Thursday, December 29, 2016

A few bookish stats...

Five fiction favs that I read this year and loved, but didn't blog about:

  • Seeking Persephone by Sarah M. Eden
  • When Falcons Fall by C. S. Harris
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • Dead Iron by Devon Monk
Biggest disappointment (but only because my expectations were so high!):

  • Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

Favorite non-fiction read:  Leonard by William Shatner

Favorite new series: The Pax Arcana series by Elliott James starring a very charming John Charming

2016 Reading Challenges finished:
Reading New England
Reading England
Reading Bingo

2016 By the Numbers:
# of books read from my TBR shelf:  5
# of new books added to my TBR shelf: 6
(That's a net loss; I really need to do better next year!)
# of Classics read:  14
# of Rereads:  11
# of Non-fiction reads:  16
# of Fiction books read:  131

From newly published books to the classics, mysteries and romance, science fiction, young adult, fantasy and suspense, I'd say 2016 was a good reading year for me. I had a lot of fun discovering new authors and revisiting favorite ones. And I already have a long list of books I can't wait to read next year.

Happy 2016!
(And Happy Reading.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Top 10 Fiction Reads of 2016:

1.  Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
2.  Positive by David Wellington
3.  Say You're Sorry by Michael Robotham
4.  Alice by Christina Henry
5.  Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson
6.  'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
7.  Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen   
8.  Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson  
9.  Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
10.  The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Seasons Greetings!

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given...

...and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Shades of Milk and Honey...

9 similarities between this novel and the novels of Jane Austen:
  • One plain and level-headed older sister
  • One more impulsive and reckless younger sister
  • An entailed estate
  • A recently returned Navy captain
  • A secret engagement
  • The mention of Gothic novels, especially those written by Ann Radcliffe, and their deleterious effect on impressionable young ladies
  • A mother who's a hypochondriac
  • A dark and brooding gentleman
  • Several romantic entanglements and misunderstandings

And 1 notable difference:
  • Mary Robinette Kowal's characters can do magic, weaving artistic glamours with the ether to hide certain flaws, and to make their homes seem wealthier and their environments more beautiful.

This Regency romance revolves around Jane Ellsworth and her younger sister, Melody, and their quest to find husbands (although Jane, at 28, has pretty much resigned herself to remaining a spinster). Pretty Melody turns heads while plain Jane spins and folds the ether into skilled glamours. Enter the men:  the young and dashing Captain Henry Livingstone, their eligible neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, and the artistic and mysterious Mr. Vincent. One of them is a scoundrel of the worst kind, but which one? What ensues is a light comedy of errors with romantic machinations and misadventures, magic and true love. I really liked Jane; Melody, on the other hand, was so selfish and contemptuous of her older sister that I mostly just wanted to slap her. (Jane is much more forgiving than I am.) There are a few twists in this book, but pretty predictable ones. I saw most of them coming. And while the antagonistic relationship between Jane and Mr. Vincent hardly rivals that of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, it does have its moments. So even with its flaws, Shades of Milk and Honey is a fun, light-hearted novel. In fact, I'd read Mary Robinette Kowal again, especially if she's writing about these characters.

Happy Reading!

Similar Reads:
   Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
   The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

Sunday, December 18, 2016


5 things you need to know about Jae Hwa Lee:
She's Korean-American.
She's 16.
She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
She's an expert archer with a Korean horn bow.
And the Korean demigod, Haemosu, wants her for his bride.

Gilded, by Christina Farley, is a fun YA magical adventure. After Jae's mother dies of cancer, her father decides to move back to Seoul, Korea. There, he enrolls Jae at the International School where she meets a boy named Marc who makes her feel awkward and tongue-tied every time they talk, and whose smile makes her blush a bright fiery red. Jae has one other problem, a much more serious one. She's the oldest daughter in her family and a direct descendant of Princess Yuhwa, the very first girl stolen away by Haemosu generations ago. And now Haemosu has come for Jae. Somehow Jae must find a way to fight him off, free the souls of her dead ancestors, and break their family curse forever. All while keeping up with her schoolwork. Luckily, she has her grandfather's help. The Blue Dragon's magical bow. And Marc.

I think what I enjoyed most about this novel is how Farley is able to mix together modern-day life in Seoul with so many ancient Korean folktales and myths; it makes for a fascinating setting. But I also liked Jae. She's impulsive and makes some dumb mistakes, but she's also a spunky 16-year-old girl dealing with some pretty fantastic stuff. And her hesitant relationship with Marc made me smile. After all, it's hard enough being a teenage girl without also having to deal with destiny and a bunch of mythological monsters come to life. I probably won't read the sequel, but I did enjoy Gilded.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December's Bookish Art...

