Book Review {and My Favorite NW Author}

Admittedly, I’ve had negative amounts of “free time” this fall, it seems, what with student teaching, kids in various afterschool and weekend activities, and just life in general.  I still need some time to escape, though, so I try to fit in at least a few minutes of reading for fun every night before bed.  It helps that the kids all have nightly reading minutes to get in, so we can all lounge around the family room reading.

Last summer, I discovered a great mystery series, set in Oregon, and written by Ellie Alexander, a Northwest author. The heroine of those books owns a bakery in Ashland, and the books are filled with wonderful descriptions of the town, the Shakespearean festival there, and recipes from the bakery.  I quickly read the books in that series, and while waiting for the next one to be released, found out that the author writes another series as Kate Dyer-Seeley.  These books follow Meg, a young writer in Portland, as she embarks on a new job writing for an extreme sports magazine. A lover of pink, Meg is game for anything (and a little clumsy) and often finds herself in dicey predicament in the outdoors, from an Amazing Race-style adventure in the Columbia Gorge to rescue training at Mt. Hood to windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge. .

I recently won a drawing for the latest in this series, First Degree Mudder, and received the book in return for an unbiased review…so that’s what this is! The book jacket reads:First Degree Mudder (A Pacific Northwest Mystery) by [Dyer-Seeley, Kate]

Back home in Portland, Oregon, Meg is ready to take her career as an outdoor writer for Extreme magazine to the next level. Lesser journalists sling mud—Meg plans to run through it. To train hard for Mud, Sweat & Beers, an extreme 5K mud run, she’s signed on with the Mind Over Mudder team, run by ten-time mud marathon champ—and former drill sergeant—Billy the Tank. But when Meg finds her tenacious trainer dead in the locker room, she has a sinking feeling someone may have been pushed too far. Digging through the hidden secrets at Mind Over Mudder is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Meg will have to tread carefully, though—or she may soon be running for her life . . .

I believe this is my favorite of the four books in the series (so far).  Meg’s adventures are always entertaining, and I can see a bit of my younger self in her as she lets her self-confidence in her athletic abilities occasionally overload what her body can deliver. The characters are well-written, such as the friendship between Meg and her college buddies.  Her grandmother is a fun character, as well, as owner of a New Age shop and Reiki practitioner. First Degree Mudder differs from the previous books, however, with much less interaction with Meg’s boss and more time spent inside Meg’s head. I also appreciated that the subplot of Meg’s father’s mysterious death was further developed in this book than in the first three.  The mysteries are well-crafted and keep me guessing until the end. As in any good mystery, red herrings abound and I enjoy seeing Meg unravel the clues.

While I’m not sure the term “cozy” accurately describes these, they are a great diversion for a rainy weekend (or a sunny beach day!). As always, the book left me longing for a weekend escape to Oregon and outdoor adventure, even if it’s not of the extreme variety!

Check out the other books in the series, or the Bakeshop Series, if you’re in the market for a quick, entertaining read!

Scene of the Climb (A Pacific Northwest Mystery) by [Dyer-Seeley, Kate]Slayed on the Slopes (A Pacific Northwest Mystery) by [Dyer-Seeley, Kate]        Silenced in the Surf (A Pacific Northwest Mystery) by [Dyer-Seeley, Kate]

Meet Your Baker (A Bakeshop Mystery Book 1) by [Alexander, Ellie] A Batter of Life and Death: A Bakeshop Mystery by [Alexander, Ellie]On Thin Icing: A Bakeshop Mystery by [Alexander, Ellie]Caught Bread Handed: A Bakeshop Mystery by [Alexander, Ellie]

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m finally starting my own book club, now that we’ve been “settled” for over a year in our forever house. We’re meeting tonight to pick out the next few months worth of books to discuss, but in the meantime, I read a few really worthwhile books this summer…and, okay, some not-so-worthwhile, but still entertaining (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones series).  Here are a few worth ignoring the housework for, in my opinion:

Close Your Eyes, Hold HandsClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Goodreads.com blurb: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

I adore every Bohjalian book I’ve read (and I’m pretty sure that’s all of them).  The only disappointment I felt about this one was that it ended.  I kept sitting and staring at the last page while mulling it over until the hubs thought I’d dozed off.

