Cover Snapshot of Read Books

Sara's bookshelf: read

Crazy Little Thing
A Kiss at Midnight
The Disenchanted Widow
Hollywood Wives - The New Generation
There Goes the Bride
Table for Five
Do Not Disturb
The Husband's Secret
The Ugly Duchess
Help for the Haunted
The Power Trip
The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Summer At Willow Lake
Every Crooked Nanny
The Mystery Woman
The Woodcutter
How to Be an American Housewife

Sara's favorite books »

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bittersweet, Insightful, Powerful Making Toast

Making Toast is poignant and endearing, so much so that I had trouble remembering that it was a true memoir--a story of a father's dedication and love to his deceased daughter.

Written by a grieving father, the story follows the aftermath of a daughter dying unexpectedly, leaving behind a husband and three young children.  The focus is mainly on the family post-death, how the grandparents rearrange their lives to ensure the well being of their grandchildren and son-in-law. 

 Grandpa “Boppo” and Grandma Ginny leave their spacious home to move into a spare bedroom at their son-in-laws after their daughter’s death. Amy has left behind three children--a six year old, a four year old and a one year old. Boppo and Grandma soon take on parental roles as they make lunches, tell bedtime stories, and try to do everyday tasks like making toast. As they take the children to and from school and to their afterschool programs, Boppo and Ginny cannot imagine their previously quiet and retired lives. Boppo and Ginny are the ones attending recitals and rehearsals all the while sitting next to the young parents who were friends with their Amy. The children miss their Mom, the grandparents miss their child, the husband misses his wife, but together they struggle to move forward. Boppo is angry and hurt that his daughter is dead, and yet all around him the rest of the family even the children seem to be adjusting. I love the little moments between Boppo (Grandpa) and Bubbies (the littlest child)—this little boy will only ever know his mother through his Grandparents… Boppo has to look at this endearing baby boy every day—this silly sweet little motherless baby.

I highly recommend this memoir to all reading groups. The beautiful little paragraphs in this story read like fiction and depict humanity and family from the perspective of a father who has outlived his child. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

One Smart Book, The Housekeeper and The Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor
Poignant, heartwarming, and beautiful, I highly recommend The Housekeeper and the Professor for your next book club.

I adored this fresh and charming novel, which follows a lonely single mother housekeeper as she opens her heart to an unconventional relationship.

The Housekeeper worries when she gets her new assignment as she is the tenth in a long line of housekeepers (this is very bad). The Housekeeper’s new assignment is to clean and cook for the Professor who lives in the cottage out back. The main house does not want to hear of any difficulties or problems that the Housekeeper may have.

The professor answers the door wearing a suit covered with handwritten notes, the most important note being, "my memory lasts only 80 minutes." The Professor always asks numerical questions when the Housekeeper arrives, “what is your shoe size?” and the like. And from her answers he makes numerical comparisons.

The Housekeeper is not bothered by the obtuse and unfriendly Professor who does not like to be disturbed. Her job is to clean and cook and this she does until the day that she tells the Professor she has a son. The Professor, who has not been much of a communicator, insists that she start bringing her son to work, as children should not be left alone! To ensure that the housekeeper brings her son, he writes a note to himself and puts it on his suit.

The Housekeeper respects the professor and knows that he is a brilliant man; she does not want to disappoint him. The next day she brings her son to work with her. The Professor, who was formerly sad and uncommunicative, brightens the minute he sees her son as he pulls the child into his arms for a hug. From then on, there is a warm and welcome relationship between the Professor and the Housekeeper’s son, a kinship despite the fact that each day their relationship must start anew.

This Housekeeper lasts in her job simply because she is fascinated by the Professor and his affinity for numbers. She is the first, in the long line of housekeepers, to listen and appreciate; often trying to solve the mathematical equations and challenges The Professor gives to her. Despite the flaw of having a mere 80 minutes of memory, The Professor is brilliant and interesting to The Housekeeper.

Reading this novel, the reader may not realize that none of the characters are named. There is only the Professor, The Housekeeper, and Root (the nickname given to the Housekeeper’s son by the Professor). And, the novel is filled with math equations, complex numbers that the reader may not understand. Despite those challenges, the reader will want to learn and discover more about the endearing relationships that develop in this wonderfully rendered novel.

