Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall

So my friend told me I “had” to read this book. From the moment I read “I believe that when you read the last page of The Ultimate Gift, you will be a different person than you are at this moment” written by the author in the introduction, I knew I was in trouble. How full of himself is Jim Stovall to make that statement? He seriously thinks he has the power to make me a different person?? That was the first moment I wanted to throw up while reading this book.

The story revolves around a young twenty-something named Jason Stevens whose really rich great-uncle has just died. Everyone gets their share of the inheritance except for Jason who has to go through a year of “tests” in order to get his inheritance. There are all these gifts that Jason has to discover in himself and he works on one a month. And in the end, I’m supposed to be a different person.

The writing is on the level of a third grader, yet it is supposed to be adult fiction. Each gift that Jason works on is miraculously mastered each month with very little information as to how he did it. At the end of the book he has gone from selfish brat to the most loving, caring, changed person on the planet. So dumb. So unbelievable.

I guess my life was changed at the end because I read one more book I hadn’t read before. That’s the best I can do Mr. Stovall. In case any of your friends tell you that you “have” to read this book, I’d think twice about that friend’s recommendations. This was definitely a snoozer. I can’t think of anything I liked about it so I’m giving it an F.

The Host: A Novel

By Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer and I, we have a complicated relationship. The minute I pick up one of her books, I simply cannot put it down. The kids fry their brains on TV and subsist on cold cereal. The husband, dismayed, comes home to hastily thrown-together dinners of boxed mac-and-cheese and tortilla chips. The housework is neglected to an embarrassing extent.

It is only after I finish the books and emerge from the Meyer’s hormone-fueled fantasy worlds that I regain the capacity for rational thought. It is only then that the flaws in her books start to nag at me, and I start to feel ever-so-slightly sheepish for having been so obsessed. Apparently, reading a Stephenie Meyer book is like a drug trip for me…not that I’ve ever been on one.

That pretty much describes my experience with The Host, Meyer’s book about an alien parasite. Wanderer is that parasite, and she has been placed in the body of one of the few remaining uninfested humans in hopes that Wanderer might be able to winnow from her host’s mind the secret of the rebels’ hideout. Instead, Wanderer finds herself becoming enthralled by her host Melanie’s memories of love and humanity, and before she knows it, Wanderer is on her way to join the humans.

Now for the flaws, as I see them. Meyer’s descriptions can be quite repetitive; for example, every time Wanderer/Melanie touches their true love Jared, she is on fire, or enflamed, or engulfed in heat, you get the idea (kind of like pale/alabaster/white in Twilight). The book keeps telling us that Wanderer is a strong character, but her actions and thoughts seldom came across as strong to me. Then, too, by tackling alien parasites, Meyer is inviting comparisons to some classics. Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (yes, I know, not technically parasites, but close enough) come to mind. In their company, The Host, unfortunately, comes across as kind of cheesy.

And thus my quandary: so it’s not great literature, but getting swept up in a book is something special. Don’t we all read to recapture that thrill we had when we first read Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings or [insert favorite book here]? And so I’ll compromise, giving The Host a solid three stars.

I only wish that I could put my finger on what exactly makes Meyer’s books so readable. If I could, I’d be writing my own books and rolling around in money at this very minute.

Little Dorrit - Episode 1

In case you missed it, the first episode of Little Dorrit aired last Sunday on PBS. I thought it very much im league with their other productions of his work, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, two of my favorites. Charles Dickens could write an excellent mystery as well as a love story. A synopsis of episode 1:

Amy "Little" Dorrit lives in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt caring for her father William Dorrit. To aid her family, Amy works for stern shut-in Mrs. Clennam. Son Arthur Clennam returns from China after his father's death, haunted by his father's final, mysterious words. Is there a long-buried family secret and does it somehow involve Amy and her family?

Settling back into English life, Arthur gets reacquainted with former sweetheart Flora Finching, although true affections are saved for Pet Meagles. Meanwhile, in Paris, sinister murderer Rigaud considers coming to England.

Having now befriended Amy and her family, Arthur makes a financial offering to help one member of the Dorrits. Amy's appreciation and affection for Arthur grows as John Chivery, a turnkey at the Marshalsea who has a longtime love for Amy, watches heartbroken.

