Friday, December 27, 2013

A Bookish Summary...

My Top 10 Reads of 2013:
1. Now You See Me by S. J. Bolton
1. An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James
3. Blackwood by Gwenda Bond
4. The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston
5. World War Z by Max Brooks
6. The Impersonator by Mary Miley
7. School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
8. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
9. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
10. The Never List by Koethi Zan

2103 ended up being a great year for books. I read so many well-written, entertaining, and memorable ones it was hard to choose just 10 for my list. I would love to know your top 10 reads for 2013. (Then I would know what to read first in 2014!) As for the rest of my "bookish stats" here they are:
     Total # Books Read :  127 (13 of those were non-fiction books; 14 were rereads)
     Total # Pages Read: 39,555
     Blog Posts: 106
     Bookish Art Posts: 13 (Check out my Gallery page for a quick view of some awesome bookish art.)
     Reading Challenges Completed: 1 (Austen in August)
     Longest Book Read: Democracy in America (703 pages)
     3 of my Favorite Posts:
               Books Are the Answer...
               This Book is TOO Stupid!
               A Jane Austen Education

That's All Folks!
Thanks for stopping by;
I hope to see you next year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given...

"Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus!"
--Neal A. Maxwell.

Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Bookish Blizzard...

"...not all blizzards were created equal..."

     Every time it snows part of me just wants to stay inside where it's warm and dry, and where I can curl up on the couch with a good book. This last snowstorm I had the perfect book to read:  Trapped by Michael Northrop. 
     When a massive nor'easter hits the East Coast, seven students end up snowed in at the Tattawa Regional High School. They think it will be for just one night, but in the morning so much snow has fallen no one can get in or out. To make matters worse, their cell phones don't work. Then the power goes out and it starts to get cold. And the snow keeps on falling.
"I don't think any of us thought that people would actually die in this storm. We'd been through lots of them, and it'd never happened to anyone we knew. We'd have to change that thinking, though..."
I love disaster/survival novels and this one was better than most. It felt authentic and believable and even had me reaching for a blanket and some hot chocolate while I read. It also got me wondering if I would be able to survive a blizzard like the one in Trapped. This is definitely a fun winter read.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart

"...if given the choice between seeking a lost city in the jungle and not, always pick the jungle."

I love books like this. I think it's the allure of jungle exploration and the idea of a lost ancient city waiting to be discovered. I mean, who hasn't dreamed of being Indiana Jones just once in his or her life? Following rumors of a lost city called Ciudad Blanca, Christopher Stewart treks deep into the Honduran rain forest. He follows in the footsteps of previous explorers and interweaves accounts of their experiences with his own real life adventure. This is a fast-paced and entertaining book. It only took a couple of days to read. Plus, it let me trek through the steaming jungle of Honduras without running into a fer de lance or getting a single bug bite. Jungleland is a definite must-read for anyone who loves travel, wild adventures, or lost cities of gold. I admit, every time I read a book like this it makes me want to set off for some unexplored corner of the world. Too bad there's no job market for explorers any more! But at least there are still books about them. 

Happy Reading!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Art and Austen

Julius LeBlanc Stewart -- Reading Aloud

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."   --Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

Have you ever read a Barbara Pym novel? I hadn't until earlier this year. Her stories are delightful studies of curates and spinsters, of English society and manners. And they make me laugh. Some Tame Gazelle is Pym's first novel. I think what I like most about this novel are the two main characters: Harriet and Belinda Bede. Harriet is the "plumply attractive", exuberant and unflappable sister; Belinda, who is a little more drab and somewhat timid, is the sister who worries more about propriety. I found them to be both sympathetic and appealing.
"It's no use being sentimental about things," said Harriet. "You shouldn't keep a clutter of clothes you never wear just because you once liked them."
Belinda made no comment on this, for she was thinking that Harriet's words might be applied to more serious things than clothes. If only one could clear out one's mind and heart as ruthlessly as one did one's wardrobe..." 
 Pym pokes gentle fun of all her characters. The foibles of the archdeacon and his wife, Agatha, the new curate, and the Italian Count who is in love with Harriet, make this novel entertaining even though not much happens along the way. Pym's novel, Excellent Women, is still my favorite, but I liked this one almost as much. Best of all? I still have 10 more Pym novels left to read.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Some bookish gift ideas...

All I really want for Christmas is a huge stack of books and a Mini Cooper. Unfortunately, no one in my family can afford to buy me a Mini Cooper and, sadly, no one seems very excited about buying me any more books. So, I came up with a few fun bookish gift alternatives:

 Out of Print Clothing offers a variety of bookish gifts from tee shirts to note cards to jewelry. The only hard part is deciding which one to choose. (I'm partial to the tee shirts sporting favorite children's books on them, but they also offer a lot of classic novel tees as well.)

The Reading Woman 2014 calendar is an amazing wall calendar that offers twelve months of bookish art, and some great quotes, too. I've been a fan of this calendar for a couple of years now. There is also a Reading Woman weekly engagement calendar/diary if you prefer.

Pride and Prejudice the Board Game!!!
I actually got this for my birthday this year and I absolutely love it. This is a must for any Jane Austen fan. It's so much fun to play. (Just try to avoid being Lydia and Wickham because they never seem to win.) This game is available from The Ash Grove Press, Inc. They also have A Christmas Carol board game, too.

These are all great bookish gifts; and while I wouldn't mind getting any one of them, I'm still secretly hoping for a stack of books to unwrap on Christmas morning. How about you? What are you hoping for this Christmas?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I did it!

Democracy in America:  703 pages read; 0 pages to go.