 This novel may be hard to find--I found my trade paperback at Half Price Books. The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa is 180 trade paperback pages.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Downsized for a Year; Living Without

What household items could you live without for a year? I think you’d be surprised. Almost a year ago, I thought we would be in a 700 sq ft apartment for a mere 3 months, totally doable while we waited to move into our 2000 sq ft house. And I let almost all of my household goods from our 1700  sq ft house go into storage while taking a few things that I could squeeze into a tiny apartment.
 Today, almost a year later, I am about to get my household belongings back. What have I missed the most?—the bed-frame. I knew that our bed frame was heavy and I cannot carry heavy items, so I put the frame into storage. Imagine your bed on the floor, constantly pushing away from the wall and hard to get out of in the morning, because it is so low to the ground!

 I don’t even remember how many plates I actually own, but I do know now that 6 dinner plates are not enough for two people. Who knows how many plates a small household goes through in a day? So, I am excited to get back my full set of plates, and glasses and coffee mugs. The little things, right?

 Other things I worry about—I had the movers put some pantry items into storage. Canned goods last a few months, right? Boy, what are we in for when we finally get our items back? I would bet that some food items have expired. Egad!

 And clothes, what about clothes? I would totally redo that. I have wardrobe boxes of clothes in storage, clothes that I cannot remember. Oh and there is major regret at bringing work clothes and interview clothes. When we were moving, I had a job lead and had planned on interviewing—that never came to fruition. So, all of my dress clothes were never really needed.

Books, I know you are asking about books. Yes, I packed a box of "to-read" books. Again, thinking it would only be a few months, I let most books go into storage. My worry now, is that when I am unpacking my books, I will have already re-bought books that I perhaps already owned. A year is a long time, and I do not remember what books I may have in storage.

 In conclusion, I wish I had brought the coffee table, the crock pot, more lamps and a bed frame. I would never have the movers pack pantry items. I am thankful that we packed seasonal clothes from shorts to jeans from tanks to fleece. Yes, I can live without half of my clothes, shoes, dishes, furniture, and most likely you could as well.

I am so thankful and happy to be getting my household items back. Some people have said that it will be like Christmas, but I think we will be asking ourselves if we couldn’t have given more to Goodwill.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let Us All Eat Cake

In the beginning of Eat Cake Ruth reminisces about life before everything fell apart—back when her mother lived independently in another state, back before her daughter became a sour teenager. Looking back, Ruth would remind herself that those were the good old days. And of course, as life is so unpredictable, the times at Ruth’s house are about to get worse. That very evening, her husband comes home to share with the family that he has been laid off from his job; the family’s sole income is now in jeopardy. All this means that Ruth must bake, making cakes is what she does when she needs to think, to relax.

And, I do like this quote…too true
“Cake has gotten a bad rap. People equate virtue with turning down dessert.”

Of course, when it rains, it pours. With her household in limbo as her husband now has no income and no job, this is the time for Ruth’s estranged father to call from the hospital desperate for help. Of course!

Despite the series of events that lead to the distress and chaos of the household (layoff, both parents moving in, a moody teenager), this book was fresher and sweeter than the lugubrious Olive Kitteridge which was our previous book club read. Somehow this book was much easier to read—I love that Ruth would escape into the kitchen and bake her heart out. She seemed to me as real as Olive, yet much more a person I would want as a neighbor or friend and not just because she gives away cakes. Okay, the cakes would be a major PLUS! Wouldn’t you just love to sit in the kitchen and watch Ruth bake?

I was a teeny-wee bit disappointed to note that every recipe was "a reprint of previously published material." Didn't you just want the author to have been inspired by her grandmother's famous (handwritten recipe) cake? It seemed to me that not one cake was from Jeanne Ray; all were from cookbooks or magazine articles, bummer.

 All in all, the mishaps that occur in Eat Cake are much lighter and simpler than a heavy novel. I needed a simple warm slice of cake novel. And, lucky me it was my birthday month, so I did get a yellow cake with butter cream--oh I craved that cake! Perhaps not the best book if you are on a diet as the delicious cake descriptions will bring out the frosting and sweet cravings.

Eat Cake was written by Jeanne Ray and is available in trade paperback and discount hardback

Monday, September 26, 2011

An Almost Good Recipe; The Cookbook Collector

I’ve been anxiously waiting for The Cookbook Collector to become available in paperback, and wow what interesting timing (the novel covers the September 11, 2001 time period and I read it on the 10th anniversary of September 11). Straightaway I need to admit disappointment in how long it took for the book to mention the cookbook collection. For the first 150 pages, I had no idea when or how the cookbook collection would appear. The cookbook portion of this story was the most flavorful and interesting portion of this book—I wish the cook book story had been larger; had been THE only story.

