Tag Archives: book review

Favorite Reads of 2010

Wow, 60 books in 2010, not 50! I have to say it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I could have probably done even better because there were definitely weeks of not reading at all. I’m happy I met my intention and went beyond, it really did demonstrate to myself that I could do something if I put my mind to it. Not only did I read those books, but I blogged about every single one. Hurray!

Top 10 Books in 2010 (in no order):

1.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

2. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

3. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

4. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

5. Crazy Sexy Cancer by Kris Carr

6. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

7.  The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

8. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin S. Sharma

9. The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate

10. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman

-Kelly

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Mystery Awaits

A fan of Kate Morton, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the publication of her recent novel The Distant Hours. This book follows the same themes as her others: crisscrossing back and forth throughout time, a wealthy family, a palace, and terrible secrets enveloped in mystery. Although this is what I have come to expect, each of her stories are very different and stand out in their own right.

The book begins with a letter posted in 1941 finally reaching its destination in 1992 with invoking a mystery for the main character, Edie. She learns of elderly twins Persephone and Seraphina and their younger half-sister, Juniper, the three spinster daughters of the late author Raymond Blythe.  The letter is addressed to Meredith, Edie’s mother, then a young girl who was evacuated to their home, Milderhurst Castle, during the Blitz of WWII. Edie, who’s later invited to write an introduction to a reprint of Raymond’s most famous story, visits the three women in search of answers.

This was definitely not my favorite of Kate Morton’s novels, in fact it probably scores last out of the three. It dragged at the beginning and quite frankly the storyline wasn’t as interesting as the others. The ending did provide a surprise though, which was a saving grace. I do admire this author’s descriptive writing skill and ability to weave intricate stories within the main plot. Definitely pick up The Forgotten Garden (one of my all time favorite books) and leave this one for later.

-Kelly

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Scrumptious Meal

Apparently I am unconsciously attracted to books with recipes in them, because yet another random choice of mine has led me to a book with an Italian cooking theme. The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate is a newbie, and one of a long list of goodies by this author. I can always count on this writer to deliver a cute story with a decent plot, usually set in New England.

This novel was set on Blue Crab Island in Maine. The protagonist is 30-year-old Holly Maguire who inherits her grandmother’s house and business, Camilla’s Cucinotta, when she suddenly passes away. Camilla is not only famous on the island for her home-made pasta, sauces, and cooking classes, but she was also a revered fortune-teller who could tell women who their love interests would be. Holly finds herself over her head when she begins to take over her grandmother’s responsibilities, but decides to keep her memory alive by continuing the cooking classes despite her less than perfect abilities in the kitchen. Armed with her grandmother’s recipes, Holly begins teaching her class of four students: a recently divorced father who wants to impress his daughter by making her favorite dish, a single woman who was signed up for the class to meet men by her overbearing mother, Holly’s old childhood friend who is mending a broken heart, and 12 year-old Mia, Holly’s apprentice whose main goal is to rid her father of a terrible girlfriend. It’s an unlikely group but within the main story line weaves their own tales of wishes, dreams, and happy and sad memories which are all important ingredients in all of Camilla’s recipes.

This was truly a heart-warming story set with a lovely back-drop of coastal Maine. It wasn’t my all time favorite of this author, but definitely worth the read, as I am a long-standing fan. Disclaimer: Don’t read this book if you’re hungry because the detailed descriptions of yummy Italian food will have your mouth watering!

-Kelly

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Civil War Tale

My last post introduced one of my favorite historical fiction authors, and I expressed a little disappointment with one of her latest books  I chose to read. But my past experiences with her wonderful novels brought me back for more when I picked up Girl in Blue .  Now here is the Ann Rinaldi I love! She brought me right back to what I love best about good historical fiction, which is a familiar plot taken to another level by the creative writing process.

As a self-professed American history nerd and a middle school social studies teacher, I have a confession. I really dislike the Civil War era. And by dislike I mean HATE. It could be that I shudder hearing the southern accent in my head. Or it could be that I envision a lot of heat and dirt in Georgia. Or, maybe it’s my tiny prejudice against (or ignorance about) southern people.  However my love for women’s history trumps my inherent dislike of the Civil War. This book was awesome because it chronicles the life of a 16 year old Michigan girl who masquerades as a Union soldier and then becomes a Pinkerton spy. I don’t want to give too much away, so just know that this book not only has a historical backdrop but it also has elements of incredible excitement, fear, and a teensy bit of romance.

In other news, I currently have five books checked out from the library and one in transit. I am curious to see how this plays out. I have a well documented habit of checking out books, letting them collect dust, and then bringing them back to their home. Hopefully I can reverse this pattern, get through them at a decent pace, and won’t lose interest only to bring them back to their home in the stacks!