Still Life with Bread CrumbsStill Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.
Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined.

Anna Quindlen always weaves a good tale, and this is a cozy love story, rather than a mushy, gushy one. I enjoyed it, didn’t have to think too much about it, and would recommend it for a rainy weekend read.

Lookaway, LookawayLookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Jerene Jarvis Johnston and her husband Duke are exemplars of Charlotte, North Carolina’s high society, where old Southern money—and older Southern secrets—meet the new wealth of bankers, boom-era speculators, and carpetbagging social climbers. Steely and implacable, Jerene presides over her family’s legacy of paintings at the Mint Museum; Duke, the one-time college golden boy and descendant of a Confederate general, whose promising political career was mysteriously short-circuited, has settled into a comfortable semi-senescence as a Civil War re-enactor.  Jerene’s brother Gaston is an infamously dissolute bestselling historical novelist who has never managed to begin his long-dreamed-of literary masterpiece, while their sister Dillard is a prisoner of unfortunate life decisions that have made her a near-recluse.
As the four Johnston children wander perpetually toward scandal and mishap. Annie, the smart but matrimonially reckless real estate maven; Bo, a minister at war with his congregation; Joshua, prone to a series of gay misadventures, and Jerilyn, damaged but dutiful to her expected role as debutante and eventual society bride. Jerene must prove tireless in preserving the family’s legacy, Duke’s fragile honor, and what’s left of the dwindling family fortune. She will stop at nothing to keep what she has—but is it too much to ask for one ounce of cooperation from her heedless family?
In Lookaway, Lookaway, Wilton Barnhardt has written a headlong, hilarious narrative of a family coming apart, a society changing beyond recognition, and an unforgettable woman striving to pull it all together.

I just finished this, and I’m still deciding if I really liked it or not. I had a hard time getting focused on it, and it took over a week to read (and it’s not a very long book…about 350 pages). I laughed aloud a few times and enjoyed the characters…each was given their own section of the book, so the changing points of view were interesting.

And then I read some that were just so-so…the Game of Thrones after the second book, the latest Outlander book (Written in My Heart’s Own Blood) by Diana Gabaldon, and Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (who wrote the Shopaholic series).

I also (happily) killed a few brain cells reading for the pure escapism of it….Takedown 20 and Top Secret 21 by Janet Evanovich, Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand, Power Play by Catherine Coulter, and the final book of the Deborah Harkness trilogy, Book of Life…it’s about witches, vampires, and daemons, kind of Twilight for grownups.

Anyway, that’s how I spent my summer vacation…and I didn’t even starve my family or make them run around in dirty clothes. Well, not often, that is.

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About My Little Bookworms…and Me!

We’ve been reading and reading and reading here as the rain falls day after day…but the kids were reading for a contest at school and I was (mostly, anyway) reading some pretty dry textbooks for school.  I did sneak in some time to read a few really exceptional books since the start of the year, and I wanted to recommend them to you!

But first…look at my little hooligan-bookworms!

The kindergartener and the second grade won first in their class and third in their grade…so they got nifty medals and gift cards to Barnes and Noble, a perfect prize for them.  The fourth grader chose to spend his time building Lego creations and read just enough minutes to help out his class somewhat, but not enough to win a prize.  He was okay with that, though.

I was a bad parent and didn’t take a real camera to the assembly…but my phone photo is not too awful! Princess Thundercloud is big into Dr. Seuss books these days (she reads those herself) and I’m reading Junie B. Jones books to her each night. My overachieving middle kid is reading the Spirit Warrior books with me and Huckelberry Finn with the hubs, as well as the Wimpy Kid books at night…I’ve caught him several times with his headlamp on, reading after lights out!

And now on with these books I’ve read…they’re all worthy of a look!

The Husband's Secret

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

I read this for book club…it was “Romance” month in our genre list…and really thought it would be a sappy, not-worth-my-time bit of fluff. It was definitely not any of those!  I loved this book, filled with twists and turns.  Here’s the synposis from Goodreads.com:

Imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret – something so terrible it would destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others too. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick achieved it all – she’s an incredibly successful business woman, a pillar of her small community and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia – or each other – but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s devastating secret.