To probe more deeply into the Dorrit mystery, Arthur enlists rent collector Mr. Pancks for help, leaving Arthur free to visit the Meagleses. While there, Arthur becomes troubled by Tattycoram (who lives with the Meagleses), and her mysterious connection to Miss Wade.

If you missed this episode, it's available on line here.
It's very well cast and worth watching!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Spells

By Sarah Addison Allen

Plants and dirt and the stories they tell.

I love plants. I love tending them. I love getting the back of my neck sunburned from being on my knees all day. I love getting dirt under my fingernails, and smelling its musty aroma as the brown stuff washes from my hands down the drain. A day spent in the sun, working the soil is a day seized in my book.

Claire Waverly loves plants too. A few steps from the back door of the large Victorian her family has always owned in Bascom, North Carolina is the garden she tends; the garden she loves; the source of her successful catering business. For her, plants equal magic. They’re her second language. Want to keep a secret? Add nasturtiums to your salads. Keep children thoughtful? Sugared pansies on the cake. Get rid of an unwanted neighbor? A snapdragon soufflĂ©. She has a gift. All of the Waverly’s do. Claire likes to keep hers quietly to herself, living alone in her family’s old house, ignoring the children who occasionally try to get a peek over her tall picketed fence at that mysterious enchanted apple tree in the center of her garden.

But suddenly her plants begin to change, and so does her life. A new, interested neighbor moves in next door. Her fly-by-night sister returns with a daughter unexpectedly, and her elderly cousin keeps leaving unwanted gifts. What’s a girl who wants her heart locked up tight to do? Give in, of course. A good heroine always gives in, a little anyway.

If you’ve read or seen the movie Practical Magic, this all probably sounds vaguely familiar. Both are stories that revolve around the lives of two sisters, one mature beyond her years and one escaping from an abusive relationship, polar opposites in almost every way but for their magical gifts; a small, quirky town whom both loves and hates them; an elderly relative with all the answers, and, of course, an enchanted garden.

I guess the question is, did I mind the similarities? Not really. Practical Magic is darker and more serious, while Garden Spells is lighter and more fun. Like The Sugar Queen, I enjoyed the mixture of food and magical realism. Addison made the story her own by the end. Reading this made me want to hang out at a garden store all afternoon. Or better yet, plant some peas and spinach. I hear they increase patience for unruly children. Better plant them quick. 4 stars

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Little Dorrit on Masterpiece This Sunday

The second to last of the Dickens classics, Little Dorrit, will start this Sunday, March 29th. It's often called Dicken's most moving love story. A brief synopsis:
Amy Dorrit's (Claire Foy) gentle spirit has never been dampened by the confining walls of the Marshalsea Prison she's lived in her whole life. Despite the dark shadow of debtor's prison, Amy lovingly cares for her father William Dorrit (Tom Courtenay), the longest serving inmate. A possibly redemptive light unexpectedly shines in the form of Arthur Clennam (Matthew Macfadyen), who has been left with the intriguing threads of a mystery after his father's death — threads that will intertwine his family and fate with the Dorrits. Clennam's exhaustive search for answers involves murder, fortunes gained and lost, the upper echelons and lowest dregs of society, and most surprising of all, a tender romance. Adapted by Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice), Little Dorrit, based on the book by Charles Dickens, is a sprawling story as timely as it is moving.

I intend to watch it for another reason as well. Remember this fellow from another movie? Does he look familiar? Matthew Macfadyen plays Arthur Clennam in Little Dorrit.

Perhaps this will refresh your memory...here Rufus Wainwright sings the words to Shakespeare's Sonnet #29 to scenes from Pride and Prejudice 2005. Sigh....

And here Matthew to my extreme delight (Hello! Shakespeare and Jane Austen combined! I'm undone...)recites Sonnet #29 all by himself. Be still my beating heart.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life

By Beth Pattillo
Back before computers, emails, twittering and facebook, people did that ancient and almost long-forgot practice of letter writing. Jane Austen scholars estimate she probably wrote close to three thousand letters during her lifetime, with almost all but the most carefully chosen supposedly destroyed by her sister Cassandra after her death. What was she trying to hide?