I set a goal last February to read de Tocqueville's massive tome this year--two pages a day--and yesterday I finally finished it! As you can probably tell, I'm glad to be done. I did learn a lot--especially from the first half of the book, but I have to admit, I found Volume II (basically the entire last half of the book) a bit of a slog. De Tocqueville spends 334 pages examining the affect of democracy and its "principles of equality" on various aspects of society, for both good and bad. Every little aspect of society!  I did not find it nearly as interesting or as insightful as Volume I (in which he delineates the beginnings of democracy here in America). My recommendation? Definitely read Volume I of Democracy in America, because it's important and worth your time, but don't bother with Volume II.

If you just want a taste of de Tocqueville's thoughts and observations, here are a few of my favorite quotes from Volume II:
"Society is endangered, not by the great profligacy of a few, but by laxity of morals amongst all."
"The authority of government has not only spread, as we have just seen, throughout the sphere of all existing powers, till that sphere can no longer contain it, but it goes further, and invades the domain heretofore reserved to private everywhere interferes in private concerns more than it did; it regulates more undertakings...and it gains a firmer footing everyday about, above, and around all private persons, to assist, to advise, and to coerce them."
" is passed in the midst of noise and excitement, and men are so engaged in acting that little time remains to them for thinking."
For more of de Tocqueville's quotes, check out my Halfway There  post.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

Such a great title, isn't it? It's one of the reasons I like this book. (But not the only one!) Here are a few others:
     1. Great characters with equally great Arabella Dempsey and Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh. (Jane Austen even makes an appearance as one of Arabella's childhood friends.)
     2. An Austenesque plot (Willig borrowed from the premise of Austen's unfinished novel, The Watsons, for the plight of her own heroine, Arabella), with a little espionage thrown in for some added fun and adventure.
     3. An unexpected Christmas romance (unexpected for the characters anyway; I was completely expecting a happily ever after ending when I picked up this book and Willig did not disappoint.)
     4. Humorous dialogue and a fun lighthearted plot with "mad duck romps" and secret messages hidden in Christmas puddings. (After all, it's not the time of year for serious reading, is it?)
     5. Quotable quotes like this one: "Not everyone counts a man's worth in coins."

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 29, 2013

'Tis the Season...

Catch the Christmas spirit early this season with a couple of classic holiday movies. Here's a list of the 6 Christmas movies I watch every December--movies that never fail to put me in a festive mood.

1. Miracle on 34th Street  ...  But it has to be the 1947 version starring Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, John Payne and Edmund Gwenn. I love this definitely starts the holiday season off right.

2. While You Were Sleeping ... This is my favorite Sandra Bulloch movie; "You're born into a family, you don't join one like the marines." It makes me laugh (and cry) every time I watch it...especially the scene with the newspaper boy on his bike when he hits that patch of ice...

3. The Year Without a Santa Claus ... This is the best of the Rankin/Bass stop motion animated specials. I can sing every song in it...and I love Snow Miser and Heat Miser. (And yes, I DO believe in Santa Claus!)

4. Meet Me in St. Louis ... How can you resist hearing Judy Garland sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"? It just wouldn't be Christmas without this movie. If you haven't ever seen this classic, definitely check it out this year!

5. Desk Set ... this movie showcases Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy at their best. It is one of their funniest movies...and nothing beats that office Christmas party! (And don't forget your Floating Island dessert while you watch the movie!)

6. White Christmas ... It may be last on my list, but it's certainly not least. How could it be when it has Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney in it? Plus, it has that epitome of Christmas songs: I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. Nothing gets better than this.

So, pop some popcorn, pop one of these movies in your DVD player, and get ready for it to feel a lot like Christmas! It is the season after all. And let me know what movies get you in the Christmas mood.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving thanks...

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude."                                        --A.A. Milne 

What would your favorite fictional character give thanks for this Thanksgiving? Ever wondered? Winnie the Pooh would be thankful for a simple jar of honey. For Bilbo Baggins it would have to be second breakfasts and elevenses. I'm sure Elizabeth Bennett (and Mr. Darcy, too) would give thanks for second chances. And I think Harry Potter would give thanks for friends that feel more like family. I tried to imagine what Katniss Everdeen would be grateful for, but I honestly couldn't come up with a single thing. As for me? I am grateful for simple things like friends and family; bubble baths, snow plows, and Maui beaches; chocolate, Sunday morning comics, the cancer treatments that saved my sister's life, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; libraries, books to read, and at least 1,000 other things.

Here's to counting our blessings this year...I hope you have a very
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Impersonator by Mary Miley

A vaudeville actress. A missing heiress. And ten million dollars. Mix in a little 1920s Prohibition and you have Mary Miley's delightful new mystery, The Impersonator. This book had me hooked from page one. Think about it. If you had the chance to become someone else...someone who's been missing and presumed dead for seven years...someone who looks just like you...would you do it? Would you change your mind if there were ten million dollars on the line?

Enter Leah Randall, who's been performing in vaudeville her whole life but who suddenly finds herself jobless and on the way to becoming penniless, too. She has one job offer. To play Oliver Beckett's missing niece, Jessie Carr, heiress to a fortune. Consummate performer that she is, Leah agrees.
"To be sure, masquerading as an heiress would be tricky. I'd been impersonating people all my life, but this was a tougher gig than any I'd ever had, being on stage every waking minute. The challenge roused me from the melancholy that had held me down for weeks. I could do this."
I really admired Leah's spunkiness. She's a likeable and fun heroine. I also enjoyed the sprinkling of stage references Leah makes as she embarks on her new adventure:
"Tuesday, August 19, 1924. opening day for The Return of Jessie Carr, a sensitive drama about a young woman's return to the bosom of her family after years as a vaudeville sensation. The curtain was about to rise on the role of a lifetime...I looked the part. For the first time in my life, I was the headliner."
What she doesn't realize is that not everyone is happy about Jessie's sudden reappearance. Certainly not her two male cousins. Or the person who had a hand in Jessie's mysterious disappearance in the first place. Leah's "role of a lifetime" must might turn out to be her last. If you like well-written, fast-paced and fun mysteries, then this book is a definite must-read!

