Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I've Learned So Far

[Sorry, no picture]

What I've Learned So Far From Keeping This Blog:

1. I can be a very determined reader. I used to start many books but only finish a few. I always read multiple books at a time, provided they are different genres so the storylines are perfectly distinct. I have checked books out that I didn't end up reading but I never opened a book and not end up finishing it.

2. When I have my own house, I will definitely need a room just for my books and to make sure that my budget includes plenty of book money. The library is a great resource but there's just something about owning the books that really appeals to me.

3. I have been sussing out my and my sister's taste. While we both have a somewhat pessimistic view of the world, our reading tastes are practically opposite. She has a "the world sucks so I will read books reflecting that dark side" while I have "the world sucks so I will escape into magical worlds in my books where things end great" position. I mean, overall I think I'm a pretty happy, optimistic person but sometimes I'm overwhelmed.

4. I don't think I will be able to continue to post everyday. I've been pushing myself to create an archive of posts but that is just not manageable anymore. I want more time to read, less time writing about what I've read.

5. I don't currently have a desk for my laptop and this has made it unpleasant to read through book blogs; thus I am very behind on reading the posts others have made. When I go back to school in January, I will work on catching up. I want to know what others are reading although I do have a huge TBR list.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wondrous Strange

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

[Sorry that it's minimal-I wanted to post before everything left my head. I will try to flesh it out more later.]

Summary: Kelley is an aspiring actress in NYC who meets this weird guy Sonny. Turns out he's a changeling (human raised by fairies) who's been trained to protect the mortal world from the strange beings within the fairy world. There is something odd about Kelley, to Sonny's way of thinking. But what could it be?

Kelley is a pretty strong character; she handles the many things that are thrown at her well. But she only really taps into her strength toward the end. However the book is well set up for a sequel and I assume there will be more of her butt-kicking! Sonny is kinda hot. I like reading about good guys but lately I've been somewhat disappointed. I'm excited to read more of him.

I also really liked the supporting characters: Sonny's friend and fellow guard Maddox; the sneaky actor who plays Puck in Kelley's production of "A Midsummer's Night Dream;" Kelley's roommate Tyff; Kelley's Aunt Emma; the fairy king Auberon; and Queen Mabh.

Cover: I think it looks like she's underwater and from certain angles, her hair looks incredibly vibrant and from others very bland. Thumbs down.

Overall: 4/5; I'm interested in the sequel and I would probably recommend this book.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jesus Interrupted

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D Ehrman

Summary: Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who has published multiple books discussing things that are well-known among scholars of the Bible but are less known to lay people. This book discusses the irreconcilable differences, how the books of the NT were chosen, and what that means.

I didn't know much of what he presents as I've mostly had a devotional approach to the Bible rather than historical-critical, to use his terms. But actually this has provided new encouragement for studying the Bible next year as I take a more in depth look.

A point he mentioned that I was completely unaware of, is that the Bible is much less of a focus outside of America. The conservative evangelical community focuses on it, saying it is the inerrant word of God and everyone should read and study it but outside people are more focused on worshiping God through community and less through a book. Personally I like to meld the two as I always like to supplement things with books and I love reading.

Lastly I found the book very repetitive. He mentioned many of the same ideas multiple times. I may not be a Bible scholar but I'm not dumb and I don't need everything repeatedly spelled out for me. It also seemed as if he was promoting his other books with frequent references and footnotes to them. This may have been because he discussed the point he was making in this book more thoroughly there but it turned me off as if he expected me to shell out for another book (admittedly I checked this one out through the library as I probably would with any of his other books.) For example, he mentions that he became an agnostic (from a conservative evangelical) not because of these contradictions but because of the problem of suffering, which he just happened to write a book about.

Overall: 3.5/5 While the book is an easy read and may share new information, it may be more of a skimming book for you and not one I would recommend to buy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

M Is for Magic

M Is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

Summary: A collection of short stories that are alternately fantastic, scary, and funny, written during various periods of Mr Gaiman's career.

As this is a collection, I would only like to talk about my favorite stories although as I really enjoyed this I definitely recommend all.

[In the order that I read them]

1. "The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds"-This is sort of a children's noir story with a hardboiled detective Jack Horner searching out the answer to "Who killed Humpty Dumpty?" It starts the book out on a high note.

2. "How to Sell the Ponti Bridge"-funny story about swindling people set in another world

3. "October in the Chair"-I liked the framing story which is of the twelve months gathering to tell stories as each month ends, but I didn't really like the story told by October which was unresolved to my mind.

4. "The Witch's Headstone"-this is the story that became The Graveyard Book, which I really liked. I read it a while ago but I'm pretty sure this extract can be found in its entirety in the book. Unfortunately without the context of the book, I'm pretty sure this story would have left me baffled as it sets up many subplots but doesn't quite connect them.

Overall: 4.5/5 so good!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Prophecy of the Sisters

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Summary: Lia and Alice are twin sisters who are beginning to fulfill their part in the mystery prophecy of the sisters that has destroyed their family and sent them reeling. Lia is the Guardian, traditionally the oldest and "evil" sister while Alice is the Gate but had been destined to be the Guardian.