Honolulu

Honolulu by Alan Brennart

Molokai by the same author was one of my favorite books I read last year, and Honolulu is even better.  I may or may not have neglected my math homework a couple of days to finish this. Having never lived in Hawaii, I found this historical tale riveting, and I think I learned quite a bit about the islands…and I learned that even if you’re not a tropical beach kinda girl, reading this in the middle of a rainy winter certainly will make you long for a sunny escape!  Here’s what Goodreads.com says:

“In Korea in those days, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames, which often reflected the parents’ feelings on the birth of a daughter:  I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity.  As for me, my parents named me Regret.”

Honolulu is the rich, unforgettable story of a young “picture bride” who journeys to Hawai’i in 1914 in search of a better life.

Instead of the affluent young husband and chance at an education that she has been promised, she is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his frustrations out on his new wife. Renaming herself Jin, she makes her own way in this strange land, finding both opportunity and prejudice. With the help of three of her fellow picture brides, Jin prospers along with her adopted city, now growing from a small territorial capital into the great multicultural city it is today.  But paradise has its dark side, whether it’s the daily struggle for survival in Honolulu’s tenements, or a crime that will become the most infamous in the islands’ history…

With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawai’i far off the tourist track, Honolulu is most of all the spellbinding tale of four women in a new world, united by dreams, disappointment, sacrifices, and friendship.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I know, I’m probably the last person in the world to read this book from several years ago.  I’ve had it on my nightstand since it was first a bestseller, but each time I started to read it, I was put off my the fact that it’s narrated by Death. Once again, the book club forced me to read it, and I’m so glad whoever chose it for January did!  Read it…immediately. Although you might neglect your laundry, dishes, and, possibly, family, until you finish.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

A few other books that, while they didn’t make me neglect my studies, certainly provided an enjoyable distraction (if you’re looking for a Spring Break book, say).

Ladies' Night   The Supreme Macaroni Company   Ghost Gone Wild (Bailey Ruth, #4)

Happy Reading!

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November Paper Pumpkin {& a CASE’d Thanks}

Once again, I was thrilled to open my red box from Paper Pumpkin this month, and inside I found everything I needed to make four of these cute cards.

1113 Nov Paper Pumpkin

And, of course, after making the four cards, I still had the star and sentiment stamps, as well as half of the star garland. Woohoo! This would be an easy card to duplicate, perhaps as a thank you card with a simple garland created with Stampin’ Up!’s new shredding scissors, available in the Occasions Catalog starting on January 1.  See?Thanks-ChaosServedDaily

I used the Season of Style Designer Series Paper Stack for the baackground (the polka dot part), then Whisper White cardstock stamped with Calypso Coral and Coastal Cabana inks. The stamp set is the photopolymer Another Thank You, with lots of great images. The garland is cut with the Shredding Scissors out of Coastal Cabana, then I made a few flags from Epic Day Washi Tape…to do that, simply fold a piece of tape in half over bakers’ twine, then cut the ends as you would a ribbon. Super cute, don’t ya think?

With the holidays almost upon us, I’m all off kilter. I usually blog about what I’ve read on the last Monday of the month, but I wanted to fit these cards in this month, so instead of listing all the books I read, I’m telling you about my favorite.

11/22/63

11/22/1963 by Stephen King

My book club read this book, and I was a bit intimidated by its size…but I couldn’t stop reading it! Having read King’s Under the Dome over the summer, I was excited to have a reason to read this one, as well. It did not disappoint, y’all…and how timely, with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK last week. If you’re looking for a real pageturner, this one can’t be beat!

By the way, I’m not a fan of his horror books, but loved this,as well as Under the Dome. A word of advice, though…get the digital editions…my Nook hurts much less when I fall asleep reading and it lands on my face than the 700+ pages of the hardcover!  Here’s the synopsis…I’m a sucker for time travel novels.