Vanessa Bell -- Amaryllis and Henrietta, 1912
Reading is Bliss!
--Nora Ephron

Happy Reading!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

 "No one would come to live at The Eagles for fun."

The only reason Viola Withers has come to stay with her in-laws at The Eagles just outside Chesterbourne in Essex, England, is because she's recently widowed, she's penniless, and she has nowhere else to go. If only her Shakespeare-loving father were still alive, or her father-in-law weren't such a gloomy miser, or her two sisters-in-law, Madge and Tina, were closer to her own age and more lively. But everyone at The Eagles seems so old (except for Saxon, the handsome chauffeur), and nothing exciting ever happens there. Still young, and not exactly grieving for her dead husband, Viola can't stop daydreaming about someday meeting Victor Spring, their rich, attractive neighbor. But she's not in his league. She's also not the kind of girl that boys ever seem to notice. Still, a girl can dream. After all, every Cinderella should get her chance at a happy ending.
"The room seemed full of brilliant sunlight and the song of the blackbirds in the garden sounded so loud and sweet that she wanted to sing too. She was going to the Ball! and He would be there! She would wear her silver dancing shoes again and have her hair waved, and get some new pearl earrings from Woolworth's (no one would know they came from Woolworth's. Of course, you always knew when other people's ear-rings came from Woolworth's but they never guessed about yours). Perhaps he would dance with her; a waltz, slow and dreamy, or quick and exciting."
Stella Gibbons not only excels at creating endearingly eccentric characters, but at weaving together their rather unremarkable and ordinary lives into a story that is charming, witty, poignant, satiric and never dull. She referred to Nightingale Wood, which was written in 1938, as a "Romantic Comedy" and it is, with some great slang-y dialogue and a few unexpected twists along the way. I enjoyed it almost as much as I did Cold Comfort Farm. Gibbons doesn't take herself or her stories too seriously, which is refreshing. They're simple, fun reads from start to finish. So if you like the novels of Barbara Pym or Elizabeth Gaskell with just a hint of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think you'll like this one, too.

Happy Reading!  

Friday, December 9, 2016

I want a snow day!

A day all to myself.  A day to stay home from work.  A day free from waking up in the dark, scraping the snow and ice off my car windows, fighting the traffic on my way to work, and the impatient holiday crowds on my way home. One whole day with no errands to run, no work to complete, and no items to cross off my To Do list. Wouldn't that be nice?

What I could do with a day like that!  I'd sleep in.  Take a walk in the snow.  Watch a Christmas-y movie.  Bake a yummy treat.  Wrap some presents.  Then curl up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book or two and I'd read.  And read.  And read.  How I would love a day like that!  (Only I wish it would come without the snow!)

Here's to dreaming!
(And happy reading.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Murder and Mystery...

What do you get when you combine one snowbound train, one rich American found stabbed to death in his own locked sleeping compartment, one world-renown mustachioed detective, and twelve unrelated passengers who are all now murder suspects? Agatha Christie's classic mystery Murder on the Orient Express. After studying the dead man's compartment and interviewing the other passengers one by one, it's up to Hercule Poirot to solve the murder and apprehend the killer before the snow is cleared from the tracks, or the murderer strikes again.
"We know now all that we can know," said Poirot. "We have the evidence of the passengers, the evidence of their baggage, the evidence of our eyes. We can expect no further help. It must be our part now to use our brains."

I'm so glad that Agatha Christie's novels are still in print because I love reading them. I love her crisp prose, her well-drawn characters, and her ever-puzzling mysteries. I also love her sense of humor. Like when Mary Debenham, an English governess, first sees Poirot with his "enormous moustaches" and "egg-shaped head" and thinks to herself that he's "a ridiculous-looking little man. The sort of little man one could never take seriously." Christie can be unexpectedly funny. And Murder on the Orient Express is one of her best. I thoroughly enjoyed going on this bookish ride as Hercule Poirot figured out the who, what and why. I haven't read all of Christie's novels (yet), but here are three of my favorites if you want to give her books a try: The Seven Dials Mystery, Cat Among the Pigeons, and Sparkling Cyanide. 

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Reading England Challenge...

The Goal:  To travel England by reading, and read at least one book per however many counties of England you decide to read.

