Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Time and A Season

I have come to the rather difficult and painful decision to stop posting over here at my book blog. I have been thinking and debating about this for some time but ultimately decided that shutting it down is what is best for me right now.

I will keep this blog up but will not be posting here anymore or participating in any more challenges (I have completed 15 so far this year so I think I can call it good). :-)
Maybe some day I will have the time to blog again and will start posting here again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Finished: Non-Fiction Five

I had some really great books picked out to read for this challenge but of course I did not read them. Instead I read books for bookclub and books that also fit with other challenges.
My final list is a mix of books I did not like at all and books that I really enjoyed.
My favorite was The Journal of Helene Berr and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Here is what my final list looked like(with links to my posts):
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein
Posters for the People by Ennis Carter
At Home with Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer
The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr

Thanks a bunch to Trish for hosting this one!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Title: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 224
Published: 2009
Date Finished: 11 Aug 2009
My Rating: 4
Challenges: Civil War, Library, 100+

Telling the truth don’t come easy to me, but I will try, even if old Truth ain’t nearly as useful as a fib sometimes (p 7).

I could not help but think of Mark Twain while reading this book. I think Homer P. Figg and some of Mark Twain's more well known creations would have gotten on well. But then again maybe not, since they would always be trying to out lie and out story tell the other.

Homer P. Figg has a difficult time telling the truth. Ask him a simple question and is as likely as not to start telling a very elaborate and mostly made up tale in response.
Even though he is under age, Homer's older brother is conscripted as a soldier into the Civil War. Homer sets off on an adventure to find his brother and get him out of the war before the war kills him.
Kidnapping, runaway slaves, spies, tattooed ladies, being trapped in a pig pin, and riding in a run away balloon are just some of the adventures that Homer encounters on his mission to rescue his brother.
This was a fun romp of a story that still managed to be serious when dealing with war and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Now the only question remaining is how much of Homer's story is really true??

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Little Surprise

Baby Brother
8 lbs 10.9 oz
20 3/4 inches
Our little baby joined our family on Sunday. The arrival turned out to be a bit of a surprise as the girl we'd been planning for turned out to be a boy.
Ultrasounds are great but obviously not always 100% reliable. All I could do was laugh because on the way to the hospital I had teased Mike about the baby being a boy and here he was a boy after all. Thankfully I already have a boy and a girl so have all the boy necessities and did not buy more than a few small girl things that can be returned or held on to in case we have another girl some day.
Red and Miss L are both very thrilled about having a new baby in the family. Miss L still calls him baby sister but she'll figure it eventually.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Red Princess: Didn't Finish

Red Princess by Sofka Zinovieff

I found this book while browsing the new arrivals at the library. Sophy Dolgorouky was a Russian Princess who fled her homeland as a young girl during the 1917 revolution. During the second world war she was imprisoned by the Nazis and discovered communism, embracing the political thought and lifestyle that had changed her homeland and displaced her family.
The book is written by Sophy's granddaughter and is more a tale of her granddaughter's journey to discover her grandmother than it is about Sophy. I did find some of the remarks and details of life during and after the communist regime in Russia interesting but other than that I just could not get into the narrative. It did not take me long to realize that Sophy was probably not going to be a person I would become vested in or care much about.
I applied the 50 page rule and then returned this one to the library.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I finished a book yesterday and realized it has been almost a month since I finished a book and just as long since I had posted here on my blog. This break from reading and blogging was not planned but just kind of happened. I have been reading. In fact, I have 4 books going right now which is uncommon for me. I am usually a one book at a time kind of reader.
I just have not been able to devote the time I usually do to reading or blogging. I want to jump back in and get all caught back up but with a baby due in less than 2 weeks I don't have great expectations. I am going to try to catch up on book posts etc but if there is another long absence please forgive me and don't disappear all together. I will be around but life is requiring some adjustments be made right now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Finished: War Through The Generations: WWII

Well, once again not a single book that I thought I'd read for this challenge was read. I really expected to read more non-fiction for this challenge so was surprised to find that only 2 out of the 6 I set out to read were non-fiction.
This is a time period I tend to read about fairly often so I still have a lot of titles currently on my TBR list and many that will be added I am sure.
This is a great reading challenge and the hosts have done an amazing job. Just look at the awesome blog they set up. Thanks ladies!

