the hints the author dropped about the sad outcomes for Spencer's cousins (which are eventually revealed but seemed melodramatic and unnecessary). While Spencer has a sense of humor, no one else appreciates it so the tone of the book is bittersweet, somewhat like the books set in England just prior to WWI (but without the charm of something like Downton Abbey). At the end of the book, she reflects on the family home in Bellefonte but does not appear regretful that it was eventually turned into apartments: "I do not go there often, and it does not make me sad...The house that belonged to us belongs only to the past, which is mine also." She may be able to subsist on her memories but I found her story very depressing rather than winsomely melancholy.


Coincidentally, I read a children's book by the author's husband about a year ago: A Long Way to Go, about three siblings who are abandoned by their parents at a motel. I found that gritty and convincing, and liked it much better.

Source: My friend Rowena recommended this as one of her favorite summer reads, and I was surprised I had never heard of it. I was able to request it from the library.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heyer

It was a pleasure to meet a fellow Georgette Heyer fan, Jeannine Pellerin, on a recent trip to Montreal. We met for breakfast and, of course, talked books. I was interested to hear that she first came across Heyer when she was living in Victoria, British Columbia, and found These Old Shades in the laundry room of her apartment building. Although her native language is French, she read Heyer in English, embracing Regency slang, and moving on to other historical romance once she'd read the Heyer oeuvre. I brought her a copy of one of my favorite books, Sabrina, by Madeleine Polland, and was delighted when she reported back that she had enjoyed it and shared with a friend (I even heard about a tea shop near that very friend in Markham, Ontario that made me want to plan my next road trip). We visited a used bookstore and found a book or three before I returned to my family. As always, it is a pleasure to meet a Heyer friend in person and discuss one of my favorite authors!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

State of Wonder (review)

Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Publication Information: HarperCollins 2011
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist for Vogel, a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, is sent to Brazil following the mysterious death there of her research partner and friend, Dr. Anders Eckman. Anders had gone to investigate the fertility work Dr. Annick Swenson has been conducting in the Amazon for their employer, as her failure to report back regularly concerned Vogel management.

Marina has several secrets, not simply an affair with Mr. Fox, the CEO of Vogel, but also a mistake she made during her long ago residency in obstetrics (when she was Dr. Swenson’s Chief Resident) that injured a child, and drove her to the comparative safety of a research lab (on Grey’s Anatomy her angst would have lasted only a few episodes). She has no desire to go to the Amazon and childhood trips to India left her with nightmarish reactions to the malaria medication required for either destination, but she is unable to resist the entreaties of Anders’ widow.

What I liked: The book was extremely readable and the characters fairly memorable, particularly Easter, a small deaf boy who becomes close to Marina. The Bovenders, a feckless couple, living at Vogel’s expense in Dr. Swenson’s apartment in Manaus while she is in the jungle are vivid and convincing. Patchett does a great job of conveying the nightmarish quality of the jungle; the reader experiences the oppresiveness and it doesn't matter how much is real and how much due to Marina's fevers. Dr. Swenson is single-minded in her pursuit of science (regarding Anders’ death as an inconvenience) and pushes Marina to discard her research-lab passivity and practice medicine after 13 years. By saving a life or two, she is able to come to terms with the long ago tragedy. Although Marina’s instinctive reaction when confronted by her old professor is to revert into a passive role, she displays strength and determination (but rarely wins an argument with Dr. Swenson). Their relationship is central to the story.

What I disliked: I found the plot somewhat tedious, the setting unappealing, and was so grossed out by the non-stop description of insects I wanted to stop reading. I understood why Marina was driven to find Dr. Swenson and investigate Anders’ death and recognize she felt impelled to stay so she could rehabilitate herself in the eyes of her former professor. However, she had very little personality and after a while I did not really care what happened to her. I never understood what she saw in Mr. Fox either (her trip cures her of that attachment). In Bel Canto, the author’s best known work, there was a lyrical sense of music throughout the novel that united several appealing characters. Here, there is no lyricism other than the (alleged) hypnotic appeal of the jungle. Marina goes to the opera in Manaus (Orfeo ed Euridice – themes of loss and death and of Marina following Anders blindly), perhaps a tease to readers expecting more, but she is too unnerved by Dr. Swenson’s unexpected appearance to appreciate or enjoy the music.

Perhaps the jungle setting was just too real for me – I did not see the beauty, only the misery. Eva Ibbotson makes the Amazon seem appealing and I recommend Journey to the River Sea and A Company of Swans to those who like a romanticized image of the Amazon. Sadly, I suspect Patchett’s version is closer to the truth. I gather the book is in part a tribute to or inspired by Heart of Darkness which I never read.