 Emily is the eldest sister, the one who has her life together, the IPO CEO; large in charge and busier than ever. Jonathan is her larger than life boyfriend, a determined successful CEO himself. For these two workaholics, togetherness is very rare. The time period in this book is interesting as it occurs in the nineties through 2000s, so IPOs were as common as they have ever been or will ever be. Emily is driven and smart but her personality doesn’t get much deeper than that while Jonathan is attractive and demanding, almost devious. These two were the least interesting characters in the book, although we all know what happened to IPOs in 2001…

 Jess is young, vibrant and whimsical as she flits through her life. She devotes herself to causes and organizations, but has no real sense of who she is or what she wants, and already she is so much more interesting than her sister Emily. George is Jess’s forty-something bookstore employer, he tries to convince himself that he is simply charmed by Jess’s youthful exuberance. Knowing the age difference and societal difference, the independently wealthy George keeps his distance from Jess until the day that he is offered the Cookbook collection. The antique cookbook collection is the collection of his dreams despite there being no catalog or provenance. That day he asks Jess to work exclusively and thoroughly on the documentation of the collection. Through the intimacy of cataloging the collection, Jess and George start an affair and both have difficulty in defining or understanding their relationship as the affair continues. Their story is compelling and I really wanted this novel to be solely their story, the cookbook story. I would have given 4 stars to a smaller book (250 to 300 pages) with just the Cookbook Collector portion--perhaps with more detail on the reasoning behind why the collection is now available for sale...

The Cookbook Collector was written by Allegra Goodman, and is 394 trade paperback pages.

Friday, September 9, 2011

North to Greatness with South of Superior

It is exceptionally rare that I recommend a hardback book to my friends and family, very rare indeed, as South of Superior will be the only hardcover that I recommend this year.  I implore literary critics everywhere to recognize the amazing new voice of Ellen Airgood. South of Superior is far superior to the Pulitzer Prize winning books of Olive Kitteridge and A Visit from the Goon Squad (both attained negative reviews from me).

 Madeline Stone is like many of us, a bit lost in her life, a bit unsure of what she should do with her future. A letter from her estranged grandfather’s girlfriend, with a request for help, gives Madeline the opportunity to make a bold move. Madeline packs her car and heads to the upper peninsula of Michigan to assist in the caretaking of an elderly woman. Challenges abound as Madeline and the townspeople face financial issues, elderly health issues, and the complexities of a depressed town. Madeline slowly starts to discover her talents and her needs as she dedicates herself and her future to the small town way of life.

 Gladys is a strong-willed senior citizen who is getting too old to care for her sickly sister Arbutus. More than anything, Gladys does not want her sister to be put into a nursing home and that is the catalyst that forces Gladys to write to Madeline. Gladys, like many in tough times, has money issues, and has started selling off her antique furniture in order to pay for her sister’s medical bills. Arbutus has one obtuse son who seems to want only whatever inheritance she has, offering nothing in the way of emotional or financial support.

This novel encompasses serious topics like economic depression, abandonment, and poverty along with a bit of hope and tenderness. What I enjoyed most about the novel (aside from the Michigan setting) was the glimpses into the lives of the townspeople. The reader sees how even the most stubborn old lady has passion for her town, her people. I loved it when the cantankerous eighty-something Gladys took a stand against the new grocers when they cancelled the store “credit” line for the poorer townspeople. The motto here is that the townspeople take care of their own, even when they may be imperfect, impoverished and altogether human. If you want a tender and warm “slice of life” northern town story, pick up this book. This is a worthy novel, one that covers small town life without making itself pretentious and obnoxiously literary.

 South of Superior is currently in hardback only, is 370 pages and was written by Ellen Airgood . This book would make a great book club choice.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Life in 1945: Summer At Tiffany

Summer At Tiffany is a memoir which was written by Marjorie Hart, age 80, about the best summer of her life, the summer when she worked at the Tiffany Flagship in New York City.

In the summer of 1945 college student Marjorie Hart decided to leave her Iowa home and go to New York City for the summer, this book is a memoir which reads like historical fiction. Marjorie and her friend Marty are young, beautiful naïve girls from the Midwest. Marjorie packs one suitcase and heads to New York with aspirations of working at Lord and Taylor, or some other fine retail establishment. Marjorie and Marty are shocked when they see scores of young ladies filling out applications in lines ahead of them, alas, they have moved to New York for job opportunities that do not exist. I had to remind myself often that this story happened during World War II, when my grandmother would have been the same age as these young ladies (grandmother, not mother)!

