Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Buried Crown (Book Review)

Title: The Buried Crown
Author: Ally Sherrick
Publication: Chicken House, paperback, 2018
Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction
Setting: World War II England
Plot: As the Germans bomb England, Charlie is fighting back as an RAF pilot, finding a billet near the base for his only remaining family, younger brother George. Mistreated by brutal Bill Jarvis, George tries to run away with his only companion, a neglected dog he names Spud. George doesn’t get far but manages to rescue and befriend a German refugee his age, Kitty, whose grandfather has taught her archeology and various ancient lore. They take him in when he has nowhere to go, and George has to overcome his unthinking prejudices against the intelligent Jewish girl, before these two plucky orphans can join forces to try to prevent a German invasion by seeking a mysterious Anglo-Saxon crown that Hitler believes will guarantee his victory. This is a well-constructed thriller with appealing protagonists and supernatural elements that will appeal to middle schoolers.

Audience: Fans of suspense or historical fiction, such as The Book Thief, War Horse, Number the Stars, The Telemark Mission
My Impressions: I came across this book at Topping & Company Booksellers in Ely, England on a rainy day last May, and it reminded me of the Geoffrey Trease books that first my mother and then I enjoyed growing up, featuring brave adolescents and derring-do, as well as the power of friendship. Both Kitty and George have experienced the devastating loss of their parents and neither is safe now - George is being beaten and half-starved by the abusive Jarvis and Kitty’s scholarly grandfather is threatened with detention because he is German. Neither is perfect: Kitty is a little bit of an academic show off (my kind of girl!) and although I sympathized with his situation I didn’t like George much at first as he seemed ungrateful to Kitty and her grandfather who risked a lot in hiding him.

Together, however, Kitty and George rise to the challenge of the dragon legend, using her knowledge and George’s muscle. Rather than cowering inside (which would have been my preferred option, avoiding Bill Jarvis and a frightening bird I forgot to mention), the German girl and Cockney boy show their patriotism through their determination to find the buried crown that Hitler wants and withstanding vicious Nazis determined to bring it to him.
Notice Ely Cathedral through the second floor window
Source: Purchased in England for my nephew Xavier’s 12th birthday.  Obviously, I had to read it first, right?

Off the Blog: This was one of my first reads of 2019. I had to finish it quickly while attempting a Chicken Tagine recipe for a family birthday party.

(images not mine, found online)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The 2019 TBR Challenge

Like many avid readers, I often find myself waiting eagerly for new pubs or library books to come in, despite piles of books waiting to be read at home that I already own. But the only time I tried to deal with this was during my last year of law school when I knew I would be moving back to Boston, so I tried to read only books already in my possession with the objective of reducing the quantity I’d have to pack.  It worked to some extent because once I have read a book I usually decide whether to keep it or donate it (sadly, I still had to donate hundreds in 2006 that I hadn't had time to read).   However, lately I realized I am missing out on some great books I already own as well as purchasing more books than I have space for (this only stops me when I am traveling with already heavy luggage).  Yesterday, when tidying up for a visiting puppy, I was newly aware of my (otherwise delightful) piles.  

When I read about Roof Beam Reader’s 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, where the goal is to read at least 12 books that have been on my “to be read” list for at least a year (thus published before 2018), I decided to join in:
2019 TBR Pile Challenge

1.     Avalon by Anya Seton (1965)
2.     Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (1986)
3.     The Crystal Snowstorm by Meriol Trevor (1997)
4.     Set in Stone by Robert Goddard (1999)
5.     Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (2004)
6.     Patriot Hearts by Barbara Hambry (2010)
7.     The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin (2010)
8.     Sisters of Fortune by Jehane Wake (2010)
9.     Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
10.  Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming (2013)
11.  A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner (2014)
12.  The Travelers by Chris Pavone (2016)


13.  If You Go Away by Adele Parks (2015)
14.  The Gates of Bannerdale by Geoffrey Trease (1956)
Some of my TBR came from this windowsill pile.  Sometimes
it overbalances and comes crashing down.
For my Boston friends interested in finding a good home for their "read" books, I recommend donating to More Than Words, a youth development program that trains at risk young people to work in their two bookstores.