Emma Douglas is determined to find out. Though her husband has just left her for his much younger graduate student and her career in academia all but destroyed because of it, Emma, an authority on all things Austen, heads to England to find these missing letters and rescue her self respect in the process. A mysterious widow has contacted her, claiming to have some of this as yet undiscovered correspondence in her possession, and will allow her access to them if she completes a series of tasks to prove herself worthy. So off across the country she sets, Jane Austen’s country – from Stevenson to Bath to Lyme Regis, in search of the author’s true identity, as well as her own.

Jane Austen Ruined my Life is for fans of Austen herself, as Austenland was for the mini-series maniacs. I found the correspondence angle interesting since I’ve just finished a book detailing her letters that weren’t destroyed, My Dear Cassandra - The Letters of Jane Austen.

This one was a quick read for me, a tasty treat for Austenite’s everywhere, and a plot twist at the end kept it from being, like one of Austen’s stories, entirely predictable. There are a few gems included; her description of Mrs. Parrot, the wealthy, mysterious widow was one:

“Her hair was a vivid orange, as if Andy Warhol had been her hairdresser. A pair of glasses dotted with rhinestones hung from a chain around her neck, but she could just as easily have carried them on the ample shelf of her bosom. The fabric of her flowered house-dress would have looked at home on a sofa, and her feet were encased in sturdy black oxfords that had seen better days.”
The ample shelf of her bosom? Who doesn't have a grandma who fits into that category. Classic stuff. 3.5 stars

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

I have not read any of the Shopoholics books, but I picked up Remember Me, by the same author, thinking it would be a good read.

The premise of the book is a girl who wakes up after an accident having lost her memory of the past three years- and what a three years it was! She is married to a rich hottie and went from ugly duckling to beautiful woman. Part of her journey is the rediscovering of herself in determining why she underwent all these changes, and the pros and cons of the decisions she made the past three years. And also determining if she really did have an affair!

I found the book entertaining, but not the best book I ever read. There was a lot of cussing- including the use of the f-word way more then needed. It was a simple and cute read- not a deep literary read. Somewhat predictable and definitely cheesy at times, I would recommend this book if you are looking for a light, entertaining read. After all, who wouldn't love waking up and finding out they were married to George Clooney and looked like a super model?

3.8 out of 5- she lost points because of all the cussing.

A Midwife's Tale

By Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
“A man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”

Martha Moore was born in 1735 in the town of Oxford, MA. She married Ephraim Ballard in 1754 and gave birth to nine children, lost three of them to diphtheria and eventually died in Maine, in 1812 at the age of 77.

Between 1785 and 1812, Martha Ballard kept a diary. Without it her life would’ve been just a succession of born and died dates in some town registry. We would know nothing about her. We would not know she was a midwife. That she delivered 816 babies during that time period with a higher living birth rate than some countries today. She kept an exhaustive record of her travels from house to house, helping not just the pregnant women but the sick and afflicted, her daily accounts of the weather, and her business dealings. We hear of her gardening, her cooking, the washing, and the spinning of wool to sell.

As she ages, we feel the affects of time as she complains of being tired and not well, but still she works, delivering babies, battling prejudice from male doctors, handling religious squabbles, dealing with armed settlers, and most especially loneliness when her husband is kept in debtor’s prison for over a year.

Such “trivia” would’ve been all but ignored but for Ulrich, who looked between the lines and found a heart-felt story within; a story that won a Pulitzer. By uncovering the subplots of Martha’s daily life, from someone’s hasty marriage, lingering labor, or sojourn to jail, she revealed a grander hidden picture of eighteenth-century social history.

I found this book to be fascinating, and I can’t believe I’ve never read it before. What women had to go through just amazes me. So many of their children died and yet these women persevered. And the medical practices, I just couldn’t believe what they used for remedies, and yet I found their return to a simpler time somehow comforting. Everything was much less complicated back then. Martha did really well for herself. She made her own money and took care of her and her own families needs, as well as countless of her neighbors. She did not sit idly back and let history write her off. She wrote her own. What would’ve been lost if she hadn’t? A treasure. For anybody that likes history, this is an excellent read. Stephanie also wrote a great review of this. See here. 4.5 stars

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mistress Shakespeare

By Karen Harper
It is almost universally agreed upon that there are three big mysteries pertaining to William Shakespeare: Did he really write all those plays and sonnets, what happened to him during the lost years between grammar school and acting on the stage in London, and lastly whom did he marry?