 With zero hope of attaining the positions they assumed they would have, the depressed girls leave Lord and Taylor. But as they drive by Tiffany, Marty makes a snap decision and very bravely drags Marjorie into the Tiffany flagship store. The two friends somehow attain interviews despite the fact that Tiffany has never hired women on the sales floor. Two attractive young blondes with Swedish heritage may in fact be the freshness that the store needs. The ladies are soon hired to work as pages at Tiffany for the summer, their uniforms will be fantastic Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwits and thus the summer has begun.

The items that really stand out to me relate to the 1940s nostalgia...the war rations, the support-the-war-posters, the president (Truman) and the innocence. The rent and electricity is $65 and Marjorie and Marty were making $20 per week. Twenty dollars doesn't go too far these days, it would cover the cost of this book and two Starbucks coffees. Having studied branding and marketing, I thought it interesting that their discretionary funds would cover items like Coca-colas, Lucky Strikes, and Jergen's lotion. And when Marjorie and Marty don their Ester Williams bathing suits—it just brings to mind such an iconic description. There is a wonderful sentiment that runs throughout the book that, "There's a war going on, make do with what you've got." Isn't that something that we can take and apply today in this economy?

 What I liked the best about this novel was the history, the whole perspective of where Marjorie is while important historical events happen around her. Marjorie and Marty were living in an era of REAL history and they were in such a great location for it! They saw movie stars, wore fabulous clothes, went to the theater, celebrated the end of a war and lived a New York dream. These ladies were very lucky not only in gaining employment at Tiffany but also in everything they did, things always worked out for them.

 Author’s insight: I love that after her 80th Marjorie was determined to finish her book! She applied at a local writer’s conference where she and her Summer At Tiffany manuscript were discovered. It just goes to show that there is hope for the rest of us; it is never too late to write that novel. And what about Marjorie’s return to Tiffany sixty years later… I love Marjorie’s sentiment that in her day,” Ladies dressed like ladies and men dressed like men.”

 For me, this would be the perfect summer book which I would recommend as a travel or beach read. Summer at Tiffany is light, airy and easy. There is no pretentious language, it is a simple story told during a time when our country was at war. The main character is somehow brave naïve and innocent as she leaves her Midwest hometown during the war for the first time to work in New York for the summer.

 Summer At Tiffany was written by Marjorie Hart and is 258 Trade paperback pages.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Enchanting Arcadia Falls

Immerse yourself in Arcadia Falls, a wonderfully woven fairy tale which combines a modern tale and a past mystery with an intertwining changeling story. At first this plot may remind you of The Forgotten Garden with which I encourage you to complete a comparison. For me, Arcadia Falls wins the comparison as it has the descriptive, elegant and engaging prose which truly enchants the reader.

 The story begins as Meg and Sally arrive at the small arts college of Arcadia in upstate New York where Meg has signed on to be the new English literature teacher. Recently widowed Meg is trying to establish a new life for herself and her teenage daughter, Sally. Meg is still reeling from the fact that her husband left them penniless which is why they had to sell their house and relocate.

 During the Great Depression, Lily and Vera founded the Arcadia Art colony, an artist escape in a time when women had to choose being either  an artist or a wife. Together Lily and Vera became famous for the fairy tales which they wrote and illustrated. Like a dark fairy tale, mystery and an untimely death happen when Lily falls to her death during a winter storm. While Vera was horrified at Lily’s death, she also felt betrayed as Arcadia soon learns that Lily was having an affair with a visiting artist…But Meg soon discovers that there is more to this tale than anyone suspected.

 During the First Night festival, Meg and Sally’s first night on the campus, a young and beautiful college student falls to her death just the way Lily did sixty plus years ago. This has to be an accident, but the coincidence is too unbelievable to dismiss. Meg, now living in Vera and Lily’s old cottage finds a secret compartment and in it discovers Lily’s diary, and soon the past begins to unravel into the present.

 Arcadia Falls was written by Carol Goodman and is available in trade paperback, 355 pages.

Monday, June 13, 2011

NEW! A Virtual Book Club: Summer At Tiffany

Hello My Fellow Book Lovers,

Are you looking for a great summer read? I am hoping that you will join my virtual book club in reading Summer at Tiffany, a memoir by Marjorie Hart. This book was chosen because it is about summer and because summer to me seems like a time to try lighter fiction. This true story is about two Iowa girls who travel to New York for summer jobs in 1945--it  already sounds like great fiction, right? I am really looking forward to reading this book with you!