Girl Reading borrowed from this site:

Sunday, January 6, 2019

More on 2018 Reading

In 2018, I read 177 books in various formats or 57,618 pages (this does not count the books you pick up to check one thing, although sometimes that leads to several chapters). Most of these were some kind of mystery or suspense (50 adult, 7 romantic suspense (adult), and 6 juvenile or YA suspense). My next most read genre was 32 Young Adult novels (including fiction, fantasy, and suspense). Next was 29 historical fiction (including 5 YA and 5 juvenile).

I listened to 20 audio books (primarily in the car on weekends or on short trips). To my surprise, I read 29 books electronically. This is not really my preference but a lot of my review copies are PDFs or ebooks these days, and occasionally I find books are available at the library only in ebook format. By adjusting the font size on my Kindle, I can read while I run (slowly) at the gym but it is a surly gadget, always with a low battery.

Best Audio: The Thief, Kill the Boy Band, The Wright Brothers

Multiple Author Reads:
5 – Nicci French, K. M. Peyton (this included rereads)
4 – Jill Shalvis (write a book about a group of friends and you may draw me in to read several)
3 – Jenny Colgan, Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz, D.E. Stevenson (this included rereads)
2 - Erin Beaty, Dorothy Gilman Butters (she dropped the Butters along the way)(such a shame we were once at a party together but I didn’t know it until after she had left), Eileen Dunlop, Rachel Grant (wildly improbable plots), Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (and imagine if you read the entire Morland Dynasty in a year), Goldy Moldavsky, Laura Ruby (I normally dislike magical realism but I found Bone Gap unusual and appealing), Douglas Schofield, Anne Stevenson, and Sarah Ward (I hope St. Martin’s will continue publishing her in the U.S.).

Other Thoughts:

It was nice to hear from the daughter of Anne Stevenson who read my review of A Relative Stranger.

Several times my sister Clare and I found ourselves reading the same book at once, which, in a way, is not surprising as our taste is similar, and if they are new and got great reviews we both saw like Our House (which we both liked) or The Hazel Wood (which I disliked). She did not like Nicci French’s crime solving psychotherapist as much as I did (admittedly, Frieda is too cold and analytical) but still read half the series.

Book I had not previously read by a childhood favorite: Dancing Girl. Thank you, Interlibrary Loan!

Book that Camilla Corcoran tried to make me read years ago which it almost made my end of year favorites: The Thief (it reminded me of Lloyd Alexander, which is a huge compliment).

Book I read without remembering I had ever read it before: Murder is Academic (it was only average but I wanted to read something set in the other Cambridge before I visited).
Romance sensation: Jasmine Guillory’s local event was sold out before I was even fully aware she was coming to Boston. This is good for the genre. I enjoyed The Wedding Date, which had a cute concept and fabulous cover, but while fun and escapist, it was repetitive and substituted sex for character development.

Series You Should Be Reading: I read the sixth Stevens & Windermere book; start with The Professionals, either on audio or book form.

Best trilogy: The Red Sparrow books by Jason Matthews were so good (although horribly violent) I even went to an author event but the third book, while just as well written, ended on a disappointing (although probably realistic) note. I was not tempted to see the movie, however. Jennifer Lawrence seemed miscast and the violence would have been unavoidable (in a book, you can turn the page!).
Funniest typoI’ll Be Your Blue Ski. I just noticed this and fixed it.