It is generally thought he married (very quickly because she was with child) Anne Hathaway of Stratford, but in the same official record where this marriage is recorded there is another made just days before with the name William Shakespeare and a woman named Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton. A marriage bond or license was issued, or so it is recorded as thus. Who was this Anne Whateley? Could she be the “dark lady” of The Bard’s sonnets? Could he have had more than one wife?

And so we have the tale of William Shakespeare as told through the eyes of the dark-haired Anne Whateley, the daughter of an Italian street dancer and English shop merchant. Her story, separated into the five acts of a play, describes growing up as close friends in Stratford; their secret betrothal just days before he was forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway; and later their life together in London as Will struggles with his writing and acting career and Elizabeth the I’s fight against hidden Catholics. Together they deal with hunger and the plague, persecutions and executions, love lost and found again, all while Shakespeare becomes the greatest writer of the Elizabethan Age.

Could this be the real story of Shakespeare in Love, a movie I adore and had to watch again after reading this book? I haven’t read any of her other novels, but Karen Harper has done her homework here. She knows much about the Elizabethan period and it shows. The rich detail of London in the late 1500’s - early 1600's, and of the known character’s in Shakespeare’s life made for a very fun read for a Bard-loving nerd like myself. And like the movie, I enjoyed the word-play, the guesses on how he came up with these stories. Did they often mirror occurrences in his own life? I found that all fascinating, and the cover of the novel I loved. It was the reason I picked up the book in the first place.

As for the story itself, it flowed for me well enough. Anne Whateley was strong when she needed to be and weak when Shakespeare – who was of course always in and out of her life – would inevitably return to her. More than once I wanted her to just tell him off, but this was supposed to be written during a time when women had few rights whatsoever, let alone the ability to think on their own without a man telling them what to do. The story plays into that general concept whether it was true of the time or not.

One day I swear I’ll read a book where the heroine shrugs off the dead weight of the man in her life and rides off into the sunset all by herself in unbridled glory…sigh, but until another author is brave enough to attempt such a feat I must be content with fine enough stories such as this secretly knowing I probably wouldn’t have read it if it hadn’t have ended the way it did. Pathetic I know. 3.5 stars

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who doesn't like Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt? Anyone?

Andrew Davies will probably go down in history as the man who had the epoch-makingly brilliant idea of putting Mr. Darcy into a wet and thus clingily transparent blouse.
Laura Carroll

I don't know about anybody else, but I think Mr. Darcy's hot, wet shirt or no. In the A&E Pride and Prejudice mini-series Colin Firth keeps the home fires burning if you know what I mean. He takes cute snobbery to a whole new level. So is that really what started the Austen frenzy of the last decade? Would she be as popular now if not for that particular movie? Does she have Andrew Davies to thank? Do we? Ah, yah..

Here's someone else who thinks so.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Other Boleyn Girl

by Philippa Gregory

"I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck," and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily.

Such were some of the famous last words of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry the Eighth. I, like most people, am fascinated by English history, and I've always found the story of Anne very compelling. She was a quick, cunning woman. Her seductive wit and political prowess held no bounds; her obvious intelligence was legendary. Prince Charles should be thanking her for paving the way for divorce in the monarchy, but not even she could prevent herself from being pushed aside when like Queen Catherine, she could not give the king a son. We all know the hard lesson she learned from it.

But The Other Boleyn Girl isn’t told through her eyes, it’s told through the eyes of her sister, Mary Boleyn, a woman I’d never heard of; in reality, a woman of little consequence, who around the age of fourteen, returned to England from the French court and caught the eye of the King of England. At the urging of her family, she became his mistress and bore the king two children.

The next fifteen years follow the three Boleyn siblings: Mary, Anne, and George, and their trading of affections with each other, and between the two sisters, with King Henry himself. Anne and Mary’s relationship is depicted more as a one of intense rivalry and duty than of sisterly affection, and in the end I thought the story became more Anne’s than Mary’s, in that the author tried so hard to paint Anne in a bad light, finding cause in every accusation the king used as a justification in executing her.