I anticipate using this blog to attain comments and feedback, as well as
You will have to join Goodreads. Then join the group Flit with Lit. Then RSVP to the Event!

If you aren't already a Goodreads member, you should consider joining, it is a great reader's forum. Please email me or join my Flit With Lit Group on Goodreads where I anticipate having our discussion forums!

Since it is summer, I have given us an extended reading timeline. The deadline for reading the book is August 1, 2011. However, I hope to get comments and thoughts from you as you read the book.

Have a great summer and please consider joining this virtual book club.  I am looking forward to this new endeavor.

Best Summer Vacation Reading Wishes,

Summer at Tiffany  by Marjorie Hart is 267 Trade Paperback Pages, and will be in the memoir/biography section.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Matilda: A Whimsical and Arty Romp

Revert back to your inner child as you fall in love with childhood memories and Roald Dahl all over again. It is not just the writing, it is also the illustrations—together the words and pictures intertwine to ensure a wonderfully told story. Be sure to schedule yourself a few hours with this captivating and wonderful children’s book full of kicky prose and childish cartoony illustrations. I was thrilled that even with the modern paperback, the publishers kept Quentin Blake’s fabulous illustrations.

 Matilda is an intelligent and independent child who has never known parental love. Matilda’s parents ignore her; they are self-absorbed dimwits on the grandest scale of dimwittery.  In the adult fiction world this would translate into a tragic coming of age story of Oprah Book club proportions. But because this is a children’s book, there is tremendous light and laughter mixed in with the sad happenings. And perhaps, just maybe, we can believe that there will be a happy ending.

 Early in her life Matilda discovers books; soon she is reading Great Expectations and learning mathematical equations. Matilda’s parents don’t understand Matilda; they are “gormless” TV watching losers with no life aspirations. Matilda’s dishonest car dealer father epitomizes shady and unloving. Matilda’s life and further troubles begin when her father sells a faulty car to school headmistress Trunchbull. After telling The Trunchbull about his terrible no-good daughter, she agrees to take on this pitiful student. Living up to her name, The Trunchbull is a mean hard woman who despises children; getting away with tossing them around by their pigtails. After all, whose parents would believe that a headmistress would behave that way?

 Matilda finds an unexpected and wonderful advocate in Miss Honey, her teacher. Realizing that Matilda is absolutely special, Miss Honey strives to get her into an older more advanced class in school. The Trunchbull will have none of it, Matilda is to stay put. Miss Honey doesn’t give up, and soon the bond between lonely teacher and lonely child is formed. Miss Honey also has a shocking revelation; The Trunchbull is her Aunt! Furthermore, The Trunchbull may have killed Miss Honey’s father, in order to have his house and inheritance. Meanwhile, feeling threatened, Miss Honey has had to move into a small and drafty house, especially sad since the Trunch continues to take Miss Honey’s paycheck.

 Armed with the knowledge that Trunchbull is a heartless adversary, Matilda will learn that she has the power to change the situation. When she focuses, Matilda has some special almost magical skills that she can use to stop the beastly Trunchbull. We all have hope that the evil doers will be defeated. This book will leave the reader in a good mood—if you loved Roald Dahl as a child it is even better as an adult. Do escape into the fun, whimsy and delight… I rather think that gormless is my new favorite adjective.

 Matilda was written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake and consists of 240 paperback pages.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alone Time with I'll Walk Alone

 It has been many years since I have read Mary Higgins Clark...and I was surprised when I became thoroughly engrossed in this modern suspense novel. I highly recommend that you take I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark on your next vacation! Escape into a quiet place where you can be alone and read this book cover to cover uninterrupted.

 Unfolding like a suspense movie, the story begins when a woman makes a confession to a Father O’Brien. The unknown woman knows that a murder is about to happen but she can do nothing to stop it. The priest does not know the woman and cannot prevent the murder, so he prays. The priest has no idea that a killer has watched the young lady go into his confessional, and now he is a target.

 Today Zan Moreland is a rising star, a Manhattan interior designer about to attain the corporate design job that will firmly establish her top design reputation. Two years ago Zan’s young son disappeared in an afternoon in Central Park when he was being watched by a babysitter. Zan is trying to move on with her life, focusing on her career, but she thinks of her son daily and is especially sad on what would have been his fifth birthday. On the two year anniversary of her son's kidnapping, a photograph of Zan (or someone dressed exactly like Zan) appears in the papers and shows her taking her son out of his stroller. Zan feels crazy as the photo is impossible, and yet the look-alike is wearing the exact outfit that she wore the day her son disappeared. The photo is so convincing that Zan’s ex husband angrily accuses her of stealing their son.