Sometimes gems like The Rose Garden, Campion Towers, and The Thief can be on your (physical) bookshelves for years but one gets distracted by library books with short due dates or review deadlines. In 2019, I plan to read more books I already own.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Favorite Reads of 2018

Adult Fiction

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
Do you ever save a book by a favorite author for just the right moment?   When I bought this, I was toiling miserably at a law firm and reading in short bursts on the subway.  The Rose Garden deserved uninterrupted attention and I finally I curled up with it on a cold fall day in 2018 and was swept away to Cornwall.  It starts slower than her other books, so be patient, but that made the eventual smoldering tension all the better.   I also recommend The Winter Sea, which was one of my favorite books of 2010.  Kearsley is the closest thing to Mary Stewart I have found.
Message from Absalom by Anne Armstrong Thompson
After I finished The Rose Garden, I visited Kearsley’s website where she mentions that Message from Absalom was one of her favorites.   I immediately requested it from the library and reviewed it recently.   I recommend it to fans of romantic suspense, especially those who remember Helen MacInnes’ bestselling thrillers.

Star of the North by D.B. John
This thriller set partly in Korea was recommended by Nick Kristof.   I know we share a few favorite children’s books but had erroneously assumed he only reads serious nonfiction.  Intrigued, I sat down and read until 3 am.  Suspense, espionage, twins and a hint of romance!   I reviewed this earlier in the year and look forward to more from this author.

I was impressed by Honeyman’s ability to mix humor and pathos, while showing how transformative friendship is.  And, impressively, she didn’t conclude the book with the main characters falling into each other’s arms.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
After learning Count Rostov had been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, I wondered how this plot could be sustained for a whole book!   But like a fantasy writer praised for world building, Towles creates a fascinating group of people who inhabit the hotel (as staff, guests, or passers through) and expand the Count’s world so that you forget he hasn’t been outside for years.

Best New (to Me) Series

Frieda Klein by Nicci French
Blue Monday, Tuesday’s Gone, Waiting for Wednesday, Thursday’s Child, The Day of the Dead (and three I haven’t read yet)
Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist who is surrounded by dark secrets: those of her clients as well as her own.   She gets drawn into various crimes, assists the police when needed (although they never believe her when they should), and always winds up in terrifying situations.   Don’t do what I did - read the final book in the series first!  This is not my style but I had agreed to review The Day of the Dead before I realized.  I then went back and read books 1-4 before I decided to take a break.   Maybe this will help me unlearn what I know is going to happen!

Jane Hawk by Dean Koontz
The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room, The Crooked Staircase (and two more I haven’t read yet)
When her husband inexplicably commits suicide, FBI agent Jane Hawk goes on the run to investigate his death in an effort to protect their son.   Jane is a very appealing heroine, with frankly unbelievable skills that help her outwit her enemies but they are only a step behind her.  I have never read Koontz before and was surprised to become addicted to this series!

War at Home by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Goodbye Piccadilly, Keep the Home Fires Burning (and three more I haven’t read yet)
Best known for her Morland Dynasty (she has finally reached the 20th century and book 35), Harrod-Eagles is a skilled historical novelist and this series will appeal to Downton Abbey fans.  It is set just prior to WWI (like so many of my favorite books) and follows an upper middle class English family and its servants as war breaks out.  I always enjoy books about the home front, and I especially like the sisters in this series.

Best Book I Wouldn’t Have Read If Not for My Book Group

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Some may say the point of a book group is to drink wine with your friends (you have a problem with that?) but it is also to read and (one hopes) enjoy and then discuss books you wouldn’t have read on your own.  Pachinko was a fascinating, multi-generational saga about a Korean family.  Their lives were so hard and so lacking in hope that I can't say I enjoyed all the misery but the story was unpredictable, compelling, and well worth reading.

Best Nonfiction

The Wright Brothers * by David McCullough
I was yearning for the days of heroes when it occurred to me to turn to David McCullough.  I hadn’t read up on Orville or Wilbur since the Childhood of Young Americans bio in the Ward School library but I had always been fascinated by the early days of aviation and I loved this biography.  What a bonus to have McCullough narrating!  It felt as if he were driving along in my car with me, and we chatted as we drove.