This was a fun reading challenge hosted by Behold the Stars, and a great literary pilgrimage across England as well. I ended up reading 11 books set in 9 different counties, which means I reached Level 3 -- Reading 7-12 counties. Yay! Here are the books I read for the Reading England 2016 Challenge and the counties where they are set:

Jacob's Room  by Virginia Woolf

Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Seeking Persephone by Sarah M. Eden

When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A bookish treat...

Title:  The Bookshop on the Corner
Author:  Jenny Colgan
First line:  The problem with good things that happen is that very often they disguise themselves as awful things.
The protagonist:  Nina Redmond, a shy 29-year-old single librarian who describes herself as "the quiet one, on the sidelines, observing things through the medium of the novels she loved to read." Her world consists of books, and more books. But then they close her library and Nina has no idea what she's going to do next. Unless she opens up her own small bookshop in an old converted van...

My thoughts:  This is a novel about books and reading, and daring to follow your dreams, AND it's set in Scotland where the men are 'boys' and the women are 'lasses'. What's not to love? I've never read Jenny Colgan before, but I'd definitely read her again. This book is a delight, from Nina's early mishaps driving the van, to the slightly motley yet oddly engaging assortment of characters she meets along the way, to her own unexpected romance. There's even a dog named Parsley. The whole thing is a lot of fun. In fact, I think I'd happily live in this book if I could. I didn't even mind the predictable bits. I just lost myself in the Scottish landscape and enjoyed each and every page. So, if you like bookshops and happy endings, give this one a try.

Happy Reading!

Similar read:

Saturday, November 26, 2016

In Order to Live

"I wasn't dreaming of freedom when I escaped from North Korea. I didn't even know what it meant to be free. All I knew was that if my family stayed behind, we would probably die--from starvation, from disease, from the inhuman conditions of a prison labor camp. The hunger had become unbearable; I was willing to risk my life for the promise of a bowl of rice."

Yeonmi Park's story of growing up in North Korea is one of deprivation, oppression, hardship, and struggle. Her escape into China when she was only thirteen is an even more harrowing tale of suffering and survival. I doubt I could have endured even half of what she went through. Reading her story made me appreciate even more the country I live in, and the freedoms I enjoy...and often take for granted. It breaks my heart to think that such terrible atrocities are still happening in the world today, and that oppressive societies like North Korea still exist. How is that even possible?

Park's unflinching memoir is both eye-opening and heart-breaking. It's also a story that everyone should read! I think what I admire most about Yeonmi Park is her courage, resilience, and inner strength; and her hope and optimism through it all. (And the fact that she loves books and reading as much as I do.) In writing this book, she says, "I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea. Both of these events shaped me, and I would not trade them for an ordinary and peaceful life ... I have seen the horrors that humans can inflict on one another, but I've also witnessed acts of tenderness and kindness and sacrifice in the worst imaginable circumstances. I know that it is possible to lose part of your humanity in order to survive. But I also know that the spark of human dignity is never completely extinguished, and that given the oxygen of freedom and the power of love, it can grow again."

Happy Reading!

Similar reads:
Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks...

I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.
--William Shakespeare

"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings."
--William Arthur Ward  

"O give thanks unto the Lord;for he is good: 
for his mercy endureth forever."
Psalms 136:1

"At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I've never emerged."
--Patch Adams     

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
--Thomas S. Monson

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Some people grumble that roses have thorns;
   I am grateful that thorns have roses."
                                               --Alphonse Karr

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.
Have you used one to say "Thank You?"
--William A. Ward

Monday, November 21, 2016

A bookish update...

Just finished reading:
(Gotta love Flavia de Luce!)

Quote of the day:
"We make zero percent of the shots we don't take."
--Michael Jordan

Don't miss this fantastic movie:

Recently checked out from the library:
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham
Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer
The Woman in the Photograph by Dana Gynther
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Up Next:

  Happy Reading! 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Among the Wicked...

"My name is Kate Burkholder and I'm the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio, a township of just over 5,300 souls, half of whom are Amish, including my own family. I left the fold when I was eighteen, not an easy feat when all I'd ever known was the plain life..."

In this latest Linda Castillo mystery, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder has been asked to help out on a case in upstate New York investigating the suspicious death of Rachel Esh, a 15-year-old Amish girl. But in order to do so, Kate must go undercover and join this isolated Amish community as a newly widowed Amish woman. Roaring Springs is a community that's led by Bishop Eli Schrock, a strict believer in rules and order and in keeping separate from the outside world. He also likes to keep a tight rein on the members of his community, which makes it that much more challenging for Kate to fit in there, not to mention being able to sort out the truth from all the rumors and secrets swirling about Rachel's death...and around Eli Schrock himself. It makes it a lot more dangerous for her, too.