Here are the books I read: (linked to my posts about them)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
Saplings by Noel Streatfield
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel
The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Second Look: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

Title: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
Author: Laurie Viera Rigler
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2007
Date Finished: 5 August 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, Everything Austen

This is actually the second time I have read this and I have to say I think I enjoyed it more this time around. The first time I read it I was still in a up all night feeding my baby sleep deprived mode, so that might have something to do with my original dislike and confusion (Now I am just in a exhausted from being 8 months pregnant stage). While I still don't consider this a great work I did find myself a little more caught up in the story during my second reading.
There is a lot of Jane Austen fanfic out on the market these days. A lot! And lets face it, a lot of it, I'd wager to say the vast majority of it, is tripe. What I like about Rigler's contribution to the genre is that it is not a continuation of Austen's creations but contains an original character. This is no Elizabeth and Darcy marriage saga, nothing about Mr. Darcy's point of view and no attempt to gather all the characters from all six of Jane Austen's novels into one story. Aside from a sad, as in pathetic, encounter with Miss Austen herself this book does not really have much to do with Jane Austen or her novels. (The title is rather misleading in my opinion, a Jane Austen addict, yes, but where are the confessions?)
Courtney Stone, a self professed Jane Austen addict, wakes up one morning, after being drunk the night before, in the body and life of Jane Mansfield, a woman living in Regency England. Courtney must now learn to maneuver through a life that is not her own and that she has no memory of.
I could be really nit-picky with this about the things that bothered me about this book, and there were plenty but I am going to refrain. This was a quick and mostly fun read which is kinda what I could use right now.
I read this the first time in my pre-blogging days but was already using Goodreads. Here are my thoughts, as posted on Goodreads, after reading it the first time:

The book did not hook me at all. It was a quick read but not an “I can’t put it down” read. I felt it took too long for anything to really happen. There was too much “Why I am here? How do I get back? Ok. I accept that I am here.” And then back to the “why am I here” etc etc. I kept waiting for something to actually happen. I felt like the author kept introducing ideas and plot points that could have been interesting but then never developed them. Like the journal with the names written over and over again and Jane telling James about Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks. About half way through things started to pick up but then just slowed down again.

I did find the meeting with Jane Austen comical if not a bit odd. If you had the chance to actually meet Jane Austen would you really go off about movie adaptations and other things that Austen would have no idea about?
The biggest disappointment was the ending. What happened? Did Courtney wake up in LA without time passing? Had Jane inhabited Courtney’s life while Courtney inhabited Jane’s? How did Jane know about Abraham Lincoln etc? When/where had she learned these things? So much left unexplored or explained.
My favorite part of the book was the start of chapter 14 when Courtney describes why she reads and re-reads Jane Austen."There is comfort in the familiarity of it all, in the knowledge that it will all turn out well..." That is exactly how I feel about reading Jane Austen.

Like I said, I think I enjoyed it a little more this time and was all around less critical. Although many of the same things did stick out as being left unsaid or resolved. All the same, a light hearted romantic little story with some allusions to Jane Austen thrown in. One of the better Jane Austen fanfic books I have read.
So why did I re-read it? Because I am about to read the sequel and did not really remember much about the first one and wanted a refresher. I am hoping Rude Awakenings will answer some of the questions left behind from the first book.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets

Title: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
Author: Nancy Springer
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Pages: 170
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 29 July 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, Young Adult

In the first Enola Holmes mystery Enola's mother disappeared on her fourteenth birthday leaving behind only some cryptic ciphers. Avoiding the corsets and boarding school that her brothers Mycroft and Sherlock want to send her to Enola runs away to London dressed as a widow. (See my post about The Case of the Missing Marquess.)
In the second book Enola has set up shop as a finder of lost things and continues to hide from her brothers while solving mysteries in a fashion similar to her brother Sherlock (Case of the Left-Handed Lady).
That brings us to book three, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets. While this book was shorter than the others, it was much more packed with adventure and mystery. And I think had the most interesting plot thus far.
Dr. Watson has gone missing and even though she knows it will bring her into closer contact with her brother Sherlock than she would like, Enola feels compelled to take on the case and help find the missing Watson. When visiting Watson's wife Enola notices a strange bouquet that she is sure was sent as deadly message from Watson's kidnapper. When Sherlock thinks nothing of them Enola knows it is a clue that should not be ignored and pursues the lead.
Relying once again upon her wits and intelligence Enola makes her way through a male dominated Victorian England, putting her life in peril as she searches for Watson.
I read this book in one sitting. It was filled with suspense and had a great story line.
Enola continues to be a great spunky character. I just wish, like Sherlock, that Enola would begin to trust her brother a little. She makes a great sleuth but her name is still "alone" when spelled backwards.
These books are fun, light reads and if you are not reading them, you should!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