No one really believes she did all the things he accused her of, yet these became the driving forces of the story, with Mary’s voice becoming very weak for me in the end. Almost invisible. What purpose did she serve exactly, I wondered. Had she learned anything from it all? Was she really secretly happy her sister had died the way she did? Was I as the reader? I wasn’t sure by the end, other than maybe King Henry wasn’t all to blame.

With that aside, I still found the book interesting and readable. The author’s words guided me through the historical narrative effortlessly until I’d read multiple pages without even realizing it. Only for a brief time did I feel some parts a bit too long and tedious, like the seven years King Henry waits to marry Anne. That felt like an eternity – as I’m sure it did for the sexually tormented Henry and his supposed virgin mistress, but other than that the book moved very swiftly for me. Smooth as creamy butter sometimes, and I loved it.

Reading this made me want to watch The Wives of Henry the Eighth on PBS again and learn more about these women and the man who proclaimed himself the God of this Earth, the head of his own church. What a time it must’ve been to live; a time when middle age was thirty years old; a time when death lurked around every corner, if not by the plague or the sweats, then the chopping block. I wonder if Anne really did laugh as she pondered her demise. Knowing what history really says about her, I would say yes. She was that kind of woman. 4 stars

Saturday, March 14, 2009


by Betsy Brannon Green

This is one of many in a series called the Haggerty mysteries. It is about a young cop named Mila Edwards who moves to Georgia for a new job and ends up on a case where two young children are abandoned by their mother. The police think the mother ran off with the father who was on the run from the police, but Mila thinks something more sinister happened.

We own three of this series and not in any particular order. We don't even own the first one but my husband likes the series so I thought I would give it a try. This is the earliest book in the series that we own so he said to begin with this one but he did warn me it was his least favorite. Well, I see why. I had to force myself to finish it and I started skimming at the end. I found it predictable and pretty slow. It just dragged on and took forever for anything exciting to happen. A few bright spots: I did enjoy the romance in it and it is by an LDS author so no language.

I will try the other two we have since he says they are much better but we will see. Apparently the others involve Eugenia Atkins, an elderly lady from Haggerty, Georgia, solving mysteries but she was only a minor character in this one. I think that was part of the lack of appeal for me. I was expecting more Murder She Wrote (which I LOVE!!!).

2 stars

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Friday Night Knitting Club

By Kate Jacobs

Not unlike the Shop around the Corner in the movie You’ve Got Mail, only with yarn instead of books, Walker and Daughter is a cute, little knitting shop hidden in the deep recess’s of New York City’s Upper West Side, run by single mom Georgia and her twelve-year-old daughter Dakota. It’s a place where a potential sale is never denied, where the door is never fully shut until well after closing time and the last straggler has had a moment to muse and ponder over the choice of wool or cotton. A place where not just stray pieces of yarn gather, but friends; women with virtually nothing in common but one general purpose: to knit together something in their lives.

Georgia and her precocious daughter are not alone in their efforts. There’s her mentor and stand-in mother, Anita, a well-established-in-life sort of friend; Peri, a pre-law student with a penchant for knitting handbags; Lucie, a tv producer who’s lost her way; Darwin, an annoying graduate student; and Georgia’s old high school friend Cat, a Pamela Anderson sort of socialite on the verge of divorce. Like a knitted scarf wrapped tightly around your neck on a blustery day, so it is with these women in a time of crisis. The yarn is what holds it together and keeps out the cold.

The Friday Night Knitting Club is Steel Magnolias with but a different disease and location; How to Tie an American Quilt with yarn instead of fabric blocks; the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but without the rebuilding of a mother-daughter relationship and the cool chant. I liked all of these books, FNKC included, which follow a central theme: make the most of one’s life while you have it and a sisterhood can conquer all.

Aside from the constant use. of. sentence. fragments. and occasionally getting bogged down in the minutiae of the character’s past lives, overall I felt the story moved along these points well-enough. The author milks to the last drop every emotional moment she can, and I felt literally sucked dry at times, almost forced against my will to feel more sentimental towards the characters, even though sometimes I didn’t want too. Sometimes these characters just weren’t likeable, but hey, they’re New Yorkers! What did I expect! *cough*

Did I take something from this book? Sure, be grateful for the friends you have, and take up a skill that uses your fingers, and most of all, be sure to shave your legs and change your underwear everyday. You never know what will happen, for good, and bad. 3 Stars

Books that make you dumb

I found this on another book review site, and thought it interesting enough to post here.