First I want to mention what I didn't like. There could have been more James, Lia's "boyfriend." As the novel takes place in 1890, that's not what he would be called but that's what he is. She shuts him out when she finds out about the prophecy and leaves him in order to find the answers herself. He sounded quite dreamy and I would have liked to see more of their relationship but I guess I can understand why but I really liked him. Alice, as the antagonist to narrator Lia, was obviously less developed but it was difficult to see why. It relied too much on predestination than free will for my taste although the author tries to sidestep that. There are also so many questions left unanswered although there is a sequel coming. I realize this might sounds like a lot of complaints but actually I really liked it.

I enjoyed the prevalence of books; obviously I value them as does Lia and her father and their library plays an important role in setting the story in motion. Trying to figure out what the mysterious prophecy referred to was fun; there were even some mini-mysteries that I solved! That's a big deal for me as you can see if you look at any mystery book I've reviewed where I was unable to finger the murderer. I also liked the supporting characters, her two friends who are important to the prophecy, her little brother, and her aunt plus James. They were as interesting to me as Lia and I'm sure more will be uncovered about them.

Cover: Appropriately mysterious and creepy showing twin girls who will fulfill the prophecy.

Overall: 4.5/5-can't wait for the sequel! Highly recommend!

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Summary from amazon.com: Mary knows little about the past and why the world now contains two types of people: those in her village and the undead outside the fence, who prey upon the flesh of the living. The Sisters protect their village and provide for the continuance of the human race. After her mother is bitten and joins the Unconsecrated, Mary is sent to the Sisters to be prepared for marriage to her friend Harry. But then the fences are breached and the life she has known is gone forever. Mary; Harry; Travis, whom Mary loves but who is betrothed to her best friend; her brother and his wife; and an orphaned boy set out into the unknown to search for safety, answers to their questions, and a reason to go on living.

I didn't really like Mary-she's pretty selfish and boring. I was interested in her desire to see the oceans. After the Return, everyone was confined to the village and never could see anything outside so the idea of an ocean could be very compelling. She was interested in Travis although I could never tell why-it seemed to be more of a physical thing.

Throughout there are many questions, a few of which are answered but most are left unresolved, presumably to be answered in the sequel coming out next year. I don't know yet if I'll want to read it; I may just look for spoilers online. It seems like Mary is something special as she is able to fight off the zombies especially well even without the training of her male peers. The Sisters and Guardians are the religious and military figures of the village and there are still mysteries revolving around them which will hopefully be explored more.

Overall: I have to say that I've never been very interested in zombies, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc; basically the only supernatural stuff I like is wizards/sorcerers so that may influence my opinion. If you are interested in apocalyptic stuff/zombies, you'll probably enjoy this, but I have to go with a 3.5/5.

Tomorrow: Christmas special!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

BSC Super Specials

Sorry for the bad pictures-I'm very excited to be talking about the BSC which were my favorite books from probably first through fifth grade. I am also supremely grateful to my mom who is storing books 1-90, maybe ten of the later books, some mysteries, and the super specials. My collection had been missing 9 and 13, but I have now fixed that.

The Super Specials are super because they are told from the POV of each baby-sitter and usually a few other characters and are thus longer than the regular books. They also usually involve trips to fun places.

Super Special #9 is unusual in that everyone stays in Stoneybrook in order to participate in a local production of Peter Pan. Besides the baby-sitters, Mary Anne's boyfriend Logan, walking disaster Jackie Rodowsky, and arch enemy Cokie Mason contribute to the chapters.

Super Special #13 is a class trip to Hawaii although Kristy and Mallory are unable to come. Logan again contributes as does Stacey's boyfriend Robert. Dawn is shoehorned in as she is visiting Stoneybrook for the summer during her break from school in California.

In general the characters are rather whiny (especially Jessi in #9 when she doesn't get the role she wanted) and sometimes they act far older than 11/13, IMO. I also like that the Super Specials don't really focus on the kids or baby-sitting. I realize that goes against the whole point of the series but when I was little I liked seeing the "exciting" lives of older kids and even now I have more of an attachment to the sitters who are in (almost) every book and less for the kids who vary book to book. Additionally Karen is incredibly annoying.

Merry Christmas Adam everyone and happy holiday reading!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

As You Wish

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce

Summary: Viola and Lawrence have been best friends and now a couple for a year. But when he comes out, necessitating their break-up, she feels broken. She spends her time wishing to feel fixed and accidentally summons a genie who will grant her three wishes. Things get complicated as they fall in love.

This book is told in alternating points of view as Viola struggles to make her wishes and Jinn as he comes to be known undergoes a transformation from disinterested genie to reciprocating Viola's love. But I didn't really like either of them. Viola was so lame, as she harped on how broken she felt. I get that it sucks to have your heart broken especially when it's by your only friend and I know that she's only a teenager and can't necessarily be expected to stay true to herself (as she abandons her art for a boy). Jinn was a genie, who didn't really have a personality at first (as they are there to serve the humans) and he changes as he falls in love with her but he's still pretty boring.

I did like the maturation of their romantic feelings. I didn't really like either of them but I enjoyed seeing how they expressed how their feelings changed. Jinn describes Viola as very different from his other masters and I also liked his descriptions of what genies do when they're not on earth. I also liked Viola's best friend Lawrence who is a really good friend and has an interesting dynamic with Jinn. Jinn's relationship with someone from the genie world is also good but I was less interested in the romantic (and primary) relationship than in any others.