TSS: Where I Get My Books

I don't know if this is really interesting to anyone besides myself but several people around the book blogs have been posting about where they got the last 20 books they read from. Most of them were doing it to get a percentage of ARCs that they read and review but I don't do ARCs so I am just doing this to satisfy my own curiosity about some of my reading habits.

  1. Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn- Library book
  2. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy-Library book
  3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton-Purchased from Barnes and Noble
  4. At Home with Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer -Purchased from Barnes and Noble
  5. Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein- Library book
  6. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See -Library book
  7. Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson- Library book through Inter-Library Loan
  8. Posters for the People by Ennis Carter-Library book
  9. Two People by AA Milne- Purchased from Book Depository
  10. The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson- Library book through ILL
  11. A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild -Library Book through ILL
  12. The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer - Library book
  13. The Green Bay Tree by Louise Bromfield- Library book through ILL
  14. The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen by Teri Edwards and Serena Thompson-Purchased from Barnes and Noble
  15. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale- Library book
  16. The Five Bells and Bladebone by Martha Grimes -Purchased from Barnes and Noble
  17. The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr-Library book
  18. The Case of the Left Handed Lady by Nancy Springer -Library book
  19. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer -Library book
  20. Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold-Purchased from Book Depository

Not surprising at all that most of them came from the library.
70% came from the library
30% I purchased (20% from Barnes and Noble, 10% from Book Depository)
Pretty simple and cut and dry. Of course, the books purchased percentage is just off the last 20 books I read. I have bookshelves full of books I've bought and not read...I'll be doing something about that next year.
One thing I did find of interest is that ever since I paid for a membership in Barnes and Nobles rewards program last Christmas I have purchased most of my books from them. Before then I rarely shopped at Barnes and Noble...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

Title: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
Author: Nancy Springer
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Pages: 234
Published: 2007
Date Finished: 28 July 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: Young Adult, Seconds, Library, 100+

***I've tried to leave this spoiler free and concerning this volume I have. However, if you have not read the first volume there might be a little spoilerish detail concerning that book. Make sense?***

The Second installment of Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes mystery series finds Enola firmly established in her life of hiding in London. Enola has opened up shop as Dr. Leslie T. Ragostin, Scientific Perditorian (finder of lost things.) Because "Dr. Ragostin" does not actually exist Enola spends her days posing as his secretary Miss Ivy Meshle, meeting with and interviewing any potential clients of Dr. Ragostin. Enola also spends her nights in disguise as a sister who roams the streets of East London helping those in need.
Enola finds herself drawn into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the young Lady Cecily and uses her many identities to try and solve the case.
Still trying to communicate with her missing mother through ciphers placed in the personals of many newspapers Enola has more than one close encounter with her famous detective brother. Through her tenacity and reasoning Enola continues to display how much she and her older brother have in common.
I enjoyed this second book even more than the first. As with many series much of the first book was taken up with setting up the characters and settings etc while this one jumped into the action and mystery much more quickly. Enola has her hands full, trying to evade her brothers, trying to locate the missing Lady Cecily and trying to track down her own missing mother.
I am still thoroughly enjoying accompanying this young sleuth on her adventures through Victorian England.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Journal of Helene Berr

Title: The Journal of Helene Berr
Author: Helene Berr
Genre: Non-Fiction
Date Finished: 27 July 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: NF-5, WWII, Library, New Author, 100+

"It makes me happy to think that if I am taken, Andree will have kept these pages, which are a piece of me, the most precious part, because no other material thing matters to me anymore; what must be rescued is the soul and the memory it contains."

