Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Way Behind....14 Books in One Post

I'll admit it. I'm woefully way behind in blogging about the books I've read. Rather than face the task of catching up I will list additional books here with a 1 - 5 star rating and a few keywords.

The Visits of Elizabeth by Elinor Glyn (who figures as a character in The Dressmaker). **** Tags: funny, England, France, quirky characters.

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder. *** Tags: children's lit, read more than once, family saga, prairie. I'll never understand why Carrie did not come to help Laura when she was pregnant or after the baby was born.

Palmerino by Melissa Pritchard. **** Tags: quirky characters, Italy, historical fiction. A strange book.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. **** Tags: quirky characters, funny, audiobook, asperger's syndrome.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. ***** Tags: favorite, childrens lit classic, read more than once, family saga. What a jewel. What a gem.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin. **** Tags: quirky characters, England, something dark, coming of age, death and dying, governess, historical fiction. A haunting book.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. **** Tags: favorite, quirky characters, book to film, something dark, funny, coming of age, death and dying. I carried this book everywhere with me when I was on vacation. So many people stopped me to talk about it. A cool, connective experience.

Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott. *** tags: quirky characters, children's lit, funny, small town, orphans, new england, dogs, alcott. SOmeday I will run out of Alcott books to read. Someday.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. **** Tags: favorite: children's lit classic, read more than once, family saga, prairie.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. **** Tags: favorite, mystery, quirky characters, england, something dark, funny, small town. SUCH a fun book.

Sleeping Beauty by C. S. Evans, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. *** Tags: children's lit, something dark. Believe it or not, I read this online via the Library of Congress at

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. **** Tags: favorite, childrens lit classic, read more than once, Newbery Honor, prairie.

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart. *** Tags: mystery, quirky characters, England, something dark, orphans, death and dying.

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway. *** Tags: quirky characters, funny, coming of age, family saga, audiobook, wwii.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Her Royal Spyness

Finished Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen. Set in the 1930s, this is a cozy mystery that’s a mix of Nancy Drew, Downton Abbey, and P. G. Wodehouse. It’s fun, funny, light and highly entertaining. I listened to an audiobook recording read by Katherine Kellgren.

My Salinger Year

Finished My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. In the mid 90s, Rakoff spent a year working at a literary agency in New York as an agent’s assistant. The agent just happened to be J. D. Salinger’s agent. Rakoff describes the intricate dance of antiquated protocol the agency demanded of its staff and the lengths they went to to protect Salinger from his adoring public. This is a wonderful memoir that reads like a novel. Highly recommended.

Garden Spells

Finished Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. This was a wonderful bit of magical realism. Claire Waverley lives in her grandmother’s old house, cooking her grandmother’s recipes and tending her grandmother’s enchanted garden. Claire has a lot of scars. As a young child, she and her mother roamed the country living wherever they could, often in homeless shelters. When her little sister was born her mother retuned home to give her daughters some stability. She eventually left them with their grandmother and was soon after killed in a car accident.

Claire keeps to herself living a quiet life. She runs a catering business that is rather unique. The Waverleys’ have a reputation for knowing far more than the ordinary town folk. Claire’s grandmother’s recipes contain flowers and herbs that give those who eat them courage, insight, even love. The apple tree in the Waverley’s garden is especially gifted and even figures as a character in the novel. When Claire’s younger sister Sydney appears after ten year’s absence, Claire’s world is thrown off kilter. Claire of course takes them in.

This was a lovely book.

Shelter Me

Finished Shelter Me by Juliette Fay. Janie LaMarche is newly widowed. She has two small children and is mad as hell. Various well meaning people try to assuage her grief with advice, food, and self defense classes. When Tug Malinowski knocks on her door to discuss the surprise front porch her husband planned before his sudden death, she is speechless. She is almost as loquacious when Father Jake, a young Catholic priest, makes his weekly visit bringing his own tea bag. As Janie’s icy rage begins to thaw, her friendships with these two men plot the course for the rest of her life. While certainly somber at times, this book is pretty hilarious. Fay has a flair for humor and certainly knows her way around the roadmap of human emotions. I really enjoyed reading this book, picking it up often to see what would happen next. I also enjoyed her second novel, Deep Down True.