Kill the Boy Band * by Goldy Moldavsky
Recommended by my sister Clare, this was one of the funniest books I have read (listened to) in years.  The heroine and her friends are obsessed with a band called the Ruperts, and they will do anything to be near the objects of their desire.  One hilariously bad choice after another follows, and the book is full of memorable quotes such as:
“Maybe it was obsession, but it was also happiness; an escape from the suckiness of everyday life. And when you find something that makes you happy and giddy and excited every day, us fangirls know a truth that everyone else seems to have forgotten: you hold on to that joy tenaciously, for as long as you can.” 
Campion Towers by John and Patricia Beatty
Set during the English Civil War, this young adult historical follows a spirited Massachusetts teen from Salem to her mother’s family in England where she is appalled by their adherence to the Royalist cause.   There is nothing more fun than a self-righteous teen who finds out everything she believed in was wrong and outsmarts her opponents.  I reviewed this earlier in the year.

One of Us is Lying * by Karen M. McManus
Five high school students get detention and one of them dies.   It turns out each of the survivors had a reason to wish Simon weren’t around.  Is one of them the killer?  I loved the way the author develops each character and how their friendships develop, and it was very well narrated. 
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Lucy is a preacher’s kid whose mother has cancer, challenging her belief in God.  Just as she needs friends the most, her boyfriend asks to pause their relationship, and she ends up as a counselor at a summer camp for troubled youth.  There aren’t many books about religious teens that would be appealing to the general reader but this is that book and is extremely well done.

Best Reread

Flambards by K. M. Peyton, illustrated by Victor Ambrus
In the first of this four book series, orphaned Christina is forced to go live with her Uncle Russell, and his sons, Mark and Will, at their home, Flambards, in the early 1900s. Mark and his father are obsessed with horses while Will is obsessed with machinery and aviation.  These books are just as delightful now as when I first read them at 11.  Stay turned - I reread these books because there is a new entry I have not had time to review.  And if you have not read them, please avoid spoilers!
* Audio books

Is it a coincidence that several of my best reads of the year were audio books?  Did I savor them more because I enjoyed them slowly?  Or did I pick certain books to listen to that I expected to enjoy?   I haven't figured this out because I hadn't noticed it until I took a look at the year in total.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Last Books

Simon from Stuck in a Book started this but I couldn't stop with 10!

1. The last book I gave up on - probably The Underground Railroad for my book group.   I am sure it is well written and compelling but the first chapter was so violent and depressing I put it down until it was due at the lib.

2. The last books I reread – the entire Flambards series; how I love these books by K.M. Peyton.
3. The last book I bought for myself – The War That Saved My Life.  Initially, I read this from the library but recently I bought one copy for myself and one for my niece Katherine, who also loved it.

4. The last book I lost - I lent my hardcover copy of Betsy in Spite of Herself to a friend who was going to Milwaukee with her daughter.  I am sure it is somewhere in their house so perhaps not lost forever.
5. The last book I wrote in the margins – when I was in law school, I wrote in the margins of my textbooks but I don’t do this normally.   However, within the last couple months I came across an error in a library book and corrected it in light pencil.  Someone (perhaps not a librarian) will thank me.

6. The last book I had signed – The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968 by George Howe Colt at the Harvard Coop in November.  You can’t get an ebook signed now, can you?

7. The last book I said I read but actually didn't – The Faerie Queene - despite being a 16th century History and Lit major.  Sorry, Edmund Spenser!

8. The last book I had to replace – Autumn Term by Antonia Forest.   Both my copies are missing and although I hope they will turn up, I didn’t want to risk not being able to find one so I ordered a paperback from England several months ago.

9. The last book I argued over – Dawn’s Early Light by Elswyth Thane.   I was practically (but not quite) speechless when some of my book group did not appreciate one of my absolute favorite books.  

10. The last book I couldn’t find – I read about an Irish mystery series by Jo Spain but the first entry, With Our Blessing, had not been published in the US so I had to order it from England.