Part of the appeal of this series for me is that it's set in Amish country, and every mystery revolves around the Amish in some way. They have such an interesting culture; I like novels that explore their way of life. I also like Kate Burkholder. She's a strong female character, with intelligence and heart, who tends to get a bit headstrong and stubborn when it comes to solving a case. And the mystery in Among the Wicked, which goes deeper than anyone suspects, pushes Kate to her limits. And it has an ending that I never came close to guessing. I found it unputdownable. It's nice to read a book as well-written and good as this one. I guess that's why this mystery series is one of my favorites.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November's Bookish Art...

Charles Louis Baugniet -- The Reader
"If there's one thing that never happens enough,
it's reading for the plain fun of it."
--Gordon Korman

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Cold Comfort Farm

"The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered  to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living."

With only one hundred pounds a year to her name, Flora Poste decides to see how long she can live off of her relatives. That's how she ends up in Howling, Sussex at Cold Comfort Farm at the home of her Starkadder cousins. Their farm is well-named and apparently carries a curse. The Starkadders themselves are an eccentric, dismal bunch, from old Aunt Ada Doom who never leaves her room upstairs, to young unschooled Elfine who runs wild across the Downs. Then there's Flora's cousin, Judith, who hints at a wrong done to Flora's father sometime in the past, but who won't say what it was or when it happened. Despite all of this, Flora is determined to "tidy up life at Cold Comfort" and make it better for everyone.

Her campaign meets with some resistance at first, but Flora is nothing if not persistent. She's also spirited, self-assured, and thinks she knows what's best for the Starkadders. ALL the Starkadders! I liked her confidence and pluck. I also ended up liking Cold Comfort Farm quite a lot. It's such a fun and witty novel. I enjoyed watching Flora's well-meaning schemes and machinations play out. Plus, the ending is great. It makes me wonder why more people don't read Stella Gibbons. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say, "Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favorite novels." Which is sad. Because it should be. It's definitely become one of mine.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A bookish memory...

One of the first books I remember being able to read all on my own is Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop. I especially liked the feeling I got when I mastered the two long words at the end:  Timbuktu and Constantinople.  My Dad even helped me find them on a map. I think that's when my desire to travel to exotic places first began. With those two words. Timbuktu and Constantinople. All because of Dr. Seuss.

Then, in the first grade, I fell in love with Hugo the Hippo by Thomas Baum. Don't ask me why. But I got it from a Scholastic book order and I read it incessantly that entire year. (Apparently, it was an animated film first...which I never knew until now.) I think I still have it in a box somewhere, a bit ratty and torn and yellow with age, but very well-loved. It's a story that takes place in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Two more words that are fun to say, and two more exotic places I've always longed to visit. All because of a children's picture book.

It was Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Frasier that led me to Edinburgh, and House of Rain by Craig Childs that sent me on a road trip to Hovenweep, Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. And while I haven't been to Zanzibar or Timbuktu yet, I still dream of traveling to both of those places, just as I still remember those two books that started me dreaming in the first place.

Aren't books wonderful?
Happy Reading!

Monday, November 7, 2016

From the N Shelf...

Author:  William Norwich
Title:  My Mrs. Brown
First line:  Early one September not long ago, a rural woman with a secret grief traveled to New York City in pursuit of a dream, to buy the most beautiful and correct dress she'd ever seen.

It's a great opening line, isn't it? I was hooked with just that. But then, on the next page, I found out it gets even better:
This daring voyager was Emilia Brown, or Mrs. Brown as she was generally known in her hometown, Ashville Rhode Island. She was sixty-six years old, a widow; if she was a scent, she was tea with honey, but if she was a color, she was a study in gray. Whether from the friction of living without life's buffering luxuries and engaging ambitions, or by the reduction of dreams and expectations that comes with age:  gray. Mrs. Brown was drained of color. Except for her green-brown eyes. If and when she smiled, well, it was like watching a rose open in one of those time-lapse films, and her eyes, spring flowers at twilight, lit up her face.
 Ordinary, dignified, humble and quiet, Mrs. Brown makes an impression on all those she meets. And so does her dream of owning this one perfect designer dress that will finally answer some secret need deep inside her heart. Because "sometimes a dress is not just a dress. It's a symbol" of something more. Reminiscent of Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, which Norwich references several times, My Mrs. Brown is a beautifully written, character-driven story. It's both poignant and charming. I loved all the women in this book, and there are several:  Florida Noble, the fashion model who comes to stay for a few months, Rachel, director of Public Relations for Oscar de la Renta and a new friend, and Alice, Mrs. Brown's next-door neighbor's granddaughter who comes over for tea after work. But I especially loved Emilia Brown. I loved her quiet dignity and her wisdom and her grace. She's unforgettable!