If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be what you hoped?
Jake Epping, 35, teaches high-school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor’s story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father. On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock’n’roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas-guzzlers without seat belts. Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?

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October Books of the Month

I don’t know what happened to me this month…I’ve been a totally schizophrenic book reader! I start one, it doesn’t grab me in the first 50 pages or so, and I give up on it and start another. I think the problem is I finally made it to the post library and stocked up on books, so now I’m overwhelmed with choices…while reading one, I can hear the others calling, “I’m much more interesting!”

Anyway, here are a few of the books I started, stopped, and plan to finish soon!

1. The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

I adore Ruth Rendell books.  They’re suspenseful, well written, and always have a twist to them. This is the book I’m currently reading, and I can’t put it down!

The St. Zita SocietyFrom three-time Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell comes a captivating and expertly plotted tale of residents and servants on one block of a posh London street, and the deadly ways their lives intertwine.
Life for the residents and servants of Hexam Place appears placid and orderly on the outside: drivers take their employers to and from work, dogs are walked, flowers are planted in gardens, and Christmas candles lit uniformly in windows. But beneath this tranquil veneer, the upstairs-downstairs relationships are set to combust.
Henry, the handsome valet to Lord Studley, is sleeping with both the Lord’s wife and his university-age daughter. Montserrat, the Still family’s lazy au pair, assists Mrs. Still in keeping secret her illicit affair with a television actor, in exchange for pocket cash. June, the haughty housekeeper to a princess of dubious origin, tries to enlist her fellow house-helpers into a society to address complaints about their employers. Meanwhile, Dex, the disturbed gardener to several families on the block, thinks a voice on his cell phone is giving him godlike instructions, commands that could imperil the lives of all those in Hexam Place.
The St. Zita Society is Ruth Rendell at her brilliant best; a deeply observed and suspenseful novel of murder in the quintessentially London world of servants and their masters.

2. Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

This book sounded so intriguing to me, an historical novel about the Borgias, but it just seemed to drag on and on. I read almost one hundred pages and still couldn’t bring myself to continue. I checked it out thinking it was written by Tracy Chevalier, whose historical novels I find infinitely more readable than this!

Blood & Beauty: The BorgiasIs there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias?
A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.
The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope.
The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue.
But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?
What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging?
“Blood & Beauty: The Borgias” is an epic novel which sets out to capture the scope, the detail, the depth, the colour and the complexity of this utterly fascinating family.

3. Family Pictures by Jane Green

I did finish this, and, as in all of her books, enjoyed the exploration of family relationships and interactions. Even though I felt as though I should be sitting on a beach, sipping an umbrella drink, it was so light after the Borgia denseness.

Family Pictures New York Times bestseller Jane Green delivers a riveting novel about two women whose lives intersect when a shocking secret is revealed.
From the author of Another Piece of My Heart comes the gripping story of two women who live on opposite coasts but whose lives are connected in ways they never could have imagined. Both women are wives and mothers to children who are about to leave the nest for school. They’re both in their forties and have husbands who travel more than either of them would like. They are both feeling an emptiness neither had expected. But when a shocking secret is exposed, their lives are blown apart. As dark truths from the past reveal themselves, will these two women be able to learn to forgive, for the sake of their children, if not for themselves?

4. The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

I’m reading this at the same time as the Rendell, and will finish it after I finish that one. It’s fairly entertaining, and I’m interested to know more about the first professional female astronomer in America, on whom the heroine is based.

The Movement of StarsA love story set in 1845 Nantucket, between a female astronomer and the unusual man who understands her dreams.

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different—and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.
And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. but when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.
Inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America, The Movement of Stars is a richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity.

I’ve also read aloud with the kids several entertaining books this month. My eldest is engrossed in the Boxcar Children series (there are around 150 of them, I think!), so he and I read, taking turns, some spooky ones for Halloween.  To all of them, I read The Best (Worst) Halloween Ever about the Herdmans of The Best (Worst) Christmas Pageant Ever and we all laughed aloud at  Junie B Jones in  Boo…and I Mean It!  With my second grader, I’m reading the How to Train Your Dragon series, which is very entertaining, as well. Oh, and my book club read a selection of Edgar Allan Poe stories, so I’m not a total slacker in the reading department this month!