Helene Berr was an intelligent, caring, and highly talented young woman living in Paris during WWII. She graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in English Language and literature and would have earned further degrees and distinctions if not for anti-semitic laws that prevented her from doing so. She was a highly accomplished violinist and in 1941 she became involved with a clandestine group established to save Jewish children from deportation.
Helene began keeping her journal in 1942 and kept writing in it, with a few breaks along the way, until she and her parents were deported in 1944. After spending time at Auschwitz Helene was transferred to Bergan-Belsen where she died, just 5 days before the camp was liberated, after being brutally beaten. Her journal is a vivid eyewitness account detailing many of the acts of persecution perpetrated against the Jews living in France under Nazi rule.
Jean Morawiecki, the man Helene probably would have married had she survived the war, said this of Helene, "Beings like Helene-and I'm not sure there are any like her-are not only strong and beautiful in themselves. They spread a sense of strength to others who are able to understand them. For me, Helene was the symbol of strength-a radiant strength composed of attraction, beauty, harmony, persuasion, confidence, and loyalty. It has all vanished. Her death takes away the woman I loved and, even more, a soul that was close to my own. She has taken with her all that I could give her-my confidence, my love, my energy."

I believe Helene's words express who she was better than I could ever attempt to do. Here are a few samples of her writing from her journal.
A friend of Helene's made the comment "I can't stand seeing people with that on" referring to Helene's yellow star of David that the Jews had recently been required to wear. Helene wrote in her journal, "I realize that: it offends other people. But if they only knew what a crucifixion it is for me. I suffered there in the sunlit Sorbonne courtyard, among my comrades. I suddenly felt I was no longer myself, that everything had changed, that I had become a foreigner, as if I were in the grip of a nightmare. I could see familiar faces all around me, but I could feel their awkwardness and bafflement. It was as if my forehead had been seared with a branding iron."

On why she continued to write even though it was difficult for her at times Helene wrote, "I have a duty to write because other people must know. Every hour of every day there is another painful realization that other folk do not know, do not even imagine, the suffering of other men, the evil that some of them inflict. And I am still trying to make the painful effort to tell the story. Because it is a duty, it is maybe the only one I can fulfill...So I must write to show people later on what these times are like. I know that many others will have more important lessons to teach, and more terrible facts to reveal. I am thinking of all the deportees, all those in prison, all those who set off on t he great adventure of escape. But that should not make me a coward; each of us in our own small sphere can do something. And we can, we must."

"On the metro today I wondered: Will anybody ever be able to understand what it was like to live through this appalling tempest at the age of twenty, at the age when you are ready to grasp life's beauty, when you are completely ready to trust in humanity?"

I would have preferred some additional foot notes to help me know what some of the events and incidents that Helene referred to were. A couple of times I found myself googling the date to find out what was going on in Paris at that time. I also think it would have helped to read the two sections at the end of the journal about Helene and Paris during the war before I read the journal. Having that background information would probably have enhanced my reading.
The Journal of Helene Berr is well worth a read through by just about everyone.

Decades Challenge Wrap-up

I did this challenge last year and barley squeaked by in finishing it so I am glad to have it completed a little earlier in the year this time around.
The goal was to read 9 books in 9 consecutive decades. Here is my final list:

Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner
1980s-Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
1970s-84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff
1960s-A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild
1950s-Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym
1940s-One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes and Saplings by Noel Streatfield
1930s-Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild and Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
1920s-The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
1910s- Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
1900s-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

This is always a fun one. It is interesting to see which books I read will work for this one. I made a tentative list from my TBR list before I started but I don't think any of them made the final cut, so to speak.
Thanks to 3M for hosting this one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Actor and the Housewife

Title: The Actor and the Housewife
Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 339
Published: 2009
Date Finished: 19 July 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Pub, Library