I'm so glad I found this delightful gem hiding among the novels of Neggers, Nesbo and Nunes. It's such a good read! In fact, it was in the hopes of finding books just like this one that I started Reading the Alphabet in the first place. My Mrs. Brown is definitely one of my favorite books of 2016. Here's to bookish serendipity from the N shelf.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 3, 2016


I finally finished Reading Bingo 2016! Courtesy of  Unruly Reader, this year's bingo card was a lot of fun; some categories were really easy to fill, others a little more challenging. Here are the books I read:

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Beach Read:
Charming by Elliott James

Children's Classic:
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Compelling Review:
Find Her by Lisa Gardner
(Thanks Nadia!)

Stranded by Melinda Braun

Embarrassed to Admit... that I actually finished this crass, stupid book:
Office Girl by Joe Meno

Endorsed by an Author:
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Everyone's Reading It:
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Positive by David Wellington

 In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vadday Ratner
Bound by Sally Gunning

Improve Your Life:
Achieve Anything in Just One Year by Jason Harvey

And the Good News Is... by Dana Perino

Law and Order:
Gone Missing by Linda Castillo
Fear the Dark by Kay Hooper
Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster

Adrenalized: Life, Def Leppard, and Beyond by Phil Collen

National Book Award:
The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron

Older Than My Mom:
Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy

Red Girl, Blue Boy by Lauren Boratz-Logsted

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

Suburban Ennui:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Title Attraction:
Choose Your Own Love Story by Ilyse Mimoun

The Silence of Ghosts by Jonathan Aycliffe
Girl 4 by Will Carver

Ugly Cover:
The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

(Can you guess my favorite bingo reads?)
Happy Reading!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Casting the Runes...

The ghost stories of M.R. James are regarded as among the best in the genre. Born in England in 1862, Montague Rhodes James was a medievalist scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge; but he's best known for his supernatural tales. Regarding them, James said, "Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo. Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage."  Above all, James felt that his ghosts "should be malevolent or odious."

Which make these the perfect stories to read at Halloween. James' collection, Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories, contains several subtle tales of eerie suspense. I especially liked "A School Story", "Casting the Runes", and "Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance". Not all of them were as good, though; a few of the stories showed their age with a slower narrative style and endings that felt a little anti-climatic. But that's Victorian writing for you. Still, if you like a classic ghost story, try some of M.R. James'. Or, if you happen to prefer Victorian vampire stories, check out Dracula's Guest edited by Michael Sims. It's a fabulous collection of classic vampire tales written by the likes of Lord Byron, Aleksei Tolstoy, Hume Nisbet, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Mary Chalmondeley and Bram Stoker.

Happy Reading!

And Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Favorite Halloween Movies

The Funny...

The Quietly Suspenseful...

The Classic...

(Although I also love any classic monster movie that has
Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff in Dracula and The Mummy.)

And, of course, the Scary...

What movie will you be watching this Halloween?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Going Gothic...

Anya Seton's Dragonwyck has the same Gothic atmosphere and underlying tension as Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. This historical fiction novel is set in 1844 in the Hudson River Valley, where many old Dutch families settled on large estates they called manors. Into this old-world and monied luxury comes a young farm girl from Connecticut.  Poor Miranda Wells. At 18, she's naive and unsophisticated and longs for a life beyond the narrow confines of her father's strict morality. She dreams of adventure, travel, and romance. So when her cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn, invites her to stay at Dragonwyck with him and his wife, Johanna, she begs her parents to allow her to go. Somewhat reluctantly, they agree.

For Miranda, life with the Van Ryn's is like entering another world.  "...her first sight of Dragonwyck was the most vivid and significant impression of her life. She stared at the fantastic silhouette which loomed dark against the eastern sky, the spires and gables and chimneys dominated in the center by one high tower; and it was as though the good and evil, the happiness and tragedy, which she was to experience under that roof materialized into physical force and struck across the quiet river into her soul."