The cover model reminds me of someone I know who isn't at all like Viola.

Overall: 3.5/5-just okay.

Tomorrow-something special from my childhood!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mr Monk in Trouble

Mr Monk in Trouble by Lee Goldberg

Summary: The little town of Trouble just can't stay out of it-first it was part of the Gold Rush, then there was the still unsolved 1962 train robbery, and now a watchman, formerly of the SFPD, at the museum was killed. So Monk and his assistant Natalie are sent to investigate. While there they discover a family connection for Monk.

My family and I love the Monk books. While I stopped watching the show (except to catch the finale because he HAD to solve Trudy's murder-and he does), I still enjoy the book. It's fun because all four of us read. Usually I get to go first since I'm the fastest reader (Boo-yah!) but it was a birthday present for my mom so she went first and I got it second. I wonder if they would be as enjoyable if one was not familiar with the TV show but I doubt anyone would pick the books up without being familiar so I can't answer that.

My favorite part is that Natalie (who narrates the books) finds an ancestor of Monk's who had an assistant who wrote down how Artemis Monk solved the crimes. These stories go back to the Gold Rush era and deal with crimes committed there. The language is almost exactly the same as the modern-era so it is easy to read if not historically accurate.

I did not exactly figure out the mysteries (there end up being three that are tangled together). But I somewhat fingered the mastermind, as there aren't all that many suspects in the little town of Trouble.

Overall: 4.5/5 one of the better entries in the series and a good story on its own merits.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary: Tyler, tired of being a picked-on nerd, spray painted his school earning a bad-boy reputation and community service. His academic life goes down the drain, his social life is in the gutter, and his family life is upset by his alcoholic mother and his abusive workaholic father.

I've believe I've read all of her other books but I missed this one when it first came out. So I picked it up when I saw it at the library. I was interested to discover it has a male protagonist, as I've been mostly reading books with females in the main role(s).

Tyler's home life sucks-his dad frightened me and everyone in the family. He works constantly and terrorizes his family the few times he's home. His mother is a pet photographer and an alcoholic who excuses his father. He blames Tyler for problems at work, for being unable to handle a difficult academic schedule, for being interested in girls, for everything. But slowly (mirrored through his progress in a computer game) Tyler pulls himself out of his depression and stands up to his father, ending with change as he gains more control over his life, his mother quits alcohol, and his father promises reform.

I was uncomfortable with some of the language used to describe his crush and the other girls although he has a point about how little clothing some high school girls wear-I remember being appalled by what some felt was school appropriate. There are also extensive passages about suicide as Tyler hits rock bottom.

Overall: 4/5

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Donut Days

Donut Days by Lara Zielin

Summary: Emma is the daughter of evangelical minister parents who is having quite the difficult time. Her mom may lose her position as co-preacher at their church, one of her friends is newly hot and in love with her, her best friend isn't speaking to her, and her parents have announced their financial support only if she attends a Christian college. This takes place over a three day period as people camp out to see the opening of a new donut store.

I really liked Emma-she was very likable and I enjoyed her feelings about her parents. She feels completely left out over the things that are happening that will affect her. But the end promises hope for a stronger family unit and reevaluation of how each views the others.

At the donut campout, I really enjoyed her interactions with Bear and his evangelical biker gang. They showed a more human face of Christianity. Most are able to realize that they are not perfect and they do not act like they are. They just try their best to live out Jesus' teaching and improve themselves.

Her friendships are not as important. Lately it seems like I've read a lot of books where the female main character is not speaking to her friends due to a fight and thus female friendship is not important to the book. I'm not trying to single this book out because I feel like I've seen that a lot; this just happens to be the review where I'm writing about it.

I also thought that not all of the subplots got enough attention. I would have liked more with the hot guy in love with Emma; I thought it got short shrift. I also would have liked more with her younger sister, who was adorable in the little we read about, and the sibling rivalries that always seem to appear in families. I also think the girl on the cover doesn't look old enough to be a senior in high school-she looks maybe 14. That doesn't detract from the story; it's just something I noticed.

Overall: 4/5 for funny (predictable) story with a sweet narrator and good message. Recommended.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

A while back I won a copy of "Cleopatra's Daughter" by Michelle Moran. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but when I saw this at the library I picked it up. I've never been very interested in Egyptian history (I'm a Tudor/American history kind of girl) but lately I feel like I've been reading a lot more and I like it.

Summary: Nefertiti is beautiful and ambitious; married to the new unstable Pharaoh, they plan to overthrow Egypt's traditional gods and building a grand new city to ensure their place in history. Mutnodjmet is Nefertiti's younger sister who tires of court life but is forever tied to her sister.

First there were definitely some "The Other Boleyn Girl" influences with the powerful sister and the other who has to wait upon her, unable to have a husband and family of her own (as it would challenge the sister) and forced by the family to wait upon her. I found these sisters more palatable than Mary Boleyn (gah-don't like her).

The novel is actually told from Nefertiti's younger sister's perspective Mutnodjmet. She is interested in a simple existence with a garden of herbs and a husband but her family has a greater destiny as Nefertiti marries her cousin the Pharoah (This intermarriage is so wrong to my modern sensibilities) and becomes set on solidifying their family's position in court and her place in history. The couple is obsessed with having their images everywhere-traditionally this was so that the gods could find them after death but here it seems more so that everyone will remember the great builders of Egypt.