Monday, November 18, 2013

November's Bookish Art

Edward John Poynter

"Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier."
--Kathleen Norris

Thursday, November 14, 2013

From the Book Jar...

Since I didn't manage to knock a book off my TBR Pile in October, I thought I'd better be sure to pull a title from my Book Jar this month. (Especially since I keep adding more books to it.)
The book: Bone Worship by Elizabeth Eslami

I picked this book up at a library book sale for 50 cents in April and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since. But not any more. I finished it two days ago, happily checked it off my To-Be-Read List, and am looking forward to drawing a new title from my Book Jar next month.

Bone Worship tells the story of Jasmine Fahroodhi, a half-Iranian, half-American college student who's one quarter away from graduating when she flunks out; and her enigmatic Iranian father, Yusef, with whom she has never been able to connect.
Having failed out of school, I'm due back home. To find a job, and, my father says, to find a husband. "Is the way it happens," he says. "Your hastegar," your marriage. A husband he will find for me in a year's time. An arrangement, neat and clean as pressed silk.
 An old world hastegar, or arranged marriage, is not what Jasmine wants, but how can she explain that to her father when they never really talk? And, sadly, it's not like she has a better plan for her life. So, she goes along with his plan...even though she's determined not to marry any man her father chooses for her. While I liked this story, I don't plan on keeping the book. Jasmine's relationship with her father, or lack thereof, is poignant, frustrating, and sad. But Jasmine's story is not without hope and a happy ending. I'm glad I didn't pay full price for this book, but it was definitely 50 cents well spent!

Similar read:
     A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri

Monday, November 11, 2013

Steampunk Fun...

The Setting: London, 1889. (But this Victorian London is one where electricity has been prohibited and steam engines rule.
The Characters: Mina Holmes, Sherlock Holmes' intelligent niece, and Evaline Stoker, Bram Stoker's sister and vampire hunter extraordinaire.
First Line: There are a limited number of excuses for a young, intelligent woman of seventeen to be traversing the fog-shrouded streets of London at midnight. A matter of protecting one's life or preventing another's death are two obvious ones.

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason is an engaging steampunk mystery. I liked the contrast between the two main characters: Mina is bookish, brainy, and keenly observant while Evaline is more action-oriented and adventurous; she also has inherited her family's supernatural vampire-hunting abilities. The fact that they don't particularly like each other makes it even more fun. The mystery itself is intriguing. Mina and Evaline (along with a cute Scotland yard detective named Ambrose Grayling) are investigating the deaths of three young society girls. In the process they stumble upon a secret society revolving around Sekhmet, the Egyptian Goddess of Death, and two mysterious young men with secrets of their own. I admit I'm a fan of steampunk and I liked the steampunk aspects in this novel, too, from steam cycles, to flying firefly lanterns, to the clockwork scarabs that are found beside each one of the dead girls. Want a fun and inventive steampunk novel? Gleason's YA novel won't disappoint.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Visit Sunny Chernobyl by Andrew Blackwell

"Tell folks that you're making a grand tour of polluted places, and they tend to get excited. A surprising number of people say they want to come along, and, although this turns out to be mostly talk, it's gratifying to know the market is there. Most of all, people want to know about the list. How am I choosing my destinations?"

 Blackwell's destinations include the ruined nuclear reactor of Chernobyl, the oil sand mines north of Fort McMurray, Canada, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, just to name a few. I bet you're wondering why anyone would want to read a book about any of these places, but Blackwell's book is a surprisingly witty and entertaining travel memoir. I also learned a lot about some of the world's most polluted environments. Blackwell has that enviable journalistic way of writing that informs, but doesn't bore. Not only is he adventurous; he's also insightful:
"My mission was to find the world's most polluted places...Only if I found those ecosystems of despair would I be able to implement my conceit of contrarian ecotourism and compose my great elegy for the pre-human world. But instead of finding degraded ecosystems that I could treat as though they were beautiful, I was just finding beauty. The Earth had gotten there first. I went looking for a radioactive wasteland and found a radioactive garden. I went looking for the Pacific Garbage Patch and found the Pacific Ocean."
I love books that take me to new places and this book certainly did that! It even got me thinking I just might want to make a trip to Chernobyl myself one day. I hear it's lovely this time of year. Just don't forget to pack your own Geiger counter; Blackwell says they're very hard to find in Kiev.

Happy Reading!

Check out Bookish Travel for other great travel adventures.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

I've been in a non-fiction mood lately, so when I saw this book on a display shelf at the library I happily checked it out. It is the true story of a North Korean boy named Shin who was born and raised in Camp 14, a harsh and unforgiving political prison camp in the heart of North Korea. (The government of North Korea continues to deny the existence of Camp 14, and other prison camps like it, to this very day.)

Shin is raised without love or compassion. His first memory is of an execution. There is no one in the camp that he can trust; to snitch on other prisoners is to live. He grows up chronically malnourished. The punishments he receives are terrible. When he is 14, his mother and older brother are arrested and executed for attempting to escape. Shin and his father are punished for their mistake.

Then, on January 2, 2005, Shin escapes Camp 14--the only person alive to do so. His escape is not driven by thoughts of freedom, or fear of punishment, but the dream of "one day getting out of the camp and eating whatever he wanted. Freedom, in Shin's mind, was just another word for grilled meat...He ached for a world where an insignificant person like himself could walk into a restaurant and fill his stomach with rice and meat."