Happy Reading, and wish me luck on finishing all my false starts. Except the Borgia one…it’s already back at the library!

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Moving Books

…And by that, I mean the books I read while we were moving. The books themselves did not, by and largely, particularly move me.  I’m just providing a quick synopsis, and, if I felt strongly about a book, my humble opinion. Take it for what it’s worth…not much, but if you’re looking for a really good book, there are several here!

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)   The Panther  (John Corey, #6)   The Shoemaker's Wife

Beautiful Ruins   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)    Comfort Food

Executive Privilege (Dana Cutler, #1)    Molokai'i    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

1. Inferno by Dan Brown : I loved Brown’s earlier books, but this just seemed formulaic and, frankly, boring. It read more like a travelogue of Italy, with long and wordy descriptions of the architecture that I thought did nothing to enhance the tale.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.
Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

2. The Panther by Nelson DeMille:  The latest by one of my favorite writers, this thriller kept me reading late into the night.  I enjoy the sarcastic hero, John Corey, as well as the plots of the novels (this is one of several recurring characters in Demille’s books).

Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent John Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, have been posted overseas to Sana’a, Yemen-one of the most dangerous places in the Middle East. While there, they will be working with a small team to track down one of the masterminds behind the USS Cole bombing: a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative known as The Panther. Ruthless and elusive, he’s wanted for multiple terrorist acts and murders-and the U.S. government is determined to bring him down, no matter the cost. As latecomers to a deadly game, John and Kate don’t know the rules, the players, or the score. What they do know is that there is more to their assignment than meets the eye-and that the hunters are about to become the hunted. Filled with breathtaking plot turns and told in John Corey’s inimitable voice, THE PANTHER is a brilliant depiction of one of the most treacherous countries in the world and raises disturbing questions about whether we can ever know who our enemies – or our allies – really are.

3. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani:  I didn’t enjoy this as much as Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap series or Valentine series, but it was still quite entertaining, perhaps more so once I read it was based on her grandparents’ story.

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza’s family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.
Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.
From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

4. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: Loved it. You should read it right now.

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot-searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion-along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.
Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson: After having this on my nightstand for several years, I was determined to read it. It was actually quite good, and I’ll probably read the others…when I get around to them! I enjoyed the setting, as I’ve read almost no books set in Sweden.

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there’s always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson’s novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don’t want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

6. Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs: Chick lit, yes, but it kept me thoroughly entertained (I read this while the movers were packing up our house and I could do nothing but sit and watch.).

Shortly before turning 50, TV cooking show personality Augusta “Gus” Simpson discovers that the network wants to boost her ratings by teaming her with a beautiful, young new co-host. But Gus isn’t going without a fight-whether it’s off-set with her two demanding daughters, on-camera with the ambitious new diva herself, or after-hours with Oliver, the new culinary producer who’s raising Gus’s temperature beyond the comfort zone. Now, in pursuit of higher ratings and culinary delights, Gus might be able to rejuvenate more than just her career.

7. Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin: This edge-of-my-seat murder mystery kept me guessing most of the way through…it was the first I’ve read by Margolin, but won’t be the last.

When private detective Dana Cutler is hired by an attorney with powerful political connections, the assignment seems simple enough: follow a pretty college student named Charlotte Walsh and report on where she goes and whom she sees. But then the unexpected happens. One night, Cutler follows Walsh to a secret meeting with Christopher Farrington, the president of the United States. The following morning, Walsh’s dead body shows up and Cutler has to run for her life.
In Oregon, Brad Miller, a junior associate in a huge law firm is working on the appeal of a convicted serial killer. Clarence Little, now on death row, claims he was framed for the murder of a teenager who, at the time of her death, worked for the then governor, Christopher Farrington. Suddenly, a small-time private eye and a fledgling lawyer find themselves in possession of evidence that suggests that someone in the White House is a murderer. Their only problem? Staying alive long enough to prove it.

8. Molokai by Alan Brennert: Probably my favorite book of the summer journey…a fascinating and lushly written historical novel that I could not put down. I’m reading his Honolulu as soon as I can find a copy.