Meh. I liked this book alright. I've decided I am not a big fan of Shannon Hale's adult novels and I've only read 1 of her YA novels so I don't think I can draw a conclusive decision on that front.
The story of Mormon housewife Becky Jack becoming best friends with her Hollywood fantasy was funny and witty and on many levels enjoyable. It was also kinda slow and often repetitive. How many times was Becky going to struggle with her decision whether to be friends with Felix or not?
There were also certain plot points that just had me thinking "really? That is the direction the story is going? Okay..." I didn't necessarily like it but I went with it and kept reading.
Oh, most of the story was outlandish and unbelievable (Becky writing a screenplay on a whim, selling it and becoming best friends with Hollywood heartthrob) but that did not bother me so much because, well, it is a novel and really how many of the novels I read are realistic when looked at from a real world perspective? (The book I am reading right now is about a woman who time travels to Regency England and inhabits the body of someone else. Even more unrealistic than Hale's premise but still an enjoyable read.)
Before reading this I came across many people who said the book made them cry, a lot. So I was on guard and could see what was going to happen a mile away. I wasn't going to cry. Especially considering I am not one of those people. You know, the ones who cry when they are reading a book or watching a movie. I rarely cry over books and movies etc.
I bawled. Like a little girl. And it would not stop. My tear ducts were relentless. I blame it entirely on pregnancy hormones. Ok, and maybe a little on Hales ability to really get at your emotions.
As a Mormon housewife myself (although I've never lived in Utah) I thought it was interesting and fun to read a mainstream novel with a Mormon woman as the main character with lots of little idiosyncrasies of the LDS faith and lifestyle included. The story just seemed to get too bogged down at times and had me wishing something (preferably something I had not already read about 5 times) would happen.
I have to say I am glad things ended the way they did. I was a little worried for awhile and if the book had ended any differently I would have been very tempted to throw the book across the room (but would have refrained since it is a library book). There were lots of things about the plot and story development that I did not like but I think in the end Becky stayed true to herself and that made for a happy ending in my book.
Oh, the book was funny and witty and many people do and will love it but for me it was just alright.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reading With My Kids: Chicka Chicka

For a few years now Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 have been favorites with my son. We usually have one or both checked out from the library. Sometimes we even get the read along version so he can listen and read on his own. My 2 year has now decided she likes them too so they are frequently being read aloud in our home. They are such favorites that I really should break down and buy them one of these days.

In Chicka Chicka Boom Boom the lower case letters of the alphabet are racing to the top of a coconut tree. Unfortunately that coconut tree soon begins to bend under the pressure of so many letters.

Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 is pretty similar only now it is numbers racing up an apple tree.
Both are great rhyming books and are helping my 2 year old learn her ABCs and 123s.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 are written by Bill Martin Jr and illustrated by Lois Ehlert.

Warning: If you watch this video with your young children you run the risk of them asking you to play it again and again and again and again....

Monday, August 3, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Forward (August 2009)

Looking Back
July was another pretty good reading month for me. By the last day of the month I had completed another 11 books. I don't think I'll be able to but I'd like to keep that pace up for the rest of the year. I have a feeling my reading will drop off dramatically next month when my baby girl arrives.
A few interesting stats from July. Of the 11 books I read I rated 3 with a 5 star, 5 with a 4 star, 2 with a 3 star and only 1 with a 2 star. So I'd say it was a month of enjoyable reads.
As far as where I read goes, I spent most of my reading time in England with 7 of the books I read taking place there. 2 had settings in France and 2 had settings in the United States (one was actually split with settings in both France and the USA.)
I've only written posts for 5 of the books I read in July but the other 6 will be coming along shortly. I did manage to get all my June reads written up though. Yea! I'm trying to keep on top of things but I often find it is easier to squeeze in reading time versus writing time.
July 2009 Reads:
The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson (5)
A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild (4)
The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer (4)
The Green Bay Tree by Louis Bromfield (2)
The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen by Teri Edwards and Serena Thompson (5)
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale (3)
The Five Bells and Bladebone by Martha Grimes (3)
The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr (4)
The Case of the Left Handed Lady by Nancy Springer (4)
The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer (4)
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (5)

The Book I'd be most likely to force on a friend saying "You must read this!"

Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
I have not posted about this one yet so here is a little blurb from the publisher.
Alfred Gibson's funeral has taken place at Westminister Abbey, and his wife of twenty years, Dorothea, has not been invited. The Great Man favours his children and a clandestine mistress over his estranged wife. Dorothea revisits their early courtship before the birth of too many children snapped her vitality, and discovers the devious nature and hypnotic power of this celebrity author. Now she needs to face her grown up children, and worse, her nemesis of ten years, the charming Miss Ricketts. This is a re-telling of the lives of Charles and Catherine Dickens.

My second pick from July would be The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson. I've also really enjoyed reading Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes mystery series.

Looking Forward
Like I said, I have ambitions to keep my 11 books a month pace up and maybe even surpass that this month. The closer I get to my due date the more time I am apt to spend laying on the couch with a book so we'll see how the month goes.
Here is a little visual of some of the books I'd like to read in August. Looking at last month's picture I realized that I read all but 3 of the stack. 1 I am reading now, On Gold Mountain by Lisa See, 1 found it's way into the stack for this month and 1 had to go back to the library before I got to read it. I am sure it will show up again in a future stack. (That second stack kinda hidden in the back is the stack of July books I need to post about still.)
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. It is time to go put my swelling feet up and read!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Saturday's Poem: The Red Cross Nurses

The Red Cross Nurses
Out where the line of battle cleaves
The Horizon of woe
And sightless warriors clutch the leaves
The Red Cross nurses go.
In where the cots of agony
Mark death's unmeasured tide-
Bear up the battle's harvestry-
The Red Cross nurses glide.