It doesn't take long before Miranda is enamored of her handsome, well-educated and worldly cousin. Nicholas is very charming when he wants to be, although he can also be very cold and cutting. He is a man who is a little "too polite" to his obese, dull wife; a man with hidden depths of violence. But Miranda can't help falling in love with him. There is both mystery and romance, tragedy and drama, in this Gothic novel. And Seton's writing is amazing. Even when I could see exactly where this story was headed, I couldn't put it down.

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Shiver by Alex Nye

5 signs your house might be haunted:
flickering lights
pockets of extreme cold
strange creaks and murmurings in the hallway
footsteps when no one is there
ghostly laughter

In Shiver by Alex Nye, Samuel Cunningham and Fiona Morton discover a secret staircase behind the library fireplace that leads to a dead end in the tower of Dunadd House. Their passage not only disturbs the dust, but the two ghost-children hiding there. Eliza and John died in 1604. But now they're awake, and Eliza is feeling very much alive. Samuel and Fiona, along with Fiona's two older brothers, are determined to find out what's hiding at the end of the secret staircase, and why Eliza and John are haunting Dunadd House. But they might be treading on dangerous ground. Because...

"Ghosts are best left to themselves."

So why did I check this middle-grade fiction book out of the library? Because it's set in a haunted house in Scotland. And I love Scotland...and I also love haunted-house stories. But Shiver isn't just a ghost story. It's also a mystery. And there's a blizzard. And a hidden room containing buried secrets from the past. And an adventure. And Samuel and Fiona, and Fiona's brothers, Sebastian and Charles, are very fun characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a well-written, satisfying ghost story. And the perfect October read.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October's Bookish Art...

Winslow Homer -- Girl Reading 
A woman is the only creature that cannot be defined in two consecutive sentences."
--Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Nautical Chart

Happy Reading! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

Detective extraordinaire R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook, are back with another supernatural mystery to solve. This one involves Jenny Cavanagh, the ghost who shares Jackaby's house, and her decade-old murder. Jenny is finally ready to know the truth about her death. But there's more to this mystery than who killded Jenny. And the why of it leads Abigail and Jackaby on another strange adventure that includes a mad scientist, a vampire, a shadowy organization, a magical plot, a short trip to the afterlife, and a machine that will change the world. It also left me on the edge of my seat anxiously awaiting the next book in this fabulous series.

I love Abigail Rook and her quirky, psychic employer. They are a great combination. And it was fun to have the ghostly Jenny take a more active role in this story.  And Charlie Cane is in it, too! (He's in the first two books and a favorite character of mine.) Strange things are afoot in New Fiddleham in Ghostly Echoes, and I enjoyed every moment of this fun supernatural adventure. Now if only William Ritter would hurry up and write the next book!

Happy Reading!

Be sure to read these first:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bookish thoughts...

On Daphne du Maurier.  After reading Rebecca, several of her short stories, and My Cousin Rachel this year, I'm eager to read more of her work. And she's written a lot to choose from, both fiction and non-fiction. I'm leaning towards The Scapegoat or The House on the Strand. Or maybe Jamaica Inn or Frenchman's Creek.  Luckily, my library has copies of all of them.  The only problem is deciding which to read first. Which would you recommend?

On Mother Teresa.  Pope Francis made her a Saint last month. It's pretty obvious why. Like everyone else, I admired the way she lived her life--her compassion and selflessness and her devotion to God. I also admired many of the things she said and wrote. Here's my favorite Mother Teresa quote:
      If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
      If you hare honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
      If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
      The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
      Give the world your best and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
      For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway.

A blog recommendation.  Want to read a blog with posts that are well-written, thoughtful, articulate and humorous? Check out My Life as a Harvard Reject. It's all of these things and more. It's also written by my nephew. So take a minute and click over to his blog and read a few of his amazing posts. They're worth reading; I promise you won't be sorry.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray

It's 1821, and an unexpected inheritance brings Katherine Randolph and her older brother, George, from their farm in Virginia all the way to England. It's not an easy transition, but Katherine is working hard to learn the rules of etiquette and how to act as a proper lady. Her cousins, Grace and Henry, are there to help. And George. But then, the morning after their introduction ball, George is found dead. Drowned. Every one thinks it's a tragic accident, but Katherine believes someone killed him. And her insistence that her brother was murdered soon puts her own life in danger.