This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death.

9. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce: We read this aloud while travelling, and it entertained the whole family with its British humor.

When the Tooting family finds an old engine and fits it to their camper van, they have no idea what kind of adventure lies ahead. The engine used to belong to an extraordinary car . . . and it wants its bodywork back! But as the Tootings hurtle across the world rebuilding the original Chitty, a sinister baddie is on their trail — one who will stop at nothing to get the magnificent car for himself.

So there you have it…how I spent my summer vacation (along with moving cross-country, taking a four-week pseudo vacation, and unpacking all of our earthly belongings, of course). And don’t judge me for the lack of substance in these books…winter is the time for heavier literary pursuits, in my eyes!

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Altered Memo Books

My crazy kids love those little composition books, carrying them along to Mass or on the school bus or in the car when we’re driving anywhere more than two miles away.  I happen to think they make perfect little book club gifts, perhaps for the first meeting of the year, if you take the summer off, or as a token at Christmas.  And they come together in mere minutes, even when you’re making a dozen or so.

0312-Comp-Book-Bookplate   0312-Comp-Book-Houses

0312-Comp-BookI started with basic memo-size composition books.  These were two for $1 at Walmart.

 

 

 

 

I added a bookplate to the front of one…it was self-adhesive, so that little project took about 20 seconds to complete.

For the “Be Happy” one, I cut a piece of patterned paper and adhered it, then used scissors to round the two corners to match the notebook.  I stamped and punched out the “Be Happy”, adhered it, and tied some bakers; twine around the front cover.  I put a glue dot under the know of the twine, just to hold it in place a bit better. Since this book was a bit more “crafted,” it took about 3 minutes to complete.

I’ve made others covered with washi tape, different patterened papers, and even duct tape for the kids, even though they’d be perfectly happy to carry the black and white ones. At least I know they’re carrying a little piece of my creativity around with them, even if they don’t!

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June Books of the Month

Oh, my!  I spent WAAAAAY more time than I should have reading this month, thanks to a couple of books I couldn’t put down.  But that’s what summer break is all about, right? Neglecting housework, laundry, and cooking and enjoying a good book!

The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

This was my least favorite book this month, but still quite captivating. I really enjoyed learning more about Quakers and their role in society, especially the slavery issues.

Here’s the synopsis:

In New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.
Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.
However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.
A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history

Then Came You

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

This is my idea of a perfect beach read, much like all of Jennifer Weiner’s books. I found myself empathetic to all the women involved, even though their motivations were entirely different from one another. The ending was pretty improbable, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book.

Here’s its synopsis:

Annie Barrow, a struggling Pennsylvania housewife, thinks that carrying another woman’s child will help her recover a sense of purpose and will bring in some much-needed cash.
India Bishop, thirty-eight (really, forty-three) and recently married to the wealthy Marcus Croft, yearns for a baby for reasons that have more to do with money than with love. When her attempts at pregnancy fail, she turns to Jules and Annie to make her dreams come true.
But each of their plans is thrown into disarray when Bettina, Marcus’s privileged daughter, becomes suspicious that her new stepmother is not what she seems . . .
Told with Jennifer Weiner’s trademark wit and sharp observations, Then Came You is a hilarious, tender, and timely tale that explores themes of class and entitlement, surrogacy and charity, the rights of a parent and the measure of a mother.

Under the Dome

Under the Dome by Stephen King

OK, so I mostly started this because the TV series was starting this month, and I can’t bear to watch things on television if they are inspired by a book and I haven’t read it yet. Let’s call it a quirk, shall we?  That’s why I can’t watch Game of Thrones…yet. I’m working on that series now.

Anyway, I don’t often read Stephen King, but when I do, I’m always surprised at how readable his books are. I guess that’s why he’s written something like 452,784 books. I loved this book, although I did wish I had it in digital format rather than propping up almost 1100 pages while reading. I wholeheartedly recommend it (although I know some of you did not enjoy it at all).

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.

Because we’ll be in the throes of moving cross-country in July and August, I won’t have any book recommendations for you until September…but I plan to get lots of reading done during this summer, so get ready!