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Finished On the Banks of Plum Creek, the fourth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1938. Laura is now seven. She and her family leave their home in Indian Territory in Kansas and travel to Minnesota. Here they settle in a sod dugout adjacent to Plum Creek. The dugout is homey and snug. Flowers grow in the outside of it and the sound of the burbling creek is ever-present. Plum Creek has many faces. In places it is shallow and calm, home to the grumpy old crab and minnows that nibble at Laura and Mary’s feet. But after a spring thaw it is a roiling, dangerous body that could carry little girls away. Laura learns this frightening lesson after disobeying her parents and playing in the creek when it is overfilled and rushing.

Because they are so close to town, Laura and Mary go to school for the first time. Some of the other girls are quite nice, but here Laura meets her arch nemesis, Nellie Oleson. Wilder’s books, as well as the dramatization of them, have made Nellie Oleson the most notorious spoiled brat in the world.

Eventually Pa builds them a wooden house above ground and plants a large wheat crop that he has high hopes for. Sadly a great swarm of grasshoppers comes and destroys the crop and every speck of green around them. They lay their eggs in the ground promising that the next year will be just as bad. Pa must travel on foot, 300 miles to the east to work as a harvester in order to have money to pay towards the building materials for their new house and to buy supplies for the winter. He leaves mid-summer and does not return until winter sets in. Pa does this for two years. The second year he returns home in time to walk to town for supplies and Christmas candy. On the way home he is caught in a four days blizzard. Luckily he falls down the banks of the creek into a sheltered hollow and waits out the storm there. He becomes so hungry that he must eat the Christmas candy he bought for Laura, Mary and Carrie. When he returns to them the girls are glad that he ate the candy, glad that it brought him some relief during his blizzard experience.

Quite a lot happens in the book in terms of Ingalls family lore. It was perhaps my second favorite when I was growing up. The idea of living alongside a creek was always very appealing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Jackie by Josie

Finished Jackie by Josie by Caroline Preston. I love Preston's books. I finished this several months ago, but have fallen way behind in my blogging. Looking at my Shelfari tags for the book, I used: funny, small town, and New England. The book addresses academia, grad school, long distance relationships, parenting and alcoholism. It's a fun, intricate read.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Dressmaker

Finished The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. The novel imagines the experiences and fates of people who survived the sinking of The Titanic. The main character, Tess, is a gifted seamstress stuck in household service. She dreams of going to America and trying her luck at dressmaking there. She quits her job and heads to the docks where a new luxury liner is preparing to leave. Ready to embark is Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who is dismayed to learn that her personal maid has not shown up for the voyage.

Tess overhears this predicament and offers her services as maid. Lucy Duff Gordon accepts her on trial and the voyage begins. Lucky for Tess, Lucy just happens to be the designer know as Lucille. She is on her way to New York to show her new spring collection. Tess wastes no time in letting Lucy know of her dressmaking skills. The two begin an employer/employee relationship that tests their loyalties and personal integrity numerous times.

This was an interesting book. I knew very little about the sinking if The Titanic. The story examines the facts and the aftermath of the event while imagining their impact on those who experienced it. Lucy's sister, British novelist Elinor Glynn, makes several appearances in the novel.

A Hundred Summers

Finished A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. This book examines the past and present of Lily Dane. Although set in the summer of 1938, much of the story is told in flashback. Lily's family is monied and imporant. She attends Smith College with her best friend Budgie. When the two travel up to Dartmouth to see Budgie's boyfriend play football, Lily is introduced to Nick Greenwald. The two fall for each other almost instantly. When Lily brings Nick home to meet her parents she misinterprets her father's objection to their relationship. Lily and Nick run off to elope, but are foiled in their plans.

Seven years later, Lily travels with her mother and much younger sister to Seaview, Rhode Island, the family's summer retreat. She and all of Seaview are stunned when the now married Budgie and Nick arrive to open and remodel Budgie's derelict family home. Secrets and misplaced loyalties weave in and out of this story. It all comes to an enormous climax when the deadly hurricane of 1938 barrels up the New England coast, acting as a deus ex machina. This was a good read, filled with palpable tension that built as the event of the hurricane got closer. I look forward to reading more of Williams' novels.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

These Happy Golden Years

Finished These Happy Golden Years, the eighth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's series. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1944. Laura is fifteen now and teaching school in the Brewster settlement. She boards with the Brewsters in the tiny claim shanty. Mrs. Brewster is a bit mad. She is bitter and resentful of the family's situation and does not like having Laura in the house. She is a miserable, even dangerous person. This is all so shocking to Laura who has only ever had Ma and Pa's firm but kind example. Laura dreads the weekends in the house with this family, but is rescued from the situation by Almanzo Wilder, who travels the twelve miles each way, twice every weekend, to bring her home and then back to the settlement for her next week of teaching.