Source: There were over 500 people ahead of me on the reserve list in the Minuteman System; luckily, the Waltham Library had a copy in its “Speed Read” section. I did consider buying the book to support the author’s recent plan to buy/operate a bookstore in Nashville but shelf space is at a premium in my new home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Go Bruins!

This is what the well dressed lawyer was wearing for Game 7 - and, although delayed by filing a memorandum, only missed the first period! We want the Cup!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday shopping

A new Bruins tee shirt (but with an old style look my brother would approve of) and a box of Carr's Ginger Lemon Cremes are the reward for yet another Sunday at the office...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

New Light

So pleased to see the light fixture I picked out weeks ago was finally installed yesterday - what do you think?



I am hoping this room which is my "library" or "media room" will be painted at some point in August and the boxes in the corner unpacked.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Catching Up

I have been reading but not blogging during the last few busy months at work. I put this on my TBR when I saw it was a RITA nominee, and really enjoyed it:

Title: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else
Author: Erin McCahan
Publication: Scholastic 2010, ISBN 978-0-545-088183
Genre: YA Romance

Plot: Seventeen year old Bronwen Oliver has felt alienated from her family since her father died when she was a child, and her mother remarried Bronwen’s kind but detached stepfather. Then during the summer between her junior and senior year of high school she runs into her older brother’s best friend, Jared Sondervan, and falls madly for him. Surprisingly, it is mutual, despite four years age difference. His warm and affectionate family welcomes her, and Jared surprises her with an engagement ring on her 18th birthday. Jared’s love and attentiveness almost makes up for Bronwyn’s lingering sorrow at the loss of her father. Can she finally move on with her life by starting a new life with Jared?

What I liked:
Bronwen is a nice, normal, hard-working high school student, with a best friend Kristen, and mild fantasies about having been switched at birth. How else can she explain why she and her mother can barely communicate? (and there is something really bizarre about the way her mother had Bronwen’s brown hair colored blonde as a 13th bday present, then comments, “Finally, I see a resemblance [to herself].” When Jared appears, attractive, relaxed, attentive, and very romantic – his last words on the phone every night are “Dream of me” – Bronwen is more than ready to fall in love with Jared and with his family. Perhaps because Jared’s father and Bronwen’s father are business partners, no one seems to object to the age difference, and by the end of the summer they are engaged. Bronwen gives up aspirations to any college other than Hope College in Michigan (I was surprised to learn this is a real college) because she has made friends while visiting Jared there and feels at home. She floats through her whole senior year in a pleasant haze and does not emerge until she received the housing questionnaire from Hope and suddenly realizes she will be living off campus with Jared instead of in a dorm sharing her innermost thought with friends. This helps her realize that she wants a normal college life more than she wants or needs the security of being married. And when she breaks her engagement, it is her stepfather who provides the comfort and reassurance she needs, not her mother.

I like that Jared is attractive but not as handsome as Bronwen’s evil ex, Chad, who pressured her to have sex on Prom night. Jared respects that Bronwen wants to wait until they are married but in a way that doesn’t deprive him of sex appeal (I suppose the waiting for sex until after marriage is one reason for an early wedding). Bronwen does not doubt her love for him but is afraid she is being consumed by it before she has established her own identity.

The descriptions of Hope College reminded me a little of The Real Thing, Rosamond du Jardin’s book about Tobey Heydon’s college experience when she and her boyfriend Brose decide to attend different schools so they can find out if their high school romance will last. In a way, it seemed odd that Tobey and Brose had so much more common sense in 1951 when young marriages were common than Bronwen and Jared in the 21st century. I have a particular fondness for The Real Thing because it is one of the first books I remember buying for myself – it was a $.50 Berkley Medallion paperback with the plaid binding, and I bought it at Books and Pages in Newton, Massachusetts (never dreaming I would one day work for Berkley). I still own that book, although have not yet unpacked it.

What I disliked:
Jared started off charming but became annoying and controlling quite a while before Bronwen noticed. By the time he told her they were moving to Ohio and she wouldn’t be able to attend Hope, I was longing for her to break the engagement. It seemed too simplistic that she fell in love so easily merely because she craved a father figure.

Bronwen’s mother (and to some extent, her brother, noticeable despite his absence) is dreadful, and I went back and forth wondering whether she was a plausible character. Could anyone be that self-centered? And what were all these parents thinking to let a sheltered 17 year old date a college senior? And why would they let them plan a wedding after dating such a short time? (Jared, after all, is on the rebound and perhaps seeking someone younger and more docile than the girl who let him down.) I am trying to think if I know anyone who got married at 18.