11. The last book I insisted someone read – The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen.  This is the first in a great series about two detectives.
12. The last book I gave as a gift – I like to give every reader in my family a book for Christmas.  One I gave this year was The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh, part of an appealingly repackaged Crime Classics series I saw in England (and had to restrain myself from bringing them all home) from the British Library.  I chose this one for my mother because of our trip to the other Cambridge in April.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar

Thank you to Sprite Writes for including me in the Virtual Advent Tour she has organized for four years. For those who don’t know, Advent is a liturgical season leading up to Christmas which includes the four preceding Sundays. Growing up, my family often had an advent wreath with pink and purple candles which we loved lighting before dinner.
Katherine reads the enclosed note to Winona

As an adult, my favorite holiday tradition is the Betsy-Tacy ornament exchange. Every year, the fans of Maud Hart Lovelace’s beloved series, set in turn of the century Minnesota, participate in secret ornament exchange to honor a Christmas shopping expedition our heroines made in 1903 or so with their friend Winona Root:
There on a long table Christmas tree ornaments were set out for sale.  There were boxes and boxes full of them, their colors mingling in bewildering iridescence.  There were large fragile balls of vivid hues, there were gold and silver balls; there were tinsel angels, shining harps and trumpets, gleaming stars.
“Here,” said Betsy, “here we buy.”She looked at Winona, bright-eyed, and Winona looked from her to the resplendent table.“Nothing,” Tacy tried to explain, “is so much like Christmas as a Christmas-tree ornament.”“You get a lot for ten cents,” said Tib. 
They gave themselves then with abandon to the sweet delight of choosing.  It was almost pain to choose.  Each fragile bauble was gayer, more enchanting than the last.  And now they were not only choosing, they were buying.  What each one chose she would take home; she would see it on the Christmas tree; she would see it year after year, if she were lucky and it did not break. 
They walked around and around the table, touching softly with mitten hands.Betsy at last chose a large red ball.  Tacy chose an angel.  Tib chose a rosy Santa Claus. Winona chose a silver trumpet.They yielded their dimes . . . [t]hey walked to Ray’s Shoe Store, smiling, holding Christmas in their hands.
Katherine received a vintage bicycle ornament on behalf of Winona Root
Each year a number of human “elves” make random assignments so that we can send ornaments anonymously to each other in the guise of the series characters or using incidents in the books as inspiration. Each ornament I have received is my favorite but two I especially love are the very first one I received, a dressmaker’s dummy from Miss Mix, Betsy Ray’s seamstress, and a more recent one, a Big Ben ornament that evokes Betsy’s sojourn in London just before WWI.
In the past, the basketball came from Tib, a frog from Kalil, and Big Ben from Betsy's time in London
My tree is not yet trimmed but here is this year’s ornament – sent by the piano from Betsy’s home. How did my kind sender know how the image of Betsy and her friends rolling up the rug so they could dance while Mrs. Ray pounded out a two-step is one I see so clearly in my mind’s eye and cherish? (Betsy-Tacy fans often yearn for a television show to bring attention to the tomes we love but we also fear a cartoonish depiction that would make us cringe; our imaginations are preferable.)
Piano ornament - with rug!
My younger nieces, also Betsy-Tacy readers, participated in the ornament exchange this year, and you can see Katherine (11) received a lovely vintage bicycle ornament for Winona (above).  Tess (7) received an ornament from Tib.   You can also check out some of my ornament posts from previous years.
Tess is a 2nd grade Betsy-Tacy fan
If you have not read Betsy-Tacy (what are you waiting for?), it is Betsy-Tacy Goes Downtown in which the girls make the first ornament expedition but I recommend Heaven to Betsy for first time adult readers.

Thanks to Nan of Letters from a Hill Farm - I read about this Advent tour on her charming blog.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas on the Island (Book Review)

Title: Christmas on the Island
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, October 2018
Genre: Fiction
Plot: On the remote Scottish island of Mure, winter is stark, windy, and icy—yet the Christmas season is warm and festive . . .
It’s a time for getting cozy in front of a fire and spending time in the one pub on the island with the people you love—unless, of course, you’ve accidentally gotten pregnant by your ex-boss, and don’t know how to tell him. In the season for peace and good cheer, will Flora find the nerve to reveal the truth to her nearest and dearest? Will handsome but troubled future-father Joel think she’s the bearer of glad tidings—or is this Christmas going to be as bleak as the Highlands in midwinter? 