While Katherine falls in love a little too quickly for my tastes, she's also a spunky and determined heroine. I liked how she never gives in to her two cousins, or to anyone else. After all, Katherine isn't a delicate English maiden; she's a fearless Virginian farm girl who knows how to shoot a gun and defend herself. Her own brother calls her Wildcat. I only wish I could have gotten to know her brother better; I suspect I would have liked him, too. And while it was pretty obvious who was behind George's death, there is a twist at the end that I wasn't expecting. Overall, this YA mystery is a fun read. I did find myself wishing that the author had fleshed out certain scenes and characters more than she did though. At only 245 pages, this story sometimes felt a little thin and rushed. But then, if it had been over 400 pages, I'd probably be complaining that it was way too long and needed editing. Isn't that the way it goes?

Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bookish thrills and chills...

Title:  1222 by Anne Holt
First line:  As it was only the train driver who died, you couldn't call it a disaster.
Summary from the blurb:  "A train on its way to the northern reaches of Norway derails during a massive blizzard, 1222 meters above sea level. The passengers abandon the train for a nearby hotel, centuries-old and practically empty, except for the staff. With plenty of food and shelter from the storm, the passengers think they are safe, until one of them is found dead the next morning."  Paralyzed by a bullet, retired police inspector Hanne Wilhemsen is among the rescued passengers. And when old instincts kick in, she can't help investigating her fellow passengers. But time is running out. "Trapped in her wheelchair, trapped by the storm, and now trapped with a killer, Hanne must fit the pieces of the puzzle together before the killer strikes again."

My thoughts:  It was the whole trapped-in-a-snowstorm setting that drew me to this Norwegian mystery. I blame my fascination with bookish blizzards on having read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder so many times as a child. And this locked-room murder mystery is a pretty good read. At times, especially when the murderer is revealed at the end, it reminded me of an Agatha Christie novel. Holt creates some great characters. although it took me several pages before I started to warm up to Hanne, who's a very distant and guarded woman. Adrian, a fifteen-year-old teenage runaway with a sullen disposition and a penchant for angry outbursts was my favorite character; he reluctantly helps Hanne with her investigation. My only real complaint is that for a supposed thriller, 1222 is actually a pretty slow read. I blame that on the first-person narrative. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting mystery, but I wouldn't call it a fast-paced page turner. Personally, I prefer the mysteries of Kristina Ohlsson and Yrsa Sigurdardottir to this one.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 3, 2016

A gallimaufry

gallimaufry - n. hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley; mishmash

That's what this post is. A confused medley of some of my favorite things, chosen at random, just for fun.

"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


Flammulated Owl -- #150 on my list

Pumpkin Pancakes:

1 3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. canned pumpkin
1 egg
2 Tbls. vegetable oil

Combine ingredients. Then add:
2 c. flour
2 Tbls. brown sugar
1 Tbls. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt

Mix together until moistened. Heat griddle. Pour 1/4 c. batter onto grill. Cook on both sides. Serve.

Wake not the Dead:--they bring but gloomy night
And cheerless desolation into day...
That which from life is pluck'd, becomes the foe
Of life, and whoso wakes it waketh woe.
Seek not the dead to waken from that sleep
In which from mortal eye they lie enshrouded deep.
--Johann Ludwig Tieck

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

I Dare You!

"Before I started my Year of Firsts, I was stuck ... But, as I discovered during the year, it's the smallest changes that eventually change everything:  They got me "unstuck". They brought the life back into my life. And they also made me realize something incredibly important:  Firsts don't have to be big, dramatic, and risky to recharge and reinvent your life. By just trying small things, you begin to see the world around you with fresh, child's eyes ... Firsts are the antidote for being stuck."

In I Dare Me, Lu Ann Cahn chronicles her year of trying one new thing every single day; and she does it in a way that's joyful, entertaining, and inspiring. By the end of the book, I wanted to make a list of Firsts and try a bunch of new things, too. Maybe not an entire year of them, but still...  Cahn's Firsts ranged from participating in a Polar Bear Plunge, eating Ethiopian food, climbing a tree, teaching a class, riding a mechanical bull, and baking a cake. She tried exciting things, scary things, easy, fun things, and things that challenged her and helped her to grow. And it changed her life. I loved her humor, and her tips and advice on new things to try, and all the wonderful quotes she includes throughout this book. It's a great weekend read!
"My hope is I Dare Me dares you! I want you to look at your world with new eyes, to make your own list of Firsts, to stop waiting for someone to rescue you from whatever you can't control and to rescue yourself with something new every day. That's how your life starts to change, one First at a time ... My world opened up and is still evolving today as a result of my Year of Firsts. It's my greatest hope that you find a similar spark somewhere in these pages, something that lights a fire under you to make this not just a life, but your best life. I dare you."
Happy Reading!