I found Nefertiti fascinating although jealous. She has to be the center of attention, foremost in everyone's affection but deep in her heart I do believe she loved her sister as much as she could. Her husband Amunhotep began okay but quickly devolved into a jealous, paranoid, incompetent man. As Egypt was invaded by enemies and their traditional lands lost, he built. He trusted a small private army of Nubians to protect him from his own people. I'm not sure how accurate these personality traits were as the records likely only support the building and need to plaster their faces over everything but it added tension to the story.

One interesting thing I noted was about the religion. Amunhotep overthrows the god Amun in favor of Aten, who is literally the sun. As he does this, he is able to take gold from the priests of Amun as they no longer matter. This reminded me of Henry VIII and the English Reformation as he took the gold from Catholic churches to strengthen his own coffers. He also wanted to be loved by his people and he struggled to have an heir. Nefertiti produces only daughters but she creates a place in the succession for women as Henry will later have to do.

Overall: This is a toughie; I keep changing my mind-I guess I'm going with a 4 out of 5 for a solid story and the enthralling Nefertiti.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Woman Who Named God

The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon

Summary: A close reading of the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and the sons who would go on to found two great peoples.

I knew the basic story of Abraham (chosen man of God, fathers a child with Hagar and then finally fathers Isaac with his wife Sarah despite their advanced ages; Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the desert; God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac but then spares him; Isaac continues the line with Jacob and God's chosen people) but this book adds so much more.

First it examines the story from the perspectives of scholars from all three major monotheistic faiths as they all trace their lineage back to Abraham. This shows the different interpretations and implications on each religion and highlights in particular the struggle between Jews and Muslims. I also appreciated the overall message which is striving for peace among the three faiths through the examination of commonalities and how God seemed to set out particular places for each and there is no need for argument.

Unfortunately sometimes I felt it dragged a bit as EVERY part of the story is examined thoroughly. I've felt that way during extended Bible Study times so this is nothing new for me but some parts were really exciting while others were less so. I think it would depend on your interests.

Overall: 3.5/5 Sometimes dry, but still interesting for me and has a good message

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Murder in Mesopotamia

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

A. I love how much bigger Christie's name is than the title;
B. My cover is just like this except red but I couldn't find a picture of that online.

Summary: Nurse Leatheran is hired to watch over nervous Mrs Leidner, wife of archaeologist Dr Leidner. While she originally seems like a nervous Nellie, her fears are proven true when she is found murdered. Can the famous Hercule Poirot catch the killer?

Well I don't really like Poirot but he's not as annoying as in other books (I think he's exceptionally cruel to Hastings) and Nurse Leatheran doesn't really like him (or his stupid egg shaped head) either although this is based on British xenophobia (a common theme in Christie books). There is also a wide variety of personalities in the camp and the interaction of them is one of the pleasures of the book. I also liked the victim so I was sad to see her dead.

I did not figure out the murderer-honestly I think I should just give up trying. I think I've read eight mysteries in the past month and I haven't solved any of them (although I did watch an episode of Castle recently that I was able to solve-I'm usually pretty bad at solving TV and movie mysteries too). Luckily I've never aspired to be a detective or anything but this just seems to be further proof that I fail. There is also something that needs to be believed in order to make the murderer credible; reading other reviews, some people didn't but I was able to square it in my mind.

Overall: 4/5 especially for the narrator-I think I liked her more than Hastings and she was certainly treated better than Hastings by Poirot.

Challenge Update: 6/81

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coffeehouse Angel

Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors

Summary: Katrina works in her grandmother's struggling coffeehouse; one day she does a completely selfless good deed for Malcolm and he becomes determined to reward her with unintentional results.

I enjoyed Selfors' "Saving Juliet" so when I saw this on my library's shelf, I picked it up and devoured it in a few hours-I could not stop reading it!

Katrina was a fun protagonist; it was very easy to root for her-I desperately wanted her to succeed and in general I agreed with her assessments of the situation and other people (unlike in other books where I end up hating the main character and find her annoying). I liked her realism as when she talked about only having two friends, thinking about family, and planning her responses to difficult things.

I will admit this book is largely predictable (Will Katrina be able to earn enough money to pay off the bills? Is there a love interest for a happily ever after? What do you think?) but it was thoroughly enjoyable and there are some twists in the story.

Overall: 4.5/5 for a delightful story!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M Zeises

Summary: Stella is the junk food loving daughter of two separated but not divorced foodies. Unfortunately that looks to be changing as both parents become involved in new relationships and Stella ends up torn between her super sweet boyfriend Max and the hot new intern at her mom's restaurant Jeremy.

(Spoilers ahead-skip to overall for rating)

I love food things. I'm not much of a foodie myself (I eat in order to sustain myself and I'm a simple, comfort food kind of girl). But for some reason I love TV, movies, and books that incorporate food. I'm sure I would like songs too although I'm afraid I don't really know any (Suggestions?) So I knew that I would like this book.

And I did like it. Stella was mostly sympathetic (except for her stringing along Max). My parents are still together but I understand the wish to believe that one's parents will still get back together. I thought her relationships and feelings toward them were very realistic and well-written.