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May Books of the Month

I heard someone say the other day, “I think I’m busier this time of year than I am at the holidays.” I would have to agree…with spring concerts, field trips, graduations, and this little move two thousand miles back across the country, I’ve hardly had time to crack a book this month. But I did squeeze in a few, just to share!

The Light Keeper's Legacy

The Light Keeper’s Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

I craved cherry pie the whole time I was reading this mystery, set on Rock Island in Wisconsin’s Door County. The hubs and I escaped there for a weekend in the fall, and it was charming. I really, really enjoyed this book, written by a author who has actually lived in Wisconsin, worked as a historian, and even served as a docent at the Rock Island lighthouse.

The mystery kept me guessing pretty much until the end, and the writing truly painted a picture in my mind of the setting. Read it, by all means, if you’re looking for a mystery!

Here’s what the Goodreads info says:

Solitude at last! Museum curator Chloe Ellefson leaps at the opportunity to be a consultant for the historic lighthouse restoration project on Rock Island, a state park in Wisconsin’s scenic Door County. Hoping to leave her personal and professional problems at home, Chloe’s tranquility is suddenly spoiled when a dead woman washes ashore. Determined to find answers behind the mystery, Chloe dives into research about the island’s history and discovers the amazing, resilient women who once lived there. But will the link between the past and present turn out to be a beacon of hope or a portent of doom?

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I love Kate Morton’s books, and this one definitely did not disappoint.  Here’s the synopsis…judge for yourself!

During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

Hush

Hush by Kate White

Don’t judge me. This was escapism and fabulous!  I read another by her a couple of months ago, and this one was just as readable.  It kept me up all night, finishing it.  If you need a book to read on vacation, this makes a great choice.

The blurb:

When Lake Warren learns that her husband, Jack, is suing for full custody of their two kids four months after their separation, she’s pretty certain that things can’t get any worse. The upside is that she’s working with the Advanced Fertility Center as a marketing consultant, alongside the attractive, flirtatious Dr. Keaton. But the morning after their one-night stand, Lake finds Keaton with his throat slashed and discovers that things can indeed become worse–they can become deadly.
So as not to jeopardize her case for custody, Lake is forced to lie to the police. Having just been intimate with a man who has been murdered, and wanting to protect herself from being charged with the crime, she begins her own search for the truth. Meanwhile, the police start looking at her closely, people at the clinic start treating her with hostility, and strange clues begin dropping–quite literally–on her doorstep, and Lake realizes that she is dangerously close to dark secrets, both about Keaton and the clinic. But can Lake stop what she’s started before it’s too late?

I’m currently reading Under the Dome by Stephen King, hoping to finish before the television series starts in late June. Then I’m going to start on the Game of Thrones series, because I haven’t watched it yet, wanting to read it first.  I know, I have a problem. But I also have lots of time this summer without a home, much less a DVR for my shows!

How about you?  Do you use your summer to catch up on great literature, or give your brain a break and read beach books? 

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April Books of the Month

With all these April showers (of snow), you’d think I would have done nothing but read this month. Then my kids had Spring Break and expected to be entertained, and Princess Thundercloud celebrated her 5th birthday (and celebrated and celebrated). I did read a few books worth mentioning, though.

The Book of Killowen (Nora Gavin, #4)

The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart

Apparently this is the fourth book of this series, which I didn’t realize before reading it. I have this thing (some call it a problem) about reading series out of sequence.  It seems as though this one is fine to read non-sequentially, though.

The bookjacket blurb:

What sort of book is worth a man’s life? After a year away from working in the field, archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin are back in the bogs, investigating a ninth-century body found buried in the trunk of a car. They discover that the ancient corpse is not alone—pinned beneath it is the body of Benedict Kavanagh, missing for mere months and familiar to television viewers as a philosopher who enjoyed destroying his opponents in debate. Both men were viciously murdered, but centuries apart—so how did they end up buried together in the bog?