Bronwen has a great best friend, Kristen, and when they fall out senior year it is a Sign. Nothing good ever results from dissing your best friend for some guy, in fiction or in real life. It made me sad to read that even though they both attend Hope, they do not remain best friends, but I suppose that is realistic. At least they stay friends. I hope the author writes a book about Kristen!

Grade/Source: 4.5/5 stars I got this book from the Lexington Library.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter

I was determined to bake something for Easter and decided to try the Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart from the Flour Cookbook from Chronicle. I have been an admirer of the Flour Bakery & Cafe since it opened a location near the Federal Courthouse soon after I moved back to Boston. I didn't know until much later that the owner is a Harvard/Radcliffe alumna!

Chatting with my grandmother by phone while the Tart was in the oven I happened to mention that my 1/4 teaspoon was mysteriously missing so I had to approximate when measuring kosher salt. Granny thought any old salt would have done but when I picked her up the next day, she surprised me by triumphantly handing me her set of measuring spoons, saying she doesn't cook any more so she wanted me to have them. Don't get too misty eyed: when I took a closer look, I realized they were my mother's measuring spoons and Granny should not have been giving them away but instead returning them to her daughter! However, Granny will be 96 on Saturday, and has always been extremely generous so can be forgiven for carelessness with others' possessions.


The Tart was delicious, especially served with whipped cream! I am eager to try something else from this appetizing bookbook, perhaps chocolate croissants if I am very brave... Oh my, I see they have a (sold out) class that teaches you how to make sticky buns and chocolate brioche.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Then and Now, Libraries

I spent the morning doing errands but allowed myself to start at the Brighton Branch Library, part of the BPL where I got my very first library card when I was six! The library is one of the first renovated City of Boston buildings that incorporates the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Commercial Interiors guidelines. I had not been inside since the library reopened in 2010 so was curious. It is very shiny and new inside - much nicer than it was in the 70s after the first renovation - not only did it look like a prison but they had to stop using their book return slot because vandals enjoyed dropping in lighted matches! The book I was looking for, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, was purportedly on the shelf but could not be located. Luckily, it turned out my sister owns a copy which I borrowed later. However, the booksale yielded a hardcover copy of Madensky Square (yes, I already own at least one copy but I couldn't leave that behind) and a book by Mary Hooper (recommended both by Monica Edinger and my friend Nicky Smith, who sent me the author's At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, which I enjoyed not long ago). I also bought a hardcover copy of Ballet Shoes for a friend's baby.


I first read Betsy Was a Junior from the Brighton Library as it was one of two Betsy-Tacys the Newton system did not own. We loved the Brighton children's librarian, Judy Lieberman, who got great pleasure in challenging me to read books outside my usual genres. Sometimes it worked (The Endless Steppe)(I did not know there was a BT connection until many years later) and sometimes not (The White Mountains).


The original library had huge amounts of character but it was very dark and I mostly remember it was on a steep hill and had narrow steps leading to the front door. Once our car broke down in front of the library - it was too far to walk home so it was fortunate we were in a place we liked to linger until AAA came to rescue us. I was glad to find a photo of the old building hanging in the children's room this morning. I also noticed a new Abbott's Frozen Custard just down the street but resisted temptation as I was on my way to the gym...


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Meeting Brian Jacques

Belatedly I wanted to comment on Brian Jacques, the author of the Redwall series, who died in February. I would not have read his books had I not been working at Berkley, which at that time was one of his publishers. When I learned he was coming to the US to tour for a new book (sometime in 1995, I believe), I read Redwall and the first sequel, and was fortunate enough to have a memorable lunch with him and several of my colleagues. He was very warm and outgoing. Not surprisingly, I was the only one who had read his books, which he appreciated, and we joked about how he had named one of his characters, a badger, Constance, and I said I was glad not to have been a rat. He wrote a nice inscription in the hardcover I had brought with me, asserting that I was more attractive than my badger counterpart. We took him to a fancy steakhouse, Morton’s on Fifth Avenue, where my portion of steak was large enough to have fed my entire family growing up, and we all commented that the huge bowl of spinach was every child’s worst nightmare!