I liked her friends and was glad to see that she had two such close friends-a lot of times YA novels seem to skimp on the female friendship front (Alliteration!) Personally I found Max more desirable than Jeremy but at the end, she is not officially with either and I was satisfied with this. Stella grows, forming a friendship with Jeremy, accepting the divorce, and welcoming the new people in her parents' lives.

Overall: 4/5 for a sweet story with a fun protagonist and some dreamy descriptions of food.

A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

This is my favorite Christmas album-I remember listening to it on cassette tape and of course now I've transitioned to CD. It's usually the first Christmas CD we listen to, in order to start the holiday season right.

1. White Christmas-Darlene Love: One of the most upbeat versions I've heard and it ends with her talking about being in LA and thus without snow which resonates with me as I'm also in CA
2. Frosty the Snowman-The Ronettes
3. Bells of St. Mary-Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans: I actually don't like this one-I never have. Every year I try to give it another chance but usually I find myself skipping past it to the good songs.
4. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town-The Crystals
5. Sleigh Ride-The Ronettes
6. Marshmallow World-Darlene Love
7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus-The Ronettes: with some loud smooching in the beginning!
8. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer-The Crystals
9. Winter Wonderland-Darlene Love
10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers-The Crystals
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)-Darlene Love: Probably my favorite-the call response with "Please" is amazing-so anguished.
12. Here Comes Santa Claus-Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans: This one is pretty lame but unobjectionable.
13. Silent Night-Phil Spector: This is him talking over an orchestral version of Silent Night-just skip it!

Overall: 5 out of 5-the perfect secular Christmas CD!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

White Christmas

White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen

This is probably my favorite Christmas movie (and it's the only one I've watched so far this season!) Today I just wanted to write about some of my favorite parts and some things my family and I spoke about during this viewing.

Firstly, I mentioned the four stars but for me the real standout is Doris-the blonde in the beginning. She may not have gone to Smith but she gets two great lines. "Mutual, I'm sure" in response to Bing's how are you and "Well, I like that without so much as a kiss your foot or have an apple" (paraphrase). I have no idea what that means but it's funny!

Bing is, hmm is there a nice way to put this?, really old. "The Country Girl" is from the same year but it is in black and white and thus more flattering to the ancient Bing.

As for Danny Kaye, I have to admit we skip his big number, "Choreography." I try to watch it every couple of years but this year I was outvoted by the rest of the family and quite frankly I didn't really mind. There's something about that number that is just really weird.

My favorite number is still the Sisters song although if I paid my money to see the Haynes sister and only got one song, I think I'd be pissed. I have a younger sister so we always like to joke around and sing the song ourselves (although I'm no Rosemary Clooney!)

We also spent time trying to figure out in what year this is supposed to take place. While 1954 is the obvious answer due to the release date of this picture, the General wants a position in combat which would indicate Korea which had been completed by that time. I realize that accuracy was never a big priority for studio films but that bothered us. Is there something we missed?

I also must say that I don't feel very sorry for the General. Generals are feted and get all sorts of pensions and bonuses and good stuff. I would feel sorry for the 40-year Private Danny Kaye.

And how annoying is the busybody housekeeper? Who can't even eavesdrop on the phone properly creating a needless rift between Betty and Phil?! She also swore to stop gossiping if her information about Phil and the General was wrong, which it was! Who here thinks she really did stop? I highly doubt it.

But Overall: 5 of course! Probably my favorite Christmas movie.

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle

I picked this up at the library because I have been interested in Tudor history but did not know much about the Grey sisters beyond Jane's usurpation of the throne (I believe that Edward was too young to change his father's will and Mary was the rightful successor).

Summary: These women were to be the heirs to the English throne but the vicious power struggles of Tudor politics led to untimely deaths and largely unhappy existences. De Lisle uncovers new information regarding Jane's life and illuminates her largely forgotten younger sisters.

I did know Jane due to the fact that she is known as the 9-Day Queen who was then executed by Mary. I knew she was Protestant, otherwise she would have accepted Mary's claim. I did not even know that she had sisters!

My favorite part of this book is how it refuses the traditional passivity assigned to the Greys and gives them back their agency. Jane in particular has apparently been highlighted as a helpless, innocent, victimized female. Yes they were used by their families but they were able to make their own decisions and Jane especially was brilliant. The other interesting point I noticed was how English Protestantism pushed women into a lower position, unable to rule and yet the entire monarchy succession was dependent on Mary, Elizabeth, Katherine, and Mary's ability to marry and bear sons.

It was heartbreaking to read about Katherine and Mary falling in love but being unable to maintain that happiness as Elizabeth refused to allow them peace. Their children, especially sons, threatened her throne. While this is a good principle to have if you want to rule, a modern reader, such as me, feels for the Grey sisters who were separated from their husbands and placed under house arrest until death as Elizabeth outlived them.

As in Wolf Hall, I was slightly confused by the titles of everyone. Additionally there are family trees to show the relations of the main players-I found them somewhat confusing but I'm sure some people would find them more helpful.

Overall: 3.5/5 I enjoyed learning about the sisters but there was a lot that didn't really include them. I also plan to check out this author's other book After Elizabeth detailing the succession that according to Henry VIII's will ought to have gone to this family's descendants but instead returned to the Stuart line leading to the present day British monarchy family.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Summary: Samara is a preacher's kid whose mother is in rehab and whose father is available to help everyone but her. When a teenage member of the congregation is kidnapped, Sam is confronted by her doubts about God, her family, and herself.