Shin survives and finds a new life for himself in South Korea and America, but thousands of North Koreans just like Shin remain imprisoned in inhumane camps across North Korea. And that's the most heartbreaking part of this story--that these atrocities are still going on today and the rest of the world does nothing to stop it. This is a moving and powerful story, one I won't soon forget.

Similar Reads:
     Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
     In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

Friday, November 1, 2013

Memorable Lines from Recent Reads...

"If you are lucky, you experience one great adventure in your life...The one thing to remember about an adventure is that if it turns out the way you expect it to, it has not been an adventure at all." --Kim Fay, The Map of Lost Memories
"A good medium will always tell you something true before telling you something less than true--it only takes one true sail to float your ship of lies around the world."  --Rhian Ellis, After Life
"There was something magical about an island--the mere word suggested fantasy.  You lost touch with the world--an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return."  --Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
"Part of the human condition is that we all think we are uniquely complex while everyone else is somewhat simpler to read. That is not true, of course. We all have our own dreams and hopes and wants and lusts and heartaches. We all have our own brand of crazy." --Harlan Coben, Six Years 


Thursday, October 31, 2013


Clarence John Laughlin

Deep night, dark night, the
silent of the night,
The time of night when Troy
was set on fire;
The time when screech-owls cry,
and ban-dogs howl,
And spirits walk, and
ghosts break up their graves.
--William Shakespeare

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Arthur Kipps first sees the woman in black at the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow. He sees her again when he visits Eel Marsh House. Her face is pale as bone and wasted, but her unnaturally bright gaze is full of bitter malevolence and hatred.

"Who she was--or what--I did not ask myself. I tried not to think about the matter at all but, with the very last of the energy that I could already feel draining out of me, I turned and began to run, to flee from the graveyard and the ruins and to put the woman at as great a distance behind as I possibly could. I concentrated everything upon my running, hearing only the thud of my own body on the grass, the escape of my own breath. And I did not look back."

Unfortunately, Arthur's job is not yet done and he must return to Eel Marsh House. As he sorts through Alice Drablow's papers he begins to uncover the haunting secrets of the past and of the ghostly woman in black. This novel has the feel of an old-fashioned ghost story, which I quite liked. (In fact, I liked it better than the movie!) It's a beautifully written, haunting tale. Arthur Kipps is earnestly likeable; and I loved the little dog, Spider, who keeps him company at Eel Marsh House. The woman in black herself is one of the more quietly terrifying ghosts ever written. This is a good Halloween read!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Classic Monster Movies

There's something about old black-and-white monster movies....I like the dramatic lighting, and the quiet, more subtle, storytelling, and who can resist Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi in their most iconic roles? (Lon Chaney Jr.'s not so bad either.) Plus, it's fun to see where all the other monster/horror films originated. And with Halloween quickly approaching, it's the perfect time of year to revisit these classic films. Best of all? These movies aren't gory or too scary, so the whole family can watch and enjoy them together. Here are a few of my favorites (but start with The Mummy; it's the best):

What's your favorite monster movie classic?

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Top 5 Monster Classics:

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker -  I love this book--especially the way it's told in letters, diaries, and personal accounts. It's a haunting story. Stoker is a master at building tension and fear, and I love his craft and subtlety. It's amazing how well this frightening story holds up. I guess that's why it's a classic! For me, it's a true must-read! (Best of all, Stoker's vampires don't sparkle in the sun.)

2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson - I have always been fascinated by this story and it's compelling study of good and evil. The mistake Dr. Jekyll arrogantly makes, and his later bitter regret, is what makes this story so memorable, and relevant. I have to admit, I've liked every version of this story I've seen or read--from Bugs Bunny to Broadway.

3. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux - Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of this story is so well-known most people don't bother with the book, which is a real shame. Leroux's novel has a lot to offer. And his characters are real and appealing. I was surprised by how much I liked it.

4. Jewel of the Seven Stars by Bram Stoker - There are no vampires in this book, just Stoker's take on mummies. And while it's not as good as Dracula, it's still worth checking out. After I read this book, I found myself wishing that Stoker had been a much more prolific writer of novels.

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - I confess, when I read this book I always have more sympathy for Frankenstein's monster than for Victor Frankenstein himself. In fact, I usually find myself hoping that the monster finds a home someday, somewhere he doesn't have to be so alone. This is such a sad story--but definitely a classic.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Fancy a night in a haunted house?"

Samantha Jephcott works with paranormal investigator, Massene Henderson. "Over the last year the two of them had fought vampires, ghouls, zombie Vikings, and prevented the destruction of the planet at least twice." This time they've been hired by Sir Anthony Calverton to investigate Dark Manor, a house that was built on the site of an ancient stone circle, constructed from the bricks of an insane asylum, and filled with macabre relics of past murders. A house that can't help but be haunted. They're joined by Dr. Helen Pritchard, a medical doctor, and her husband, Professor Alan Pritchard, a physicist, along with Calverton's granddaughter, Maddy, who claims to be a medium, and Jeremy Stokes, a television psychic. With this cast of characters, it doesn't take long for the spirits in this house to appear. Or for people to start to die.

I like ghost stories, especially ones set in a creepy haunted house, and this book has all the essential elements, but unfortunately it falls a little short. The ending got a bit too fantastical for me. (Although I have to give John Llewellyn Probert points for originality!) There were a few typos here and there, and a few other things that didn't quite add up. Despite its flaws, I still liked this book. Especially Samantha's and Henderson's humorous relationship. (In fact, I think the Syfy Channel should do a series around them and their paranormal adventures.) Sadly, I didn't find this particular book all that scary. Maybe the next haunted house will be better.