Recent arrivals to the Island are facing serious challenges as well.   Flora’s family is trying to say goodbye to Colton Rogers, the American magnate who found love in Mure but has now received the worst medical news imaginable.  And Saif, a doctor and refugee from war-torn Syria, is trying to cope with his first western Christmas with his sons on this remote island where he’s been granted asylum. Yet his wife is still missing, and her absence hangs over what should be a hopeful new life. Can his small family possibly find comfort and joy without her?  And what about the crush Flora’s friend Lorna has on the handsome but somber doctor?

Audience: Fans of Rosamunde Pilcher, Marcia Willett, and Sophie Kinsella will enjoy this glimpse of a distant island. Colgan is a New York Times bestselling author and has a US following. 
My Impressions: This is a book that pulls the reader in immediately with vivid characters and a stark but appealing setting (although you won’t find me visiting Mure in December!).  While I hadn’t realized that it was part of a series, it held up well as a standalone (I made a quick dash to the library to grab the first, The Café by the Sea) and it was easy to figure out that had happened in the previous two books.  Colgan is known for her humor but this story is very serious: Flora, who runs the Seaside Kitchen, knows her boyfriend’s wariness about relationships is due to abuse he suffered as a child, Colton is dying and his family is only interested in his money, Saif can’t move on with his life until he knows if his wife is alive and he is unaware of his elder son’s misery, and Mure may be beautiful but job opportunities are very limited – Flora’s café includes scrumptious-sounding baked goods but she is barely breaking even.  
UK cover - not as strong but the
houses are more realistically sized

Usually, I don’t care for so many crises being tossed about by an author (angst overload) but she weaves the plot lines convincingly enough to disarm me.  If I were a Colgan character, I suspect I would quit my job, move to Mure and open a bookstore – in fiction, it would probably all work out for the best!

One of the minor characters Colgan depicts so skillfully is Jan, part of a husband-wife team who run a sort of Outward Bound program, who reminded me of Mrs. Elton in Emma.  Jan resents Flora because Flora (who is more attractive) once kissed her ordinary husband (when he was single) so Jan is very snide, which the husband mostly doesn’t see and Flora has to ignore.   But it is Jan’s irritated assumption that Flora should comp her bakery purchases (just because) that annoys Flora and rings so true to me.  Annoying, entitled people are everywhere and not everyone in Mure can be congenial.  But Colton’s unpleasant brother is positively affected by his visit and unexpectedly helps Flora:
‘Got any pancakes?’They didn’t normally do pancakes either, but Flora desperately wanted to vanish into the kitchen for a bit and had no objection to making something as incredibly simple as a stack of pancakes so she smiled and said, ‘Sure thing,’ as he requested maple syrup and bacon, both of which she could manage. (She wasn’t sure how many he’d want, so she made nine in the end, of which he ate nine and looked slightly regretful there weren’t more.  During this period, no fewer than four separate groups of people came in, looked at what he was eating and decided they too wanted pancakes, and as they were super-easy  to make and cost absolutely nothing.   Flora ended up putting them on the menu full time and they turned into an absolutely brilliant little brunch money-spinner.
Off the Blog: In preparation for Mary Poppins Returns with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, last night I watched the DVD of the original Mary Poppins with two of my nephews (“Why are they singing all the time?” “It’s a musical!”) and a more appreciative niece last night.  It was one of the first movies I saw as a child; I owned the soundtrack and knew every song by heart.
Source: Recommended for those who enjoy light women's fiction, although I would advise starting at the beginning of the series with The Café by the Sea (which I have finished and am about to begin the sequel). I received a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Review Stops

December 3rd: BookNAround
December 4th: A Bookish Way of Life
December 5th: A Chick Who Reads
December 6th: bookchickdi
December 7th: Into the Hall of Books
December 10th: Ms. Nose in a Book
December 11th: Jackie Reads Books
December 14th: Kahakai Kitchen
December 18th: A Book a Week
December 19th: Books and Bindings