Brian, perhaps guessing that many Americans have a fascination with the British Royal Family, told us that recently he had met Queen Elizabeth when she visited Liverpool, and shaken her hand (I guess people don’t bow much any more!). He then shook hands with all of us, and told us half solemnly, half seriously, “Now you are just once removed from touching the Queen of England!” Anglophile that I am, this gave me a thrill! I hope I still have my autographed book - I have not seen it recently, but there are still a lot of books in boxes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul

The Oracle of Stamboul, a debut juvenile novel by Michael David Lukas, whirls the reader into a dark and intriguing late 19th century Balkan town of Constanta, then on to the more glamorous city of Stamboul. When Yakob Cohen, a worthy carpet merchant, loses his wife in childbirth, he is left to bring up his precocious daughter Eleonora alone. A grim aunt turns up and bullies Yakob into marrying her but her primary purpose is to make Yakob and Eleonora miserable. She even limits Eleonora’s reading in a way that is reminiscent of Emily Byrd Starr’s Aunt Elizabeth in Emily Climbs (but Elizabeth Murray cared for Emily and simply couldn’t show it, unlike Aunt Ruxandra). The action begins when Yakob plans a trip to Stamboul to sell his carpets and 8 year old Eleonora stows away on the ship rather than stay home alone with hard-faced Ruxandra. Yakob is not thrilled when she appears on the last night of the voyage, but he rallies and she is welcomed by his business partner in Stamboul, Moncef Bey, who showers her with beautiful clothes and gives her the run of his library. It is Bey who gives her a home when tragedy strikes, and provides her with a tutor, a robust Englishman she and Yakob met on their voyage. A brilliant student who can break a code without effort, Eleonora’s skills soon come to the attention of the Sultan, who invites her to his palace as a novelty and ends up consulting her on political strategy.

I had heard about this book several months ago, and was intrigued because it reminded me of books by Eva Ibbotson, sadly no longer with us. There were some elements that were similar – the intrepid orphan who enchants adults and faces the direst situations with courage and integrity. However, Eleonora, while plucky, never won my heart the way an Ibbotson heroine does. Her sorrow was too bleak and while I pitied her, I yearned for some hint her life would get better (instead, she was deluged with political paperwork to wade through and analyze like an overburdened lawyer doing document review) and it was hard to care about her. Ultimately, while original and very readable, I felt the book lacked the dimension that would transform it into the type of juvenile classic that is reread. I enjoyed the descriptions of Stamboul, and the book made me want to visit Istanbul. However, I found the ending extremely disappointing, if not annoying. While it leaves open the possibility for more stories, it made me impatient for an 8 year old to set off alone to find happiness elsewhere. It seemed unfair for the exotic city of Stamboul not to provide a permanent home for this able heroine. And what use were the hoopoes? I kept waiting for them to provide assistance or guidance but they primarily just followed Eleonora around.

The book is beautifully packaged as you can see, with a design that is reminiscent of the exotic world the author is trying to convey. I appreciated the opportunity to participate in the TLC Tour for this book, and did enjoy it. To see how others reviewed it on the Tour, please visit:

Tuesday, February 22nd: The Feminist Texan [Reads]
Wednesday, February 23rd: My Two Blessings
Thursday, February 24th: One Book Shy
Monday, February 28th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Tuesday, March 1st: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, March 2nd: Simply Stacie
I always enjoy seeing what others thought after I have written my review!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chimney House in the Snow

From the front steps of Chimney House looking out at the street on a recent snowy day.
Thank goodness for the investment in a team of snow plowers and shovelers, or I would probably not have emerged much this month.

View from the back porch - a mound of snow between me and the swing set!



I was not pleased by all the icicles around my house, most of which were out of reach and apparently indicate dangerous ice dams. Today, some are melting due to the balmy 38° weather.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Favorite Reads of 2010

According to Goodreads, I read 145 books in 2010, primarily fiction. My four favorites were from very different genres: a haunting timeslip set in Scotland, primarily historical fiction; a semi-autobiographical novel about a famous English vet; contemporary fiction about an irritable retired English officer; and a YA about a spoiled teen who doesn’t value her family and friends until she loses them.

5 stars

The Winter Sea/Susanna Kearsley
Kearsley mingles the present day story of a writer searching for inspiration in Scotland with a compelling and very romantic 18th century tale of love and heartbreak, which I could barely put aside to sleep. It’s not the first time I have tried to get people excited about this author but this is by far her best book and I think readers are beginning to catch on. Here is a link to the review I wrote last year. This was my favorite book of 2010.
All Creatures Great and Small/James Herriot
Originally published in 1972, Herriot’s semi-autobiographical books about his work as a vet in Yorkshire are also known to a wide audience from popular television series. I found this at the library and listened on CD as I drove to Montreal and back in January, and just loved it.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand/Helen Simonson
Major Ernest Pettigrew is petty and pedantic when the story begins but his friendship with a widow of Pakistani descent shocks the neighbors and enables him to break free of stifling class prejudice to finally enjoy his retirement. Learning the author is a Georgette Heyer fan confirmed my belief that she must be a kindred spirit.