 With the emergence of this new photograph, police detectives start reinvestigating the case of the missing child. Zan’s friends know that she did not harm her son, but the photograph makes them doubt themselves and her. Zan’s husband is now eager for Zan to be arrested. Zan’s interior design nemesis Bartley Longe is confident and secretly thrilled at the idea of Zan’s impending arrest; surely this means she will lose the job for which they’ve both placed competitive design bids.

 When the photo emerges, the rest of Zan’s life starts collapsing. Suddenly, Zan’s bank account has been reduced to nothing; all of her savings are gone. Someone has forged her signature for design jobs and ordered supplies against her credit; all the while that same person has purchased clothing on her credit card. Her assistant wonders why Zan has bought a one-way ticket to Argentina. Zan claims that she has not made any of these purchases, but her lawyer advises her against claiming identity theft when charges of kidnapping or worse are pending against her.

 There is a reason that Mary Higgins Clark is called the Queen of Suspense, and this novel is a continuation of her legacy. Many readers will enjoy the easy flow as the novel transitions quickly through small character chapters and story segments. First there is the priest, then Zan, Zan’s ex-husband, the kidnapper/ identity thief, and Zan’s friends. The plot moves along at a steady and interesting pace until all the pieces fall into place with a well-wrapped and satisfying ending.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cover Judgement: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, 384 trade paperback pages

Ahhhh! I admit to being visually shallow and adoring this book's cover art the minute I saw the book! I’d nominate this book for the Book Art Cover Awards, if I hadn’t learned that this is the exact cover from Life Magazine, March 1924. The cover art is artistic and whimsical and I love it!

There are little gems and glimpses of wonderful language mixed throughout this proper British novel. And I loved the beginning, it was what I wanted, a first Chapter that fulfilled my great expectations. It is early in the book that Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew meet for the “first time”. They have met numerous times throughout the year, the Major buys his tea at Mrs. Ali’s shop, but this is their first encounter outside of her village shop. Mrs. Ali shows up at the Majors doorstep while he is in shock at having learned of the death of his brother. Feeling alone and not at all himself, the Major allows Mrs. Ali into his house where she proceeds to comfort him by making him tea. And so it begins...The Major’s widowed eyes suddenly open he starts to notice how lonely he’s been and how wonderful it feels to have a woman in the house again. The only problem is that the Major and Mrs. Ali live in a small English village—a quagmire of endless gossip and prejudice. Mrs. Ali hails from Pakistan which means that she is subjected to her relative’s expectations of a Pakistani widow with no children. The Major is a proper British gentleman who heretofore has lived a rigid and uncomplicated life. For the Major and all of his manners and properness, he realizes that just being seen with Mrs. Ali will get the local townspeople all aflutter.

Well, the beginning was great but I had issues with the middle and end. Central to the storyline is the Major’s belief that his brother’s widow will honor his expectation that he will inherit his brother's Churchill gun. The Major has one Churchill given to him by his dying father and his brother had the other gun—the pair were meant to be together. The only problem is that the two Churchills together have great value…enter Major Pettigrew’s snot-faced money hungry son and his brother’s greedy widow.

One quote that resonated with me was said by Mrs. Ali early in the novel, “I tell myself that it does not matter what one reads-favorite authors, particular themes-as long as we read something.” Isn’t that a wonderful sentiment?

Overall I think readers who love English novels and literature will enjoy Major Pettigrew and his dry wit. I wonder though if book clubs will enjoy this book? I am not sure that the book is broad enough, it may be a bit too standoffishly British.

Spoiler ALERT (below):

Issues that I had with this novel:

1. The Major says nothing and does nothing when Mrs. Ali leaves town. There is no logic as to why he would immediately fall back to Grace the townspeople approved and accepted choice for him. Somehow Grace is supposed to be perceived as the right choice and better than living alone? Seriously?
2. As an educated woman, Mrs. Ali resignedly and all too easily gives up her shop to her moody and disgruntled nephew. Then she leaves town to become a slave and housekeeper for her distant relatives--I don’t see the logic as sanity would dictate trying other solutions before this one. Especially because the nephew has no likable quality and the personality of a rock.
3. Roger, Major Pettigrew’s son has learned absolutely nothing. He never gains respect for his father; his moral compass remains at less than zero for this entire book. He is a bitter disappointment to the Major and to the reader.
4. Even discovering and uncovering his feelings for Mrs. Ali , the Major obsesses continually over the stupid Churchill guns. In the face of love, I’d have liked for him to have given up his obsession, been the bigger man and aimed for love over all material goods.
5. My hope was that the Major and Mrs. Ali would skip town and happily escape into a new and better life in another small town—far away from the snarky townspeople and the insufferable Roger.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Escape into The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton tells a sad and twisted almost-fairy-tale story, one that weaves between three generations from past to present. Mixed into the novel are little fairy tales which were written by an elusive author named Eliza Makepeace.