I thought this was an interesting concept and I like to read YA books that deal with faith as that doesn't seem to show up very often. This does lead to long passages with Sam just thinking and sometimes those were boring. I identified with some of her thinking about families (such as having a sibling helps because you have someone who understands the weirdness of your family-she's an only child but I'm not so I totally got this; how "losing" one member of the family throws things out of whack-her mom's in rehab and will come back but for now is lost).

The feelings of just wanting to be left alone and wanting to have an honest conversation with your parents are also eloquently expressed. I imagine most teenagers could identify with those feelings as well as her uncertainties about self.

Overall: 4/5 for a solid story although not as gripping as other books I've read

Friday, December 11, 2009

Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder

Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder by Gyles Brandreth

Summary: Oscar Wilde gathers a group of friends for a nice meal, that ends with a game where each chooses someone they want to murder. That same night the first of the victims dies and each night after, they die. Unfortunately Oscar is the 13th victim and his wife is the 14th. Can he find the murderer in order to save their lives?

This is a mystery featuring Oscar Wilde as a detective told from the perspective of Robert Sherard, his friend and first biographer. It is the second in the series but I didn't read the first and I don't think it's necessary to read them in order. It would be helpful to be interested in the fascinating personality that is Oscar Wilde and this book also has appearances from Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker.

It's quite a funny book utilizing, I'm sure, many of Wilde's famous sayings (I'm not entirely familiar with all of his work but I imagine some of it is). I was slightly perturbed by the depiction of Wilde as quite a Sherlock Holmes, both with his deductions and personality, and seeming almost to inspire the character as Conan Doyle is far less observant. I also found it heartbreaking to watch the mostly pleasant home life of Oscar and his family, knowing what will come in 1895 (The book is set in 1893.)

Again I did not quite figure out the murderer but I did make some important deductions that brought me closer than I usually am to figuring out the mystery. But I will definitely keep an eye out for the other books in the series.

Overall: 4/5 for a fun book but not entirely gripping (it took me about three days to read because I didn't care that much about finding out who the murderer was).

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Gorgeous by Rachel Vail

Summary: The second book in a trilogy dealing with the Avery sisters, whose mother, the breadwinner, has just lost her job affecting them in a variety of ways. This book is about the middle daughter Allison who has always felt herself to be the least pretty and least valued of the family. She ends up selling her cell to the devil for a chance at gorgeousness.

I know that I read Lucky, the first book, but I didn't really remember it. That is okay; these books can be read in any order as they cover the same events from the different perspectives [It looks like the third book will be called Brilliant and is due out in May.] I have to say that I love all three covers for this trilogy-they're...gorgeous!

I mostly liked Allison (especially her obsession with the slightly obscure historical figure Gouverneur Morris) and I really liked her new best friend Roxie Green. But the obsession with being gorgeous annoyed me. I know that it's the plot of the book and obviously she will talk about it a lot but it annoyed me especially because it was totally obvious to me that she really was pretty but just couldn't see it. The story itself is pretty predictable but the writing style is very engaging. I've enjoyed the series and am eager for the third.

Overall: 4 out of 5 for cute story although slightly annoying narrator.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sophomore Switch

Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald

Summary: Tasha is an American girl caught in a reality TV scandal who desperately wants to get out of the country; Emily is a prim English girl set on a law career who was unable to attend prestigious Harvard due to application problems and so settles on going to California.

I really liked both of the girls very much although at the beginning they are very extreme versions (Tasha is a party girl; Emily is very uptight) who end up mellowing by exploring new academic venues, interacting with boys in different ways, and just living in new environments. The one thing I didn't like is that the ending does not wrap everything up. This is certainly more realistic but I don't read books for realism necessarily. I do judge books by their cover and if there is pink font/a pink cover, I expect an empowering story where the girl achieves her goal and gets the cute guy. Both characters become involved with a promising guy but that sort of happily ever after doesn't come through. Some people may like this but not me.

My big complaint about this book is that Tasha is a sophomore in college. Now I know that this makes a better title than Junior Switch and I don't know how study abroad programs in England work but I don't know any American college that allows students to study in their sophomore year. I know my college (and most colleges) prefer that you wait until junior year and I believe some will allow you to go senior year with a good reason but usually they make you wait so that is my quibble with the basic premise.

Overall: 4 out of 5. Solid debut but slightly disappointing end.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Year My Sister Got Lucky

The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman

Summary: Katie and Michaela are ballerinas, sisters, and best friends whose relationship undergoes significant changes when their family moves from NYC to small town Fir Lake.

I had some problems with this book as in I didn't really like Katie, the main character and narrator of the book. I don't know if this is because I also moved in high school and am an older sister more like Michaela or if I wouldn't have liked her anyway.

I did enjoy the description of ballet but I found Katie's attitude so off-putting. She hates that she's moved and she finds herself so much better than the Fir Lake natives. She doesn't even attempt to make new friends or even to be friendly to people. She was also very mean to her sister (not that my sister and I are always so nice to each other but I don't think we've ever been that bad.) My sister also read this book though and she didn't like it much either.