Look! Where the hell of steel has torn
Its way through slumbering earth
The orphaned urchins kneel forlorn
And wonder at their birth.
Until, above them, calm and wise
With smile and guiding hand,
God looking though their gentle eyes,
The Red Cross nurses stand.
-Thomas L. Masson (from: A Treasury of War Poetry, 1917)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Finished: Numbers Challenge

The goal for the Numbers Challenge was to read 5 books that had numbers in the title. It was fun picking out and finding books for this challenge.
Here are the books I read:
-One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
-The Five Bells and Bladebone by Martha Grimes
-84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Haff
-The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson
-Two People by AA Milne

That is a pretty good list of books. I enjoyed them all especially One Fine Day and The Two Mrs. Abbotts.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

At Home with Beatrix Potter

Title: At Home with Beatrix Potter
Author: Susan Denyer
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Published: 2000
Date Finished: 18 June 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Non-Fiction 5

Any fan of Beatrix Potter's work should read this book. The author, Susan Denyer, worked for the National Trust and was involved in the restoration of the interior of Potter's Hill Top Farm house. She also set up the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. Denyer knew what she was writing about when she put this book about Beatrix Potter's beloved Hill Top Farm together. And what a lovely book it is.
Filled with gorgeous photographs and artwork this book takes the reader on a very detailed tour of Hill Top Farm and surrounding areas. In addition to the very intimate look at the interior of the home the reader is also taken on a tour of the gardens and learns about some of the many other properties that Potter purchased in the Lake District. Beatrix Potter spent years of her life working to preserve and protect the landscape of the Lake District. Throughout the book you also see and learn about many of the farms, buildings and rooms that were the inspiration for many of Beatrix Potter's drawings and stories.
Just a beautiful and interesting book. Makes me eager for the day I will be able to visit Hill Top Farm and the Lake District myself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two People

Title: Two People
Author: AA Milne
Genre: Fiction
Date Finished: 30 June 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Numbers

The tag line for Capuchin Classics is "Books to Keep Alive." Their purpose, according to their website, is "reviving great works of fiction which have been unjustly forgotten or neglected. This founding ethos - restoring a richness to the canon in an era of relative blandness - is coupled by a sprinkling of well known favourites to form a series which holds wide appeal."
I've enjoyed reading books from Persephone Books and several other older, out of print or out of popularity books this past year so was interested in trying a few books from Capuchin. I spent some time looking through their catalog of titles and settled on Two People by AA Milne as my first to try. I thought the book sounded interesting and being the uneducated American that I am I had not realized that Milne had written books for adults. I've long loved the Winnie the Pooh series and knew he was a playwright but had never come across any of the novels that he had written.
However, I have been putting off writing about this book because my feelings are so split about it. On many levels I really enjoyed the book but on some levels I really didn't enjoy it all that much.
The book is clever and witty and there was a lot of humor and laughs. Reginald Wellard has written a book and his foray in the publishing and literary world produces some very funny situations as does his encounters with his neighbors and his trips to London to see if anyone is buying or talking about his book. Much of the novel had a very appealing feel and tone and just seemed very British to me. (Makes sense that it would considering Milne was British.)
However, the book is purported to be a study of marriage and in particular how two people with little in common can make a relationship work. I feel calling this novel an accurate portrayal of marriage to be a statement painted with a pretty broad stroke. There was much about Reginald Wellard and his attitude towards his wife that I found difficult to stomach. I felt the little feminist voice inside me wanting to rise up and give the man a talking to a number of times. (And that voice is really very small because I am not really much of a feminist.) It seemed to me that all Reginald cared about was how beautiful his wife was but than got frustrated when she was not intellectually stimulating enough for him. I think he gave Sylvia the short end of the stick. I don't think she was as dim witted as he perceived and if he would have taken the time to actually talk to her instead of muse so much about how beautiful she was than he might have noticed.
There was one incident in particular when they were at a dinner party where the host related a tale of lost love that I think illustrates my point. Reginald, through the reactions and body language of another guest at the party realized immediately that she was the lost love his host spoke of. Guess who was the only other person in attendance at that party who was able to come to the same conclusion? Reginald's wife Sylvia. I believe there was more behind her beauty than Reginald was willing to see and I believe many of their friends and acquaintances saw more to her as well but for some reason Reginald remained unseeing.
But then on the other hand Sylvia never really did much to encourage her husband to see beyond the surface.
So yes, there were many aspects of the novel that bothered me and I did find Reginald to be rather pompous at times but there was still plenty to enjoy. The book was a humorous look at how the simple lives the Wellards were living in the country was upset by Reginald's success as an author. As any one who knows me or my reading tastes knows, I like wit, charm and humor and this book had plenty of all three.
If for no other reason it was worth reading just to get a different look at Milne and his writing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Five Bells and Bladebone