The beginning starts with a little girl, abandoned on a ship sailing toward Australia in the early 1900s. Months later the little girl and her small suitcase are found by the harbor master. The harbor master and his wife have been longing for children and he instantly adores the little girl, bringing her home to his wife. Soon, the harbor master and his wife are moving in order to present the little girl as their own in the next town. The harbor master knows that someone will be looking for the little girl, but she has become such a part of his family that he cannot giver her up. No one knows the little girls identity and she is very young, refusing to give her name.

In the present we meet Cassandra, a young lady who has been raised by her Grandmother. Upon her Grandmother’s death, Cassandra learns that her Grandmother has left her a cottage located in across the sea on the English coast. Cassandra’s Grandmother has never mentioned this other house so Cassandra feels compelled to visit to determine why her Grandmother held this secret. It is on the Cornish coast that Cassandra starts to unravel her Grandmother’s secret past and identity.

In the 1900s, Eliza lives in the slums on the Thames. Eliza is a strong-willed girl who makes up stories to comfort her brother every night. Eliza’s life is filled with hardship and suffering, and it almost seems a blessing when she is rescued from the slums by a distant relative. Soon she has a room in a beautiful old mansion, and she has the freedom to run by the sea. In her explorations, it doesn’t take long for her to discover the forgotten garden.

This story is winding and complex, and unfolds toward the end like a mystery. I knew that there would be parallels to The Secret Garden, but I was not expecting Eliza’s stories to be like those of the Brother’s Grimm and like those we all know through Disney, almost too similar in that they didn’t feel original. And, I had wanted the writing to be more rich and luminous. The writing style is simple and easy which was unexpectedly disappointing. And, I had figured out the mystery long before the end…
Still, I can see how this would lead to interesting book club discussions:
  • There are three storylines that follow three different women, what are their similarities/how do they differ?
  • Compare The Forgotten Garden to The Secret Garden
  • How similar are the Eliza stories to the Grimm fairytales?
  •  Nell’s choices on her 21st birthday impacted the rest of her life; did she make the right decision? 
  •  Did you think this was a love story, a tragedy or a modern fairy tale?
The Forgotten Garden Book club: Buy flowers and place in living room and on dining table. Get out the good china (and maybe some antiques); serve quiche, tea and petit fours. Place a stack of your favorite childhood fairy tales on the coffee table. One idea: Start the book club by reading a short fairy tale.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, is 549 trade paperback pages.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Indulge in this Southern Delight

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Wonderfully surprising and engaging, this novel is a Southern delight that tells the coming-of-age story of CeeCee Honeycutt.

Twelve year old CeeCee has lived a lonely and heartbreaking life. CeeCee’s mom, Camille, has mental health issues and the young CeeCee is her mother’s sole caretaker. Camille isn’t a mother, she is a child; her wardrobe consists of tiaras and dress-up clothes. Southerner Camille has never adapted to living up North and mentally lives in her past where her crowning role was Vidalia Onion Queen. Sadly, CeeCee’s dad can no longer abide Camille and he is rarely home, letting Cee Cee take on the burden of her mother alone.

After Camille dies in a tragic accident, CeeCee meets her great Aunt Tootie. CeeCee has never met her Southern Great Aunt; an Aunt who had no idea of CeeCee or Camille’s troubles until now. Tootie is a take-charge spitfire, determining immediately that CeeCee needs a good female influence in her life. Headstrong and wealthy Tootie soon convinces CeeCee’s deadbeat dad that CeeCee will be better off living with her in Savannah.

Savannah is a new and wondrous place, a place where CeeCee can mourn her mother, while also finding little glimpses of happiness. In Savannah, CeeCee starts building relationships with adults, charming women who truly have her best interests at heart. Tootie is the caring, loving and dependable grandmother-like character. Oletta is the warm and sassy housekeeper who becomes CeeCee’s best friend. Tootie’s world is rich with southern women who serve as champions for the young impressionable girl they befriend.