Happy Haunted Reading!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Real-Life Scottish Fairy Tale...

"What if I took all the imagination and creativity that I poured into my screenplays and invested it in my own life?"
 This is not a book about rockets (even though the author once worked for NASA). It's a book about asking yourself, "What if?" and following your dreams no matter how impractical they seem. It's a book about Scotland, and a very cool second-hand bookshop--reasons enough for me to read this book as I love both books and Scotland! It's part travel memoir, part adventure, and part romance. And it made me wish I could trade places with Jessica A. Fox.

"...the Holy Grail is not the treasure but the dream, like the carrot before the horse. It's the impulse that gets you off the couch and propels your journey. The problem arises when you don't allow your dream to change."

Jessica is a 26-year-old film-maker living and working in Los Angeles when she has a dream that propels her to take an impulsive trip to Wigtown, Scotland's National Book Town. There she meets Euan, the owner of The Bookshop. Wigtown feels surprisingly like home to her and Jessica soon finds herself falling in love with it...and with Euan.
"All the best parts of this adventure, after all--Euan, Eve, Deirdre, Edinburgh and all that I adored about Wigtown--had been outside the possibilities of my imagination."
I really enjoyed reading about this Scottish book town. Scotland is such an amazing place...I'd love to go back someday and make my own pilgrimage to Wigtown. If you're into travel, bookshops, and following your dreams, definitely read Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica A. Fox.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

October's Bookish Art...

Eastman Johnson - The Girl I Left Behind Me

"I know that my life is marked by the road signs of my beloved books,
each one symbolizing who I was when I read it, shaping who I have become.
The uninitiated might say that I am lost in my books,
but I know I am more found than lost."
--Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Never List by Koethi Zan

     "For us, there was no such thing as fate. Fate was a word you used when you had not prepared, when you were slack, when you stopped paying attention. Fate was a weak man's crutch."

Sarah and Jennifer created the Never List to protect themselves from any and every accident or mishap, sure that if they adhered to the rules of their list they would be safe. And for years it worked. Until they went away to college. Then one night, coming home from a party, they're taken by a man named Jack Derber, who locks them away in his cellar, captives with two other girls, for the next three years. Sarah survives, but she's not the same girl she once was.

"We'd been naive. We hadn't believed other minds could be as calculating as ours. We hadn't counted on actual evil as our enemy rather than blind statistical possibility."

Thirteen years later, Jack Derber is up for parole. He's been taunting Sarah from prison with strange letters and clues. And Sarah knows she's finally going to have to face up to the nightmares of her past so she can find out what happened to Jennifer and keep Jack in prison for the rest of his life.

I could not put this book down; it's that good! I'd tell myself I was only going to read one more chapter, but one chapter would turn into two, then three, then four... Sarah's story is so compelling, and Zan's writing so amazing, I was completely drawn in. Sarah's search for the truth takes her back into the darkness of her past. (And it is a very dark place.) This is an intense thriller, but not overly graphic or explicit, for which I was grateful. If you want an exciting mystery that will keep you up at night, definitely give The Never List by Koethi Zan a try. It's the perfect October read!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

20 Random Bookish Things About Me (Part II)...

11. Booklists are some of my favorite things--lists of books I want to read, books I want to buy, favorite authors, etc.

12. At lunchtime, I don't read while I eat; I eat while I read. After all, it's not the food that's important--it's the book!

13. As much as I love imaginary men (like Mr. Darcy, Adam Hauptman, Sebastian St. Cyr, etc.), I still like real men best.

14. I've always wanted to be a writer.

15. You know Hay-on-Wye, that town in Wales full of bookstores? I really want to go there someday.

16. I hate loaning out my books. (Because too many people don't return them!)

17. I think Ernest Hemingway is overrated.

18. I am never going to read War and Peace. (Sorry to all you Tolstoy fans.)

19. "Happily ever after" will always be the best way to end a story.

20. There are no better words in my opinion than "Once upon a time..."

Monday, September 30, 2013

20 Random Bookish Things About Me... (Part I)

1. When people ask me what I'm reading I'm never sure whether I should tell them about the book I just finished, the one I'm in the middle of, or the book I'm planning on reading next, because ... 

2. I don't like being defined by just one book.

3. I like to read a book first, before I see Hollywood's version of it.

4. Rightly or wrongly, I tend to judge people by the books they read.

5. I still reread my favorite books from childhood.

6. Someone saying, "You have to read this book!" sometimes makes me not want to read it. (Redheads can be stubborn.)

7. I keep checking out zombie books from the library, even though most of them end up being disappointingly unreadable. (Exceptions: Warm Bodies and World War Z)

8. I'm a sucker for romantic endings ...

9. ...but I don't like written-to-an-outline, been-there, read-that formulaic romance novels.

10. I miss stand-alone novels. (Trilogies are overrated!)

To be continued in my next post...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

And Then There Were None...

What I love about Agatha Christie is the unexpectedness of her mysteries. The first time I read this one it had me completely stumped. And Then There Were None is a fast and fun read--even the second time around.

The novel begins with eight strangers receiving invitations to holiday on Indian Island, a secluded island off the coast of Devon in England. But the invitations have been sent under false pretenses. When they arrive at the house there's no host to greet them, just two servants and an anonymous recording that accuses each guest of murder. It all seems like a bad joke until one of them turns up dead. With no way back to the mainland, the remaining guests are trapped on Indian Island with a murderer, wondering who will die next.

It's the twists and turns of this novel I like best. If you've never read this particular Christie mystery before, I dare you to read it and try to guess who the murderer is. But I bet you'll be as surprised as I was the first time around.