Books that make you dumb.

Clearly it's been put together by someone with a little too much time on their hands, but was interesting just the same.

Where do your favorite books fall into the spectrum?

Monday, March 9, 2009


By Neil Gaiman

This book made me think of fairy tales.

No, not the Disney-fied fairy tales that we’re all so familiar with. I mean the oldest and most unaltered ones, the ones that aren’t afraid to be scary or gruesome or cruel. The ones in which Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their heels or toes so that their feet will fit into the glass slipper, or the three pigs trap the Big Bad Wolf in a pot and cook the flesh from his bones.

Coraline is like that. The title character innocently steps through a door in her new home to find herself in a place very much like that home, but more “interesting,” where an “other mother” with button eyes longs to keep Coraline for her very own. It doesn’t take Coraline very long at all to figure out that it is not a pleasant place. Bad things happen there: parents disappear, children lose their souls, familiar faces melt and morph into horrifying caricatures. Like the darkest fairy tales, this story is unabashedly and unrelentingly dark, off-kilter and sinister. Here, however, there is no handsome prince to save little Coraline. She must rely on herself and the erratic help of a very catlike cat.

Like most fairy tales, for those paying attention, Coraline has a lot to say about life and the world around us. It may even have a moral. The movie ads come right out and say it, with the cat intoning solemnly, “Be careful what you wish for,” but the book is never so obvious. I found myself musing on the nature of evil, the relationships between children and adults, even symbolism (I’m lousy at deciphering symbolism, but I’m pretty sure this book has it in abundance).

Finally, in the end, like the best fairy tales, this story has a happy ending. This book may be in the children’s section of the library, but it has a lot to offer adults, too. 4.5/5 stars

The Book of Unholy Mischief.

There is a book that will solve all your problems whatever those problems may be. Does is contain lessons on alchemy? Or maybe has a recipe for an elixir of life. Or is it a love potion you seek? Or is the book just a little cookbook?Meet the guardians of "the book". Set is Venice with it's beautiful landscape and winding streets that may give you a poor kid, a rich emporer, or the cappe nere-really bad dudes. But, at the center of the story is Luciano and "the meastro", who is a cook. Not only does he cook, but he can change people by the things he cooks. Each time I read this book I found myself hungry and learning life lessons from making something simple as a soufle.Nothing is easy and surrounding the cooking lessons is an evil plot to get the book for many different reasons. There is danger and lost love all for the sake of a book, but what does it really contain?
I enjoyed this little read. It was easy, fun, and had a lot of cooking in it. I wish I could be a chef. I did not agree with many of the points about religion, but just like the davinci code they are just ideas for a story. The author was very clear that she pulled from history what she wanted to make a good book. It is completely a work of fiction.
The book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sugar Queen

By Sarah Addison Allen
Let’s see…a story about a young single woman who hoards sweets and trashy romance novels in a cache hidden in her closet. Hmm...I’m on board! I’ll take chocolate and passion on the page over my problems any time. And so we have Josey Cirrini, the twenty-seven-year-old heroine of The Sugar Queen. She’s an almost over-the-hill Southern belle without a life or a date, no privacy from a domineering mother, and now has the town harlot camping out and black-mailing her in her bedroom closet. What’s a girl to do?

Eat, of course. “Packaged snacks, rows of sweets, towers of colas.” And continue to pine over the tall blond mailman who delivers her mail faithfully to her door every day.

Her life was supposed to be simple and uneventful, and she was happy that way, with her chocolate, with her creme-filled cookies, or so she thought. This mysterious woman in her closet, this Della Lee, turns Josey’s “simple” life upside-down, by making her step out of her comfort zone and discover who she really is, whether she wants to or not.

If you’re looking for a fluffy, light read this book’s for you. The author injected a wit and magical realism that set it apart from a typical romance, and the ending though somewhat unrealistic, even in romance terms, was still satisfying.