Similar read:  My Year With Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading New England Challenge...

This reading challenge, hosted by The Emerald City Book Review, has several different challenge levels, from reading just one book to reading twelve. I chose to do the Six State Challenge because I thought reading a book set in each of the six New England states sounded like fun, and because I thought I could successfully complete it. And I did!

Here are the six books I read:

For Maine:  Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen
For New Hampshire:  Light on Snow by Anita Shreve
For Vermont:  Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
For Massachusetts:  The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent
(Although I later read Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl,
which is also set in Massachusetts, and which I ended up liking a lot better.)
For Connecticut:  The Inheritance by Tom Savage
For Rhode Island: A Gilded Grave

I had a lot of fun completing this reading challenge. And I added several other New England books to my TBR list like Olive Kitteridge, The Secret History, Folly, It and The Boston Girl, which means I just might do this reading challenge again next year all on my own. Of the books I read this year, my two favorite were Small as an Elephant and A Gilded Grave. But I'm glad to have read all six. So thank you, Lory, for hosting this great reading challenge!

And Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

September's Bookish Art...

Hans Olaf Heyerdahl - At the Window
"One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, 
for words have the power to change us."
--Cassandra Clare

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Cousin Rachel...

"There are some women, Philip, good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch somehow turns to tragedy."
Orphaned at a young age, Philip Ashley is raised by his older cousin, Ambrose, who becomes both father and older brother, mentor and friend to him. Heir to Ambrose's estate in Cornwall, Philip doesn't expect anything to ever change between them. But then, while wintering alone in Florence, Ambrose meets a distant cousin. Rachel is young, beautiful and widowed. And Ambrose, a confirmed bachelor his entire life, unexpectedly decides to marry her. Back home in Cornwall, Philip is surprised. And a little jealous. Though he's never met her, he instinctively doesn't like her. And when Ambrose dies in Florence only a year later, Philip's mistrust of Rachel grows. Did she have something to do with Ambrose's death?

Then Rachel comes to Cornwall. And when Philip finally meets her face to face, everything changes. Because she's not what he expected; she's intelligent and perceptive and alluring and unlike any other woman he's ever known. And Philip finds himself enchanted by her. But is she what she seems to be? Can Philip really trust her, or is there more to Rachel and her past than she's telling? As the mystery of Rachel slowly unfolds, Philip begins to question her motives and her past and everything he thought he knew about her.
"... every day, haunted still by doubt, I ask myself a question which I cannot answer. Was Rachel innocent or guilty?"
I really liked this book.  And I love the way Daphne du Maurier writes:  her descriptions, her complicated characters, and the way she keeps her readers off-balance and guessing right up to the very end. In My Cousin Rachel, Philip and Rachel are a study of contrasts:  he's young and earnest and inexperienced, especially where women are concerned, while Rachel's past has made her older than her years and much more worldly and calculating. They view life from opposite ends of the spectrum. But Rachel can also be charming and kind and seems to care for Philip. He looks just like Ambrose, after all. But is it real, or all just an act to get at his money? Du Maurier drops hints and clues, throws in a few contradictions, and leaves Rachel a mystery. A beautifully complicated mystery. A week after finishing this book, I'm still thinking about it. And about young Philip Ashley. And, of course, about Rachel. I love books that linger like this one has. Even with its sad ending.

What was especially fun about reading this book was reading it with Bettina. She's a fan of Daphne du Maurier, too. So be sure to check out her blog, and her review of My Cousin Rachel. It's a good one!

Happy Reading!

Similar read:  Rebecca

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A bookish update...

Just finished reading: 

Other reading news:
Bettina (at Bettina's Impressions) and I have both been reading My Cousin Rachel this month. It's been a lot of fun chatting with her about this Daphne du Maurier classic. And we'll both be posting our reviews of it later this week. So stay tuned!

Been watching:

(Because I got the DVD for my birthday last month...and who doesn't love
Jane Austen with a few zombies thrown in for fun?)

Just checked out of the library:
The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
Murder in Morningside Heights by Victoria Thompson
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
1222 by Anne Holt
Gideon by Alex Gordon

Up Next:

Happy Reading!