Title: The Five Bells and the Bladebone
Author: Martha Grimes
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 328
Published: 1987
Date Finished: 22 July 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Numbers

It has been more than a year since I last had a visit with one of my favorite detectives, Richard Jury. The 9th book in Martha Grimes mystery series has Jury heading off for a little R&R in Long Piddleton with friend and sidekick Melrose Plant. Of course, his vacation quickly comes to an end when a body is found inside a desk just acquired by a local antiques dealer.
All of the regular characters are back in this book, with perhaps just a little less of Sergeant Wiggens than I would have liked but that is just my personal preference for his character. :-)
This installment was a little slow and I felt a little detached from the story throughout most of the book. Martha Grimes does manage to keep things interesting but this was not my favorite in the series.
It is difficult for me to write much about mysteries because I don't want to give anything away and since I am 9 books into the series, I've pretty much already covered my thoughts on the characters and Grimes writing.
If you enjoy mysteries or would like to give the genre a try go and find The Man with a Load of Mischief, the first book in the series.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chunkster Challenge: Completed!

The blog for the Chunkster Challenge has not been updated since January so I am not sure if it is still officially open but I signed up for it and I met my goal so I am posting about it and counting it as a completed challenge.

I've read 3 books of 450 pages or more.

1. Alice Roosevelt Longworth by Stacy Cordrey (590 pages)
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (884 pages)
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (493 pages)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Green Bay Tree

Title: The Green Bay Tree
Author: Louis Bromfield
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 390
Published: 1924
Date Finished: 15 July 2009
My Rating: 2
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library

The publication of Louis Bromfield's first book in 1924 turned him into a literary celebrity. The book, The Green Bay Tree, was an instant critical and popular success. Bromfield made enough money off that first book to move his family to Paris where he wrote full time and ran in the same circles as other famous Lost Generation writers.
The Green Bay Tree focuses on the lives of 3 women in the Shane family. Widowed matriarch Julia Shane becomes more and more of a recluse the older she gets, never leaving her stately home surrounded by the mills of a booming city.
Her daughter Lily does not want to live the conventional life that society dictates she should and since she has money and independent means sees no reason why she should. She leaves home and establishes a life for herself in Paris.
Younger daughter Irene is devoted to religion and wants nothing more than to become a nun and live a life of seclusion. When her mother forbids her to become a nun she instead devotes her life to helping the poor foreign mill workers in her town.

After visiting Bromfield's home at Malabar Farm in Richland County Ohio and learning all about this once popular author turned farmer who was friends and contemporaries with the likes of Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was more than willing to read some of his books.
Unfortunately, as I told my husband while reading this book, I can see why Bromfield has fallen into obscurity. The Green Bay Tree bored me into a near reading coma.
Bromfield's writing style did not engage me at all and I never managed to care one bit for any of the characters.
I did enjoy this paragraph, which I think sums up fairly well the theme Bromfield was going for.
"Life is hard for our children. It isn't as simple as it was for us. Their grandfathers were pioneers and the same blood runs in their veins, only they haven't a frontier any longer. They stand...these children our ours...with their backs toward this rough-hewn middle west and their faces toward Europe and the East and they belong to neither. They are lost somewhere between."
I think at its heart The Green Bay Tree was a story about the growth of industrialism and it's effects on agriculture and people but it was tied up in the strange narrative of the Shane women. The Shanes home had once been surrounded by meadows and field that had been conquered by John Shane and other pioneers. Now the home was surrounded by a different sort of progress, mills and factories. Old Mrs. Shane is the last hold out, refusing to sell her home to developers.
This book just turned out to be much more of a chore than I thought it would be to read.