So, as far as this type of novel goes, this one is in league with many, many others, in that, we suspect love will conquer all. But isn’t that the point? I devoured this story as easily as a warm chocolate chip cookie (I totally craved one while reading this book!), and with almost as much satisfaction, not feeling too full but still hungry for more in the end. Overall, an enjoyable read. 3 Stars

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

by JK Rowling
You don’t have to be a wizard or a kid to appreciate the spell cast by Harry Potter. For me returning to this series was like returning to a familiar pillow and blanket, a favorite dessert, or my favorite well-worn shoes: instantaneous comfort. What a joy this was to read again.

Because most everyone is as familiar with these three-dimensional characters and spooky scenes as they are the ingredients in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, I’m going to test your knowledge and walk through the book in question form. Only the most diligent kids; or I mean grown-ups may apply.

1. On what day of the week does our story begin?

2. How many presents did Dudley get for his eleventh birthday?

3. What country is the boa constrictor at the zoo from?

4. What day of the week was Harry’s eleventh birthday?

5. What did Hagrid cook for Harry when he first met him?

6. Name one course book first year students at Hogwarts will require.

7. What is Harry’s wand made from?

8. While waiting to board the train, what does George offer to send his mom from Hogwarts?

9. What kind of lumpily packaged sandwich does Ron unhappily unwrap on the train?

10. What is the first portrait password to get into Gryffindor tower?

11. What bone did Neville break while attempting to fly?

12. Who is the captain of the Gryffindor’s Quidditch team?

13. What game does Harry compare Quidditch to?

14. On what holiday does the troll appear?

15. What is the name of the three-headed dog guarding the trap-door?

16. What gifts did Harry receive for Christmas?

17. What does Dumbledore see when he looks in the Mirror of Erised?

18. How old was Nicholas Flamel?

19. What kind of dragon does Hagrid have? What’s its name?

20. How did Filch once punish wayward students?

21. Name the centaurs Harry meets in the forest.

22. What instrument do they use to put the three-headed dog asleep?

23. What position did Ron play on the chess board?

24. What flavor of bean did Dumbledore eat while visiting Harry in the hospital?

25. How many times have you read this book?
A delightful read that's worth revisiting often, even if I am a muggle. 4 Stars

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

by Gary D. Schmidt

This book was a very pleasant surprise for me. I checked it out at the library based on the author (who wrote The Wednesday Wars—fabulous book), also based on the fact that it was a Newbery Honor as well as a Printz Honor book. I certainly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did! It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story about 13 year-old Turner Ernest Buckminster III who moves to Phippsburg, Maine in 1912 where his father has been appointed the town minister. There is an island nearby where a small community of black people live, including Lizzie Bright Griffin who is close to Turner’s age. Turner doesn’t get along with anyone else in town, but he does form a closeness and friendship with Lizzie. The problem comes when the people of Phippsburg decide they need the land on Malaga Island for tourism to help their economy, and they want to force the black people to leave. The story is based on true events.

There are some great characters in the book, especially the old women in town. Turner is forced, as punishment, to play the organ for an old lady who is sure she will die anytime, so she keeps a paper and pen nearby so whoever is with her will record her last words as she is certain they will be prolific. Turner is careful not to play any songs that will encourage her to die. There are other well developed characters that I grew to love, hate, or feel sorry for.

This was a story that stuck with me and the more I think about it, the more I like it. I love books like that. There are some prime teaching moments for families about prejudice, courage, family, adversity. This is a beautiful story. I give it an A.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where Are You Now?

by Mary Higgins Clark

10 years ago when Mack MacKenzie's life was just about to begin, right before graduation from Columbia, he disappeared completely. His parents and sister thought it could only be foul play but Mack began calling every year on Mother's Day saying he was alright and will someday come home.

His sister Carolyn decides to go looking for him and find out why he is doing this to them. 3 young women have gone missing since Mack disappeared and one goes missing as soon as Carolyn begins her search for Mack. The police begin to suspect Mack himself. Is it really Mack? If not, who is trying to frame him and why? And where is Mack? This is what Carolyn is trying to find out and the more she searches the more dangerous her situation becomes.

I have always liked Mary Higgins Clark mysteries. This is another good one that kept me guessing until almost the very end. Clark is very good at giving you lots of suspects and they all seem to have a motive. It is fun weeding through the clues trying to figure it all out before the end.

I would recommend it for mystery lovers. 4 stars.