Before I Fall/Lauren Oliver
I did not expect to love this book about a spoiled and heedless Mean Girl, the type I would have avoided in high school, but somehow Samantha earns the reader’s respect and affection as this book develops. It was my favorite YA of the year.

4 Stars (in no particular order)

The Piano Teacher/Janice Lee
Set in Singapore during WWII and written by a young Harvard alumna, this was a fascinating book that reminded me of Tenko, a television series I used to be obsessed with. I found the heroine annoying and the ending disappointing or it might have earned a higher ranking.

Beginner’s Greek/James Collins - Written tongue in cheek, depending on absurd coincidences, I enjoyed this chick lit told from the guy’s perspective. I do not, however, recommend it for a book group discussion as it is too light for that.

StarCrossed/Elizabeth Bunce – I loved the author’s first book, A Curse as Dark as Gold, and this YA fantasy was nearly as good. The beautifully described quasi-Renaissance setting was a bit marred by the sloppy and colloquial use of “guys,” but perhaps that can be edited for the paperback.

Pegasus/Robin McKinley – Of course, this was outstanding: that is the only kind of book Robin McKinley can write but it was cruel to publish only half of the story in 2010…. I remember once when I worked with Daw, deciding to split Tad Williams’ To Green Angel Tower (but that was when the manuscript came in enormously long), and being told the fans wouldn’t like it. We did it anyway and I apologize to all those fans now! The only way to do this effectively is to hold publication until you can publish v1 and v2 fairly close together. I do not think that would have hurt sales.

The Kitchen House/Kathleen Grissom – A fascinating and ultimately tragic historical novel about a (white) orphan brought up as an indentured servant by the black slaves on a Virginia plantation.
Rebels and Traitors/Lindsey Davis – I am told this was the longest book I read in 2010 at 784 pages. While I love books about the English Civil War and certainly enjoyed this, it was dark and bleak, not to mention exhausting. And did I say harrowing? In addition, much of the book was spent waiting for the hero and heroine to meet, and there was a weird recurring third character I became very weary of. Had this not been about one of my favorite periods, I am not sure it would get four stars. I must admit I prefer Pamela Belle’s happier sagas such as Wintercombe (if only Sourcebooks would publish them in trade paperback!).

Queen of Palmyra/Minrose Gwin – Here is a link to the review I wrote for this book, reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Never Look Away/Linwood Barclay – My friend Danielle introduced me to this suspense author from Canada (that makes two Canadian authors on the list). I think there are still a few I haven’t read.

The Wives of Henry Oades/Johanna Moran - This was a vivid and compelling historical novel about a wife and children captured by vengeful Maori, and it would have got 5 stars if I hadn’t found the last section of the book a letdown.

E Lockhart’s Ruby books – this series is hysterically funny, although the premise that this insecure girl with glasses is fighting off boyfriends (whether she believes it or not) is improbable. I just finished the fourth book but could not read it on the train because the title was too embarrassing!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day

As a lawyer, I am expected to work from home if I can't make it into the office so I will certainly try to be productive while it blizzards outside but I am also surrounded by books I have not had time to unpack since moving to my new home. My Sharon Kay Penman books have a place of honor in my living room, at least they will once I have liberated them from various boxes. Today I received a (group) email from Ms. Penman, who is going to lead a fabulous trip to France called In the Footsteps of Eleanor of Acquitaine, sponsored by Academic Travel Abroad. If one had unlimited funds, this would be an awesome trip! Interestingly, while I knew she had studied law, I did not know previously that she attended Rutgers Law School like me (although I suspect she attended the Camden branch).

I became a fan of Penman's the first summer I lived in NYC. I had no money and no books! It was hard to persuade the NY library to give me a card and they would only let me take out two books at a time, which was clearly inadequate. One day I was walking up Columbus Avenue and paused at one of those tables of used books. A tired copy of The Sunne in Splendour caught my eye. Even a dollar was a lot of money for me because I got paid on the last day of the month, but I handed it over and savored every word. I was already a fan of Richard III but fell in love with Penman's ability to create a panoramic vision of England under the Yorks. I have cherished that copy for more than 20 years! I must have raved about Penman's books to now deceased Pat Sado, a wonderful person who was then the hardcover fiction buyer at Coliseum Books in New York. One day when I was the Penguin rep, I came in for my monthly appointment and she proudly gave me a brand new copy of The Reckoning (a beautiful edition with a ribbon bookmark). I was so touched that she remembered my fondness for the author, and I always think of her in connection with Penman to this day.