Happy Reading!

P.S. Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie novel? If so, which one?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Once Upon A Crime...

I love mysteries. Not cozies so much; I prefer psychological thrillers--novels with a bit of an edge, a hint of darkness, an unexpected twist at the end. Books that keep you up late at night and thinking about them the next day. Those are the mysteries I like best. So, here's a list of my of my top 10:

  1. Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton
  2. The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
  3. Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris
  4. Sister by Rosamund Lupton
  5. Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas
  6. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  7. The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
  8. Bones by Jan Burke
  9. Into the Darkness by Barbara Michaels
  10. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Original title: Ten Little Indians)
Happy Reading!

Other Book Lists:
      Got Romance?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

Would the hopes and dreams you had at 14 still be relevant twenty years later? That's what Brett Bohlinger is about to find out in Lori Nelson Spielman's latest novel, The Life List. As a condition of her mother's will, Brett has to complete the "life list" she started when she was 14 before she can get her inheritance; and she only has one year to do it. Some of the things on her list? Get a dog, help poor people, have a baby, and fall in love.

This was a fun novel to read. (And I actually made it to the end!) I liked Brett, and while I thought it was a little bit too convenient the way she was able to accomplish all the items on her list, it didn't make me like the novel any less. (Although it did make me wish that dreams came true that easily in real life.) The funnest part for me in reading this book was remembering the hopes and dreams I once had as a child, and wondering what would have gone on my own life list at the age of 14. Probably something about horses and the circus. And Space Camp. And living near the beach. Who knows, maybe it's not too late to make some of those childish dreams come true.  It's fun to think about anyway.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bookish Woe...

I've been starting a lot of books lately, and then discarding them just as quickly. Do you ever have weeks like that? Each book sounds good when I pick it up, but after a few pages...well, let's just say they're not holding my interest. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm just not in the mood for those particular books. But then again, maybe it's the fault of the books:  bad writing, too-predictable plot, cardboard characters, etc. That can happen. It's just unusual for it to happen with so many books in a row. However I ended up in this bookish blackhole, I'm left with a growing stack of discards and without a good book to review or recommend.

It all started with The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay. I loved the exotic setting, but 100 pages in, when I still didn't love any of the characters, I stopped reading and moved on.

Then there was Kjerstin Gruys' non-fiction memoir, Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall, where she goes for an entire year without looking in a mirror. I was hoping for a funnier book when I picked it up--but it never once made me laugh. (Or at least the first three chapters didn't; I quit after that.)

I also tried reading In the After, a post-apocalyptic YA novel by Demetria Lunetta, mostly because I can never resist picking up post-apocalyptic/survival novels. And this one started off okay. But then I made the mistake of flipping to the end...and when I saw where it was headed I decided I just didn't want to go there.

So, that's my sad tale of woe. Three books that should have been good (and maybe are), but that I couldn't get through. Luckily for me, I still have a few library books left to try. Wish me luck. (And a good book!)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Got Books?

Charles Dana Gibson

"The odd thing about people who had many books was how
they always wanted more."  --Patricia A. McKillip  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Asylum by John Harwood

"... I have been robbed of everything, even my name..."
The year is 1882. The place England. Georgina Ferrars wakes at Tregannon House, a private asylum for the insane, with no memory of how she got there. And her doctor keeps insisting that she is someone else. When she tries to prove her identity to him, she finds out that there's already a Georgina Ferrars living in London. So, who's the imposter, and who's telling the truth? It's enough to make her start doubting her own sanity. I can't imagine a worse nightmare. Or a better mystery.

Somehow, Georgina must discover how she ended up at the asylum, and why she's being kept there...before it's too late. The past tangles with the present in this Gothic thriller, and while it starts out a little slowly, it picks up speed at the end. I enjoyed this book. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. I think Harwood's first book, The Seance, is still my favorite, but this is definitely a good runner-up.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Here's to Hitchcock!

A few summers ago I decided I was going to watch at least one Hitchcock movie each week--some were definitely better than others. Some I didn't like at all. But by the end of that summer I'd gained an appreciation, and admiration, for Hitchcock and his films that has never gone away. (And I love the movie, Hitchcock, too! Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are amazing!)

What I admire most about Hitchcock is that he invested so much of himself in his films: when the studios didn't want to finance Psycho, Hitchcock mortgaged his own home to raise the money himself. He even bought up every copy of the book so that no one could reveal the surprise ending before the movie came out. And long before there was Facebook or Twitter, Hitchcock knew how to create a buzz about his films. Eccentric? YES. But also a genius when it came to making unforgettable films. If you've never watched any of his movies, check some out. They just might surprise you. Here are 5 of my favorites:

  1. Strangers on a Train
  2. The Birds
  3. Shadow of a Doubt
  4. Rear Window
  5. Dial M for Murder
You can also check out Stephen Rebello's fascinating book:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Of Books and Birds...

According to Mark Obmascik's The Big Year, there are 675 bird species common to North America. (Not counting vagrants or varities--those birds that get lost in migration and show up in places they don't belong.)

In 1998, Sandy Komito found and identified 745 species of birds, setting a new North American birding record that will never be broken. Talk about a big year! His two closest competitors, Greg Miller and Al Levantin, counted 715 and 711 birds respectively. The Big Year chronicles this amazing accomplishment. (Or you can watch the hilarious and heartwarming movie version starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. I love this movie! It's what got me into birdwatching in the first place.)