One thing I did like is that it left me thinking about my relationship with my sister and I think it might do the same for other girls. I find that we weren't really friends but are working to build more of a relationship beyond the fact that we have the same parents. In my opinion, she is being too much of a stereotypical teenager now as in bratty, complaining, never satisfied. But she can also be very sweet at times.

In general I also felt that the plot was underdeveloped. The sister relationship was the focus but plots with Katie giving up ballet in favor of yoga and her crush on a new friend's brother (I love that storyline but always feel like it would never work in real life) felt rather rushed to me. I guess it's already a bit on the long side (370 pages) but I never think that should stop an author from bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Overall: 3/5 for a rather unsympathetic main character and underdevelopment of subplots.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sounds of the Season-Taylor Swift

This was released in 2007 and features 3 Christmas classics, 1 newer Christmas song, and 2 from Ms Swift herself.

1. Last Christmas-I don't really like this song-I find the basic concept stupid ("I gave you my heart last year and then you broke it so this year I'm giving it to someone special") so I wouldn't really like it no matter who sang it.
2. Christmases When You Were Mine-one of the songs Taylor wrote; dealing with a breakup and missing him at Christmas
3. Santa Baby-meh
4. Silent Night-painful!
5. Christmas Must Be Something More-My favorite; written solely by her and is a call to return to the reason for the season (I love how that rhymes) rather than focusing on the commercialization of Christmas
6. White Christmas-meh

I really like Taylor and I love Christmas music but I'm not really a fan of this album. I know she doesn't have the best voice but this is particularly painfully obvious on tracks 3, 4, and 6. The other three are more suited for her voice, in my opinion. I especially like 5 which reminds us that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, not getting a ton of presents and was written solely by her.

Overall: 3 out of 5 for Taylor fans only.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Intensely Alice

Intensely Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I think I started reading the Alice books about ten years ago and I've really enjoyed them (I think my favorite is Alice In-Between, where they go to Chicago) and I even got my sister to read them (she likes Alice in Lace due to the abundance of Patrick and Alice). I was younger than Alice but now am quite bit older (it's the summer before her senior year in high school in this book).

So I was very excited to read the next installment but this one unfortunately left me feeling...meh. I don't think that's a word but that's how I felt. It wasn't a difficult read and I did want to know what was going on for Alice but there was nothing exactly exciting.

First is Carol's wedding and Alice getting to be with Patrick. I really like Carol and I've always been a fan of Alice/Patrick so I liked these scenes. Then there is the summer hanging out with Liz, Pamela, and Gwen. And in the end, one of her friends dies. This was sad but it didn't have that much of an impact on me.

Overall: I would call this just average and I may have lifted the grade a bit higher than I really felt due to my fondness for the characters. I will probably still continue to read the Alice books but I really hope they improve.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

An Accomplished Woman

An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan

Summary: Lydia Templeton rejected eligible bachelor Lewis Durrant ten years ago and has gone on to live a perfectly enjoyable life. When her godmother asks her to look after her ward in Bath though, Lydia begins to rethink some things.

This is a story in the vein of Jane Austen with a main character who is largely an Emma (without as much of the matchmaking) with a bit of Anne thrown in. I had read Morgan's Indiscretion which is also Austenesque and enjoyed it so when I realized he had a similar story out, I had to buy it.

Lydia is delightful and I loved her-part of my problem was I wanted more of her love story and less of her companion's. Lewis Durrant (another hero I pictured as Richard Armitage) is her Mr. Knightley/Darcy/Wentworth and perfectly wonderful in my opinion. Lydia is looking after Phoebe Rae and helping her decide between the two suitors as she thinks she is in love with both. Mr A and Mr B as Lydia thinks of them are quite different and there is a host of other characters to provide color.

Overall: 4.5/5 I loved this book but there were some parts toward the end where I was a tad bored. But I highly recommend this for any Janeites out there [Also Indiscretion]; there are many similarities to the Austen novels with characters and even one page musing on themes of persuasion and sense and sensibility but it is not just a retread as Morgan creates his own world.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper

I love fairy tale reimaginings so when I saw this at the library I picked it right up. The main character is Sleeping Beauty whose daughter becomes Cinderella whose daughter becomes Snow White whose son is The Frog Prince with some sprinklings of other fairy tales, faeries, dystopia, and the idea of beauty.

The main point is the necessity of beauty and how humans destroy it with overpopulation and the destruction of natural resources to provide for them. Needless to say this is not a happy topic and did not align with my expectations or what I wanted to read at this point. However it was a fast read-I sped through the 475 pages

Overall: 3.5/5 My expectation was of a lighthearted story twisting fairy tales all around but instead I got a time traveling story with some very depressing elements and not exactly a happily ever after.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lion in the Valley

Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters is the fourth book in the Amelia Peabody series. So now I've read the second and fourth and I really should have read the third because the villain resurfaces here to menace the Emersons. I also added a progress bar at the bottom with the challenges I've signed up for as well as personal challenges which the Amelia Peabody series is.

Unlike the second book, Ramses (her son) comes on the trip to Egypt (and I cannot wait to read about him as an adult, I think he's very entertaining) and I felt it was less focused on archaeology than the second. It was entertaining but it left me somewhat unsatisfied. I didn't figure out who the master criminal (and master of disguises) exactly was as there's a bit of a twist.