-Kelly

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Fabulous Author

I’ve been reading Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction for over ten years. She has written countless novels about American history inserting a fictional character in a famous event, giving a fresh point of view. You have to respect the research that goes into doing this. That being said I have loved most of her work, some more then others. During this past library trip I realized there are a number novels I have yet to read, so I borrowed three.  The Civil War isn’t my favorite topic in American history but since I love Ann Rinaldi, I’ll read whatever she writes, which happens to be a lot of Civil War books.

In The Letter Writer, 11 year old Harriet is asked by her half brother to become the official correspondent for his nearly blind mother. To further her writing skills she is also required to write letters to her Uncle Andrew in England, to whom she shares her views on family, politics, and slavery.  When prominent slave Nat Turner comes for an extended stay on her family’s plantation to do some work Harriet finds herself charmed by the seemingly gentle preacher and decides to do him a favor by tracing a map of southern Virginia.  He assures her that it’s so he can preach to people in nearby farms.  Well if you know anything about Nat Turner then you are right to be suspicious. On August 22, 1831 Turner and his followers went on a murderous rampage and killed 55-65 white men, women and children in their homes. Rinaldi spares nothing in her gory account of the events of the night and attempts to unearth the motives of Turner, as even today historians are unclear on how the kind, genial preacher turned into a killer that summer night.

Rinadli had a good idea but her book fell short to me. I felt that parts of it were underdeveloped and could have used more time spent on Harriet’s life on the plantation and her relationship with Nat Turner. Before you know it, the rebellion strikes and violence is all over the pages. The ending also kind of has a cheese factor that the reader could have done without. What I did like was her Author’s Note because it explained why she wrote things the way she did and demonstrated her immense knowledge on the subject. It was exciting to her how calculated her story was and how she tried not to inflict her opinion of Nat Turner into the novel. Unfortunately this was the best part of her writing for me. If you’re a history fan, definitely read Ann Rinaldi, but save this one for later.

-Kelly

 

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An Italian Twist

Did you know that the earliest version of Romeo & Juliet comes from Siena, Italy? I sure did not!  Juliet by Anne Fortier was featured in People Magazine over the summer and at once knew I needed to get my hands on it. Although I’ve been reading it on and off since August, the time spent on this novel is not due to my indifference, but to other books I ordered from the library that took precedence time after time.

25 year old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her aunt Rose. The shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her estate to Julie’s twin sister Janice. Instead, Julie receives a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy. This key sends Julie on a remarkable adventure with tremendous history. She soon delves into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still traumatized from the murder of her family, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. The star crossed lovers tore medieval Siena apart and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, with the story reaching its culmination in Shakespeare’s tragic play. Julie begins to quickly discover that in the ancient city of Siena past and present intertwine and she is caught up in six centuries worth of superstitions and feuds among families.

I found this book to be extremely well researched. So much, in fact, that I was actually excited to read the Author’s Note at the conclusion of the novel! Anne Fortier certainly knows what she is talking about when it comes to the history of Romeo and Juliet. However, at times the plot seemed to be a little contrived and bordering on cheesy. Some parts were outstanding while others fell a little flat. But just when I felt like I was about to roll my eyes the author transports you into the past and are told detailed stories from the middle ages that illustrate beauty, tragedy and drama. In the end I’d have to give three cheers to Anne Fortier for coming up with this work of historical fiction.

-Kelly

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Yummy

I’ve been meaning to read one of Stacey Ballis’s books for a while now because her BFF, author Jen Lancaster, often raves about her. I thought now would be the time since her latest, Good Enough to Eat just came out. Her other novels didn’t really peak my interest but the high rating of this book on the best website ever (Amazon) led me to order it from the library. When it came in, I dropped the other two books I’m currently in the middle of to give it a try. Quite frankly, how could I not with it being October and having a cover like this?   —————————————————->

The main character, Melanie, is shocked when after losing 145 pounds her husband leaves her for a woman her old size. Heartbroken, she throws her energy into the healthy-food café she founded, along with her quirky staff.  Soon after, she’s blindsided by a financial crisis due to her condo association. This leads Melanie to reach out to an eccentric 24 year old woman with a murky past and invite her into her home as a roommate. This creates an interesting dynamic due to the age difference, but the two women grow to become good friends. Woven into the plot are complications due to a new documentary film maker love interest and changes in the lives of her employees.

What a super easy read! It was exactly what I was looking for due to my other book choices as of late. No it wasn’t genius material but it was chick lit-y without being too predictable and the characters were multi-dimensional which can lack in this genre. I almost wouldn’t categorize this as chick lit, but it comes close. Upon finishing the novel, I checked out Stacey’s blog and realized why her and Jen Lancaster are such good friends. They are both freakishly hilarious! Yay Stacey Ballis, you’re a new author to my catalog and a bookmark on my blog folder. (Yes, I have a blog folder.)

-Kelly

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