While I'll never attempt a "Big Year" myself, I do have my own life list: 99 birds that I have seen and identified so far. (I'm hoping to hit 100 by the end of the year.) My favorite bird? Hmm. It's hard to choose. I love the Canyon Wrens I spotted last year on my birthday (talk about a great present!); and I'm especially fond of the small but charming Black-Capped Chickadees that swoop to my feeder every morning, steal a seed or two, and swoop away again to go eat them in a tree. Then there are American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Snowy Egrets; Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, and Belted Kingfishers. And what about Hummingbirds, Warblers, and Kestrels? Sigh. I can't choose. The truth is, I haven't yet seen a bird I didn't love. And that's what makes birdwatching so great!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My TBR Pile...

I had plans when summer began to tackle the growing stack of books that I own and haven't yet read. In June, that number stood at 29. Through the summer, I actually made some progress--reading 4 and discarding 2 others--which dropped my TBR number to 23. Not bad, huh? But then there was a library book sale, and a trip to Barnes and Noble...and now the pile of unread books sitting in my bedroom is once more above 30! (And I'm itching to order a few new titles from Powells.) Talk about one step forward, ten steps back.

Luckily for me, Alex in Leeds came up with a clever solution that I think I'm going to try: The Book Jar. All you need is an empty jar and some strips of paper. Write the titles of the books from your TBR pile (or any other books that you want to read) on separate strips of paper, fold them up, and put them in your Book Jar. Then, once a week, or once a month, pull a a title out and that's the book you read. I like the serendipity of it. And that it's so easy! I've already found and filled my Book Jar with my 34 titles. And the first book from my TBR pile that I'm going to read? (Drumroll, please...)  Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett.

Happy Reading!

(P.S. A special thanks to Melwyk from The Indextrious Reader; it was her post on the Book Jar that led me to Alex's original post in the first place.) 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bookish Art for August

Henri Matisse -- Les Trois Soeurs

"Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same
first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, 
which no subsequent connections can supply." 
--Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

"There's a special kind of freedom sisters enjoy.
Freedom to share innermost thoughts, to ask a favor,
to show their true feelings. The freedom to simply be."

Merci beaucoup, mes soeurs!!!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I don't care what anyone else says, I like Fanny Price! She may not be as outspoken, confident or lively as Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse, but then she doesn't enjoy the same privilege of position that they do either. She's the poor relation who's treated more like a servant than a member of the family. In a lot of ways, Fanny Price is Jane Austen's version of Cinderella. She's quiet, long-suffering, generous, and kind, but most of all, she has a good heart. (Plus, she loves books--having "been a collector from the first hour of her commanding a shilling.") And that's why I like her. She's good. (A quality highly under-rated these days.)

What I noticed most as I read Mansfield Park this time around is that the book is really a study in contrasts between Mary Crawford and Fanny Price. They are such opposites. Mary is outgoing and makes conversation easily; Fanny is quiet and shy. Mary needs to be constantly active and amused; Fanny finds contentment in solitude--enjoying her books and her own thoughts. Mary is careless and never chastises her brother, Henry, for his outrageous flirtations; Fanny sees and silently condemns his dishonorable behavior. When Mary has the chance to marry for love, she refuses because Edmund's position in society isn't prominent or important enough for her. Fanny, on the other hand, has the chance to marry a man of wealth and position, but refuses because he's not a man she can love.

So who's more likeable? For me, Fanny wins hands down. And I'm glad that, like Cinderella, she gets her happily ever after in the end. Because she deserves it. So, here's to Fanny! And here's to Austen in August (hosted by roofbeamreader). It's been a lot of fun, and I'm a little sad to see it come to an end.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Bookish Wit...


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.


Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

Dorothy Parker's wit is biting, observant, funny, acerbic, and timeless. Not just in her poems, but in her short stories, too. A Telephone Call and The Standard of Living are two of her funniest. (You can find them, her other stories, and all her poems in The Portable Dorothy Parker.) No matter how many times I read them they always make me smile. But then, time spent with Dorothy is never wasted. So here's to one of my favorite writers...and wits.

Happy 120th Birthday, Dorothy Parker!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jane, Actually by Jennifer Petkus

The AfterNet: a worldwide network that allows the dead -- or disembodied as most prefer to be called -- to interact with the living via the Internet.
 Enter Jane Austen. Disembodied for almost 200 years, she's proven her identity, finished her novel, Sandition, gotten an agent, and is ready for her first book tour. But since she can't be seen, she needs a living stand-in -- an avatar. Enter Mary Crawford, a twenty-something out-of-work actress, who must now learn to embody one of the world's most famous authors. (An author she's never actually read.) And that's not all. There are also the scholars who don't believe Jane is the real Austen and want to disprove her, the fans who can't wait to meet her, the disembodied Albert who is falling in love with her, and her publisher who wants another book from her. Only Jane Austen has writer's block....

Like the real Austen's novels, the plot of this book, which seems simple at first, is deceptively complicated. And while I did like it, I didn't love it. Mostly because I had a hard time warming up to any of the characters. I'm not sure why. Maybe because there are so many, and Petkus' short chapters keep you jumping from one to the next so fast you never have time to connect, or get attached. Not to mention one or two loose ends I wish she'd resolved a little better. I'd give this book a B- or maybe a C+. Needless to say, I'm glad to be done...and even more glad to be able to open the pages of Mansfield Park next. Because no one beats the real Jane Austen!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bookish Games

For my birthday this month I received the best present ever: the Pride and Prejudice Board Game. (Great synchronicity considering it's also Austen in August this month.) For any Pride and Prejudice fan, this game is a must. You race one of four couples around the board, from Longbourn to Meryton to Pemberley, collecting Regency Life tokens and answering questions that test your knowledge of Austen's novel (or the filmed version of it starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). The first player to collect all their tokens and get both their characters to the Parish Church to be married wins.