Bittersweet, sad, charming, and endearing, this novel would be perfect for your next book club. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt was written by Beth Hoffman and the Trade Paperback is 306 pages

Suggested Menu:
Oletta’s Beach Picnic: ham and cheese sandwiches, potato salad, lemonade, coke, and raspberry cobbler.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras Celebration & The Lightening Thief

My friend from New Orleans chose Percy Jackson, Lightening Thief  for what became our March Mardi Gras book club meeting. You may be wondering about the correlation between Mardi Gras and Olympians, and I was surprised that the connection is that New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewe names come straight out of Greek/Roman mythology! As I understand it, the Kewes are the parade groups and organizers for Mardi Gras and there are numerous Krewes including a Krewe of Muses!

 How to host a Mardi Gras Book Club:
(taken straight from our fabulous New Orleans Hostess)

MENU:  Jambalaya and red beans and rice, King Cake and Chicory coffee
PARTY FAVORS: Mardi Gras Beads and Masks (just for fun)

Book Club Discussions included:
• the Krewes and their mythological history
• how many of the book clubbers did research/looked up mythology
• how tweens and teens would be encouraged to look up the mythology stories
• chasm between the book and the movie
• the preteen humor in the writing

It was immediately clear that all enjoyed this book and many will pursue the rest of the books in the Percy series. Needless to say, the socializing was cut short as the first order of business was tucking into the delicious New Orleans-style food.

A Review: Percy Jackson & The Olympians, The Lightening Thief

I knew I would like this action adventure book when the first chapter was about vaporizing the pre-algebra teacher. Who wouldn't love that and why didn’t I ever have those powers? This book was written and is classified for young adults, but if you liked Harry Potter or know a bit about Greek mythology, you need to read the Percy Jackson series.

Percy is a difficult child, one with ADHD who has been kicked out of every school he’s ever attended. Now that he is eleven he starts seeing and dreaming odd things. Some things cannot be real and are beyond imagination, or are they? With the gods speaking to Percy in dreams, Percy is soon immersed in another world, one that he never knew existed, that of the Greek gods. Of course, once the real-world Percy has vaporized his algebra teacher, he realizes that something about his life has been missing. Percy will soon learn that he is a half-blood—the son of a God and a human.

Percy soon meets and befriends other half-blood children and mythological creatures. The skies are dark and angry, the seas are large and looming and the earth is quaking, the Gods are getting ready for war. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades are in-fighting and since Percy is a magnet for trouble, he is soon accused of stealing Zeus's lightening bolt. To clear his name, Percy must go on a quest to find the real lightening thief and to return Zeus’s master lightening bolt. In order to complete his quest, Percy must become a hero and defy the mythical creatures determined to destroy and defeat him.

Enjoyable for everyone, a very easy fun read for adults, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Lightening Thief was 375 paperback pages and can be found in the Young Adult (YA) section. Another YA plus, the paperback price was $6.75 at Wal-Mart. And,  the 2010 movie is now available on DVD.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Upward Trend: Paperback Book Prices

Despite this digital age, and I fear even sharing this sentiment, paperbacks remain my favorite book format. Unfortunately, within the last few months I have noticed that the cost of each and every paperback (no matter how small) has increased in price by $2. Every paperback is now $7.99 where they used to be $5.99. Also I have noticed Trade Paperbacks (those larger size-paperbacks) have increased too—those that used to cost $12 to $14 now cost $15. Yikes!

And what about those “Classics”? Well, I recently went on a quest for The Sun Also Rises (paperback) and was extremely disappointed. There were no (none, nada, zip) paperbacks which would have listed at $7.99—oh no, all that existed were trade paperbacks for $15. Oh my!

I haven’t been able to determine why paperbacks have increased; there are no search results in Google (well, no relevant results). In my opinion, now is not the time to increase paperback prices. I have less and less money to spend on books right now. My family income has decreased and we make less than we did three years ago—this equates to less disposable income which in turn means less money to buy books.

And while I know there has been an increase in e-readership, I would want to see the reasoning behind the price increase and correlation. How many readers would have purchased paperbacks but now purchase e-books? And, have those said readers given up paper books in their entirety? Conversely, isn’t it cheaper to stock, publish, and deliver e-books?

Dear Publisher?/Bookstore?/Economy?/E-Readers? Whoever you are… I am left disappointed and with less disposable cash to spend on my beloved paperbacks.