While on the case, Cormac and Nora lodge at Killowen, a nearby artists’ colony, organic farm, and sanctuary for eccentric souls. Digging deeper into the older crime, they become entangled in high-stakes intrigue encompassing Kavanagh’s death while surrounded by suspects in his ghastly murder. It seems that everyone at Killowen has some secret to protect.

I’ll definitely read the others in the series, since I enjoyed learning about the peat of Ireland (really!), as well as the combination of modern and ancient storylines.

The Sixes

The Sixes by Kate White

I could not put this down…seriously!  It’s total fluff, but so suspenseful and plain mean-girlish.

The bookjacket blurb:

From the “New York Times” bestselling author of “Hush” and the Bailey Weggins mystery series comes a thriller set in a college town where a student’s death sends one woman on a search for the truth and into the clutches of a frightening secret society.
Phoebe Hall’s Manhattan life has suddenly begun to unravel. Right after her long-term boyfriend breaks off their relationship, she’s falsely accused of plagiarizing her latest bestselling celebrity biography. Looking for a quiet place to put her life back together, Phoebe jumps at the offer to teach in a sleepy Pennsylvania town at a small private college run by her former boarding school roommate and close friend, Glenda Johns.
But behind the campus’s quiet cafEs and leafy maple trees lie evil happenings. The body of a female student washes up on the banks of a nearby river, and disturbing revelations begin to surface: accusations from coeds about abuses wrought by a secret society of girls on campus known as The Sixes.. To help Glenda, Phoebe embarks on a search for clues–a quest that soon raises painful memories of her own boarding school days years ago.
As the investigation heats up, Phoebe unexpectedly finds herself falling for the school’s handsome psychology professor, Duncan Shaw. But when nasty pranks turn into deadly threats, Phoebe realizes she’s in the middle of a real-life nightmare, not knowing whom she can trust and if she will even survive.
Plunging deeper into danger with every step, Phoebe knows she’s close to unmasking a killer. But with truth comes a terrifying revelation: your darkest secrets can still be uncovered . . . and starting over may be a crime punishable by death.

I’ve read the Bailey Weggins books by White, as well, and that’s why I picked up this one. Reading this was akin to watching a mystery thriller on television…you know it’s going to turn out fine, but just can’t quite figure out how. I did “solve” this mystery a while before the end, but enjoyed seeing how it played out in the book.

The Lawgiver

The Lawgiver by Herman Wouk

Having read Wouk’s more (much more) lengthy novels such as The Winds of War and Marjorie Morningstar, I was hesitant to add this to my “to-read” list when I read about its release. But, guess what?  At 240 pages,it’s quite short and a very quick read!

The bookjacket blurb:

For more than fifty years, legendary author Herman Wouk has dreamed of writing a novel about the life of Moses. Finally, at age ninety-seven, he has found an ingeniously witty way to tell the tale in The Lawgiver, a romantic and suspenseful epistolary novel about a group of people trying to make a movie about Moses in the present day. The story emerges from letters, memos, e-mails, journals, news articles, recorded talk, Skype transcripts, and text messages. At the center of The Lawgiver is Margo Solovei, a brilliant young writer-director who has rejected her rabbinical father’s strict Jewish upbringing to pursue a career in the arts. When an Australian multibillionaire promises to finance a movie about Moses if the script meets certain standards, Margo does everything she can to land the job, including a reunion with her estranged first love, an influential lawyer with whom she still has unfinished business.

Two other key characters in the novel are Herman Wouk himself and his wife of more than sixty years, Betty Sarah, who, almost against their will, find themselves entangled in the Moses movie when the Australian billionaire insists on Wouk’s stamp of approval.

As Wouk and his characters contend with Moses and marriage, and the force of tradition, rebellion, and reunion, The Lawgiver reflects the wisdom of a lifetime. Inspired by the great nineteenth-century novelists, one of America’s most beloved twentieth-century authors has now written a remarkable twenty-first-century work of fiction.

Written in the form of emails, journal entries, and letters, I found it engrossing and entertaining. It proved perfect for a little family trip to Chicago during Spring Break, requiring little concentration and with very short chapters…because when you travel with the fam, your reading time comes in fits and starts.

So, do tell…any book recommendations from you this month?

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