I can't tell you how much I love this game! Because it was my birthday, I got to be Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. (I even won!) But this game is so much fun to play, I would have been just as happy being Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. The Regency Life situations that your characters encounter along the way are pretty funny: having to go home to repair a torn petticoat, go to Rosings for  tea, pay off a gambling wager at Netherfield, etc. It's almost like being in the book.

Here's to more Jane Austen this August!

(Pride and Prejudice the Game is published by The Ash Grove Press, Inc.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Jane Austen Education...

"I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That she'd been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever. Her name was Jane Austen, and she would teach me everything I know about everything that matters."

William Deresiewicz's book is a witty, readable gem. It's also the perfect Austen in August book (a month long event hosted by roofbeamreader). I felt like I was chatting about six of my all-time favorite novels with one of my best friends. Deresiewicz's astute insights into each of Austen's novels--books I thought I knew really well--made me want to go back and reread each one with new eyes. Each of Austen's books taught Deresiewicz a different life lesson. For example, Mansfield Park taught him that "Being entertained is not the same as being happy." Pride and Prejudice taught him that "You aren't born perfect. You are born with a whole novel's worth of errors...but making mistakes is the only way to grow up." And in Sense and Sensibility he learned that "Love is about growing up, not staying young." Great life lessons, huh?

Reading this book made me wonder what life lessons I've learned from reading Jane Austen. Here's what I came up with:

  • If you're always playing the piano you'll never get asked to dance.
  • If a tall handsome stranger finds you 'tolerable' at best the only thing to do is laugh it off with a friend.
  • If it looks like rain take an umbrella!
  • If you want to catch his eye, show more affection than you feel.
  • If you're going to live life like it's a Gothic novel always have enough cab fare in your pocket to see you safely home.
What life lessons have Jane Austen's novels taught you?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Sara Teasdale's Birthday...

Sir William Orpen -- Grace Reading at Howth Bay

"I Have Loved Hours At Sea"
by Sara Teasdale

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,
The fragile secret of a flower,
Music, the making of a poem
That gave me heaven for an hour;

First stars above a snowy hill,
Voices of people kindly and wise,
And the great look of love, long hidden,
Found at last in meeting eyes.

I have loved much and been loved deeply--
Oh when my spirit's fire burns low,
Leave me the darkness and the stillness,
I shall be tired and glad to go.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Austen in August...

Hosted by Roofbeamreader, Austen in Austen is a month long celebration of all things Jane Austen. Books, biographies, movies, whatever. Anything Austen goes! I decided to start off my month of Jane Austen by reading Lady Susan, mostly because it's the only Austen work I'd never read it before, and also because it's short--only 41 letters long. I've always enjoyed epistolary novels, and this was no exception.

Lady Susan herself was a bit of a surprise; she's such a contrast to Austen's other leading ladies. Known as "the most accomplished coquette in England", she still somehow manages to charm all the men around her. "...her countenance is absolutely sweet, and her voice and manner winningly mild. Unfortunately one knows her too well. She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used I believe to make black appear white." Her sister-in-law despises her, and her own daughter is terrified of her. I found her to be almost a female version of George Wickham: eloquent in speech and lovely to look at, but deceitful, selfish, and scheming. And that's what made this novella so unexpected. And so much fun to read. My August reading Austen is definitely off to a good start.

Here are my goals for the rest of the month:
     1.  Reread Mansfield Park (because I haven't read it in quite awhile)
     2.  Check out Austenland on the Big Screen (to see if the movie is better than the book)
     3.  Read Jennifer Petkus' novel Jane, Actually about Jane Austen in the afterlife (because the premise is so much fun).

What about you? Got any amazing Austen plans for August? I hope so!
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

3 YA novels for readers of ANY age...

Amber House by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed and Larkin Reed
First Line:  I was almost sixteen the first time my grandmother died.
My thoughts: Echoes of the past haunt Amber House like ghosts, and soon-to-be-sixteen Sarah Parsons is the only one in this time who can see them. Although sometimes it seems as if the past can see her, too. And if she can interact with the past, can she change it? And what will that do to her own future?
There are so many things that I love about this book: the secret doorways and tunnels of Amber House; Sarah's relationship with her younger autistic brother, Sam; and Jackson, the neighbor boy, who had visions of Sarah long before he ever met her. Sarah herself, smart and stubborn, is refreshingly real and easy to root for. Amber House is never dull. In fact, it is so well-written that even though I prefer stand-alone novels, I actually can't wait for its sequel, Neverwas, to come out.

School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
First Line:  Killing a vampire is actually a lot easier than you'd think.
My thoughts:  At last, a teen book where the girl doesn't fall in love with the vampire.  What a refreshing change! This book is kind of a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural--only instead of the Winchester brothers, you have the Brannick women: Isolde and her mother, Aislinn. And the only thing that scares 16-year-old Izzy? Attending high school for the very first time.  (Ghosts and vampires are so much easier to deal with than teen-age boys!) So many things about this book made me laugh. It's definitely a fun (and fast) read. Izzy Brannick is such a great character; I hope Hawkins writes many more books about her and her otherworldly adventures.

Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan
First Line: I was born invisible.
My thoughts: I love the premise of this book: cursed by his own grandfather before he was born, Stephen has never been visible to another human being. Not even himself. He lives an invisible life, never interacting or connecting with anyone. But that all changes when Elizabeth moves in down the hall. Because Elizabeth can see him. And maybe she can break his curse. It's the bond that develops between Stephen and Elizabeth that I liked most about this book. What I didn't love is how the chapters alternate between Stephen's and Elizabeth's points of view. (And does every YA novel have to be written in first person?) Despite this, Invisibility gets points for creativity and is definitely a novel worth checking out.