Overall, 3.5/5 for a fun tale that endeared the characters to me but didn't leave me wholly satisfied.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Katherine by Anya Seton (1954)

This is a historical novel about the romance of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster whose descendants became are represented in most of Europe's royal families, fulfilling Merlin's ancient prophecy "thou shalt get kings though thou be none!" Queen Elizabeth II is one of those descendants.

The novel begins with Katherine about 15 and coming to court in hopes of finding a husband. She basically falls in love at first sight with the Duke of Lancaster, who is married to the lovely (and rich!) Blanche. She ends up married far beyond expectation to the knight Hugh Swynford. She bears him two children and then he dies. Almost immediately she and John begin an affair, even on the eve of his betrothal to the Infanta Constance of Castile. She ends up bearing him four children, causing a myriad of problems. Eventually her guilt and the scorn of her firstborn cause her to renounce John. However once his wife dies, he returns to her and proposes marriage, which ends with the legitimation of their children and happiness.

  • For whatever reason I kept picturing Richard Armitage as John of Gaunt despite the many references to his blond hair. I'm not sure why but I didn't really mind.
  • Geoffery Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, was actually Katherine's brother-in-law. He married her older sister Pica and they mostly lived apart allowing him the opportunity to write.
  • Seton wrote some very vivid descriptions-in many ways it was like I was there (except that it didn't smell!)
  • A problem, for me, was the longstanding adulterous relationship of the couple. The way it is presented seems to make it okay because it's true love and it does eventually end in marriage but I was still somewhat uncomfortable.
  • I had some difficulties with the various titles, the fact that many people shared a name, the locations of places in England, Catholic practices, and some outdated words but they did not affect my ability to read the book.
  • His proposal is awful! He essentially says "I've had other mistresses and other bastards but the only one I want to marry is you!" [Wikipedia says he only had one other bastard.] But what a terrible proposal-I don't think it would induce me to marry him. Of course it's not historically accurate because I really doubt either of them wrote down what was said so there's no way of knowing.
  • The beginning of the affair is fast. First John is mourning his first wife Blanche and then he's carrying Katherine to a bed where she refuses because she's still married. But once Hugh is dead, they're together. The falling in love is mostly overlooked-I would have preferred more but there are later scenes that are quite touching. In fact my favorite part was probably when they were together before the 1381 riots.
  • Katherine is very strong. She is a loving mother, an outwardly devoted wife even when she is loathing Hugh and desiring John on the outside, a strong steward of the estate, and brave in the face of the riots.
  • I also liked the supporting female characters as in her sister Pica and her longtime devoted maid Hawise. I did not like her first daughter Blanche, whose meanness to her mother hurt me.
Rating: 4/5 It was good and I would definitely recommend it to people who like historical novels, romances, and/or this time period. But I felt it was a bit long and lacking in the beginning of their romance.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Day No Pigs Would Die

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

[There be spoilers ahead!]

I chose this because I had seen it on the banned/challenged books list and I could see that it was short (do you see a theme here?) Apparently it was challenged for its depiction of pigs mating and being slaughtered. And that is gross! There are also descriptions of a hawk killing a rabbit, squirrel hunting, and a dog killing a weasel and then having to be put down. So there is a lot of icky stuff at least to this suburban girl. While it was violent, it wasn't for the sake of violence; the latter especially provided a lesson. What really got me was the death of his father--tears just streaming down my face and I was reading it at the library although I don't think anyone noticed (thankfully).

Anyway this is a mostly sweet coming of age story which seems to have been partly based on the author's own experiences as the main character is named Robert Peck. They're Shakers in Vermont, scratching out a living on a farm while his father also slaughters pigs to supplement their income. The main character is a twelve year old boy who receives a piglet from his neighbor as a thank you for helping to birth his cow. It details how he helps the pig grow and then has to help his father kill her when she is barren. Then his father dies and the boy (who's only 13!) has to step up as the man and run the farm. All of the experiences listed earlier and more contribute to his growth into manhood although I felt very protective over him and wished he could have had a bit more time to grow.

Funny: "If you didn't come up, you got dead and your mortal soul went to Hell. But if you did come up, it was even worse. You had to be a Baptist." [60]
Good Advice: "Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut." [92]

Rating: 4.5/5 for a fast, heart wrenching and heartwarming story. Highly recommend.

December Posts

So this is just a look ahead at what I'll be posting in December:

1. I love December-it has my mom's birthday, my birthday, and Jesus' birthday (aka Christmas) so basically it's pretty awesome! Despite what will be a busy month, I am still planning to post something everyday and hopefully most of the posts will be about books. Although I also love food blogs and if I make any recipes, I might share them.

2. I will talk about some of my favorite Christmas CD's and movies. For the CD's they will mostly be from Broadway! That means Kristin Chenoweth, Michael Crawford, Linda Eder, Sarah Brightman, and two volumes of Broadway Carols for a Cure, plus my very favorite one ever, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. Possible movies are White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated), A Muppet's Christmas Carol, and A Miracle on 34th Street. But I may not-I will see how it goes.

3. I am planning to see New Moon (this is for my sister, I hate vampires), The Princess and the Frog, and Sherlock Holmes so I will probably talk about those.

4. As to the books themselves, I believe there will be some BSC, Betsy/Tacy, some books I won, maybe some Georgette Heyer, and a bunch of rereads.

5. At the end, I will sum up my challenges and reading goals for the coming year.
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