There are 3 other books that are interrelated with the Green Bay Tree and for one of them, Early Autumn, Bromfield was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I guess I am a bit of a glutton for punishment because I will probably at least read Early Autumn one of these days.

On a somewhat ironic note, I am reading the journal of a young Jewish girl living in Paris and attending the Sorbonne during WWII. In the first few pages of her journal she mentions she is reading and very captivated by one of Bromfield's books. He was popular in his day, that is for sure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Case of the Missing Marquess

Title: The Case of the Missing Marquess
Author: Nancy Springer
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Pages: 216
Published: 2006
Date Finished: 13 Jul 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars

Challenges: Young Adult, New Author, Library, 100+

I have to admit that the cover and the name of the heroine are what led me to pick up this book. Just look at it. How could any discerning reader pass that cover up? And Enola Holmes. Great name, especially when you realize that Enola spelled backwards is alone.
It helped that the premise of the book sounded pretty good too.
Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes and has not seen either her brother Sherlock or Mycroft since she was 4 years old, at their father's funeral. On her fourteenth birthday Enola's mother disappears and after her famous brothers are unable to find her, Enola realizes that it is up to her to track down their mother. Using ciphers and money that her mother secretly left behind Enola disguises herself as a widow and sets off for London on what she believes will be a fairly easy and straightforward task. Only things do not go at all as Enola plans and she finds herself mixed up in the kidnapping of a young marquess, while trying to outwit and outrun her detective brother.
Another confession. I am not a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I've read a few of the books over the years but have never been really enthralled with what I read. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this creation of Sherlock Holmes younger sister.
Things started out a little slow and even Enola herself was a little slow at figuring things out at first. (Hello Enola! Your mother gave you a book of ciphers the day she disappeared. Maybe have a crack at them.) But Enola turned out to be pretty smart and resourceful. Yes, she managed to get herself tangled up in a few sticky situations, but she was also brave and resourceful enough to figure a way out.
A fun mystery and a great heroine. I am on to the 2nd book in the series soon.
Oh, and I enjoyed the ciphers. There is even one on the cover, another reason I loved the cover so much.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Vicarage Family

Title: A Vicarage Family
Author: Noel Streatfeild
Pages: 246
Genre: Autobiography
Published: 1963
Date Finished: 11 July 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: Decades, Library, 100+

A Vicarage Family is the somewhat fictionalized account of Noel Streatfeild's life growing up in a vicarage during the years leading up to WWI.
In this novelization of her early years Noel becomes Victoria, the rebellious daughter who found life growing up in a vicarage to be very restricting. The middle of 3 sisters, and one brother, Victoria was often misunderstood or overlooked. Her older sister Isobel was artistic, meek and gentle. Louise, the younger sister was considered the beauty of the family and Vicky? She was the odd one out, plain with seemingly little talent.
Fortunately as the story progressed Vicky started to find her footing and began to realize that she might not be so plain or talentless. (And as we know she went on to become a talented actress and popular author.) While her mischievous streak left her family frustrated and concerned, I found Vicky to be a highly misunderstood, caring, fun and smart girl.
For me Victoria's story was a little different but also similar to the experiences of others in the years leading up to WWI. Like most young people of the era Vicky was really unaware of all that was brewing in the world around her, specifically the events that would lead to war. However, I think living a sheltered life in a vicarage perhaps made Vicky and her family even more naive than some of her contemporaries.
I really enjoyed this book and found all the characters to be very distinct and interesting in their own way. I often found myself wondering what her family members thought of the story and her not always necessarily glowing descriptions of them. Streatfeild addressed this dilemma herself:
"How does the autobiographer handle a brother and sisters? A father and mother? How they looked, how they appeared to me as persons- yes. But what they were like inside?
It is because of my awareness that my portraits of the rest of my family are probably faulty that I have used no real names. The thin shield of anonymity helped me feel unselfconscious in drawing them, and in approaching the facts of my own life."
Her mother, in particular, I found to be rather beastly at times. But Streatfeild made it clear that in later years the two become much closer than they were when she was a child.
In the end I was left wanting to know more about this family and in particular what becomes of the 3 sisters. There are two more autobiographical novels that Streatfeild wrote but unfortunately I am having a difficult time tracking down copies. If I find them, I will read them.