The money Laura earns from teaching goes to pay for Mary's attendance at The College for the Blind. Thankfully her teaching assignment is only two months long. Laura is surprised when Almanzo invites her for sled and buggy rides and to attend singing school with him. Laura works for a seamstress, Mrs. McKee, and lives with her and her children one summer on the McKee's claim to help out and keep her company. Mary comes home from college for a visit. She is a grown young woman now, with many accomplishments, despite her blindness.

After three years of courting, Almanzo proposes to Laura and she accepts. He builds them a house to live in and they marry in a hurry to prevent his mother and sister descending upon them to insist on a big church wedding. Ma helps Laura make clothes and linens for her new home. Almanzo and Laura are quietly married and drive away to their own little house on the prairie.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We Are All Welcome Here

Finished We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg. Set in 1950s Mississippi, this is a poignant coming of age novel. Diana lives with her mother Paige who contracted Polio while she was pregnant and can now only move her head. Paige's father left them after she was born (scumbag). Paige spent the first part of her daughter's life in an iron lung. She was fiercely determined to be free of it and just as fiercely determined to raise her daughter, despite the urging of well meaning people for Paige to put Diana up for adoption.

Paige is raising her daughter, but not without help. Peacie comes every day to wash, dress and move Paige to her wheelchair. She does the cooking and housework, the shopping and a good bit of parenting as well. Piecie's boyfriend, LaRue, helps out a lot as well. Piecie is hard as nails, and Diana has many disagreements with her, but to Diana, LaRue is a prince. He's friendly, kind and dapper.

The mother and daughter have help from others in town who keep them on their radar and lend a hand. Money is tight though. Paige is not supposed to be alone at night. She employs another woman to get her to bed, but uses the balance of her the disability money she receives for groceries instead of a night attendant. Eventually things fall apart. Paige becomes ill and has to be hospitalized, their social worker finds out that there is no all night attendant, the sheriff discovers that Peacie is taking care of Diana at her house and warns her that this cannot continue. In the midst of all this LaRue gets caught up in local Civil Rights demonstrations. This book is electrically charged with difficult situations. Diana faces many adult issues as a young teen and must grow up quickly amidst personal and community turmoil. I listened to an audiobook recording of this book, read by the author. I recommend it to fans of Berg's work.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure

Finished Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris. This is the third book in her Chocolat series. My daughter bought it for me for Christmas thinking it was just a sequel. Neither of us realized that there was also a book in between, The Lollipop Shoes. Vianne, now living on a houseboat in Paris with Roux and her two daughters, receives a letter from her long dead friend Armande. Armande warns of trouble brewing in Lansquenet. She foretells that Vianne will be the one to help. Vianne retunds to the village with her daughters and find things very much changed and yet somehow the same. She makes unlikely allies and tries her best to ease broken ties between families and the community as a whole. Plenty of lovely magical realism here. Highly recommended to fans of Chocolat. I did not get the sense that I missed important plot points reading these out of order. I look forward to reading the middle book some time soon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Joy Luck Club

Finished The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. This book has been on my TBR list for a very long time. I actually listened to an audiobook recording of it. At times I got a bit confused because there were so many different female characters and I could not refer to the text to get things straight. It's a bit like a Chinese Forsyte Saga. A character tree would have been helpful.

This multi-generational tale tells the story of each mother/daughter pair in their own voices. The voices and stories of the mothers who were born in China were far more interesting to me me than the stories of their daughters born in the states. Much of the book was bleak and so it was a long haul for me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Sugar Queen

Finished The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. This was a fun and charming bit of magical realism.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Little Town on the Prairie

Finished Little Town on the Prairie, the seventh book in Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic series. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1942. As a child I remember liking the cover of this book the best of all the series. The colors and the closeness that Garth Williams captures radiate a warm glow after The Long Winter. The family prepares to send Mary to The College for the Blind in Iowa. Laura knows that she must work hard to gain a teaching certificate in order to earn money for Mary's tuition and board. While studying hard is not new to Laura, new distractions present themselves. De Smet's population has grown enough that various social events start popping up. Laura is caught up in the gayety of it all and starts to fall behind. Also, to Ma's surprise, fifteen year old Laura has an admirer, Almanzo Wilder. Laura seems perched delicately between childhood and womanhood when the sudden need for a teacher in a settlement 12 miles away changes everything.