Louisa May Alcott said it best:
"She is too fond of books, and it has addled her brain."

Yep, that's me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Liebster Award Questions…And I'm Up to My Eyeballs at School!

What do you get when you take a grad student, two book reviews with deadlines, four papers due in the next 3 weeks,  a full-time job, and mix them together?

A lot of grey hair

I admit to being overwhelmed. One day at a time, I say.  Except I have to look ahead and get things moving.  There is a very good possibility that I will finish school this semester, then retreat into my reading world and put a "do not disturb" sign on my door.  Book therapy does work!

Mackenzie at The Book Addict  nominated me for the Liebster Award so I'm going to fulfill half of the requirements and tell you something about me and then answer her questions.  So, here's what you should know about me:

--I do not have a favorite book.  There are too many near and dear to my heart!
--I learned to speed read in junior high at St. Ludmila's School.  Had no idea that's what I was learning to do--but it comes in handy!
--I am madly obsessed with boneless buffalo wings.  I could eat them every day.
--I never kept track of what I read until I started my blog.
--I have run a marathon and a few half marathons.  
--I have a huge number of nieces and nephews.  I was an Auntie at the age of 9.  
--My boyfriend of 12 years and I met on a blind date at Outback Restaurant.  
--I do not like to shop for shoes or purses.  I only buy a purse when the one I use falls apart.  

Here are the questions Mackenzie sent me:
  1. What was the first book you read as a kid?
    I remember reading Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
  2. What's your favorite TV show?
    I love to watch Sister Wives!
  3. Favorite book series?
    The Adept Series by Katherine Kurtz
  4. When you go to the zoo, what's one animal you make sure to avoid and why?
    I don't like snakes.  Ick.
  5. Favorite Male Character in a book/book series.
    Jack from These is My Words by Nancy Turner.  
  6. In winter, do you prefer snow or slush on the road?
    I prefer snow.
  7. What's your favorite book of 2014?
    I don't have one yet!  
  8. Favorite Movie of 2014?
    I'm in school--I haven't seen any movies just yet.  Fingers crossed this summer I see a movie.
  9. If you could live anywhere in the world where and why?
    I would live in a quaint small town with lots of quirky characters and small stores chock full of wonderful things so I wouldn't have to go to the "big city" to shop. Also, Asheville sounds pretty good!
  10. Are you into making crafts? If so what kind and why?
    I am not a crafty person.  Trust me, I've tried.  
  11. Do you have any animals, if so what kind.
    I don't have any pets, but in my future life, I want a siberian husky.  I like a big dog to stand beside me and keep me safe.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler by Trudi Kanter

I came across this book as I was wandering the biography section at work last week.  The cover immediately grabbed my attention, as did the title.  Once I began reading it, I couldn't put it down.  Trudi has such a wonderful voice.

 Trudi Kanter is  a vibrant, fun loving young woman who owned her own millinery business and was newly in love with Walter, a handsome Jewish man.  Life was good for Trudi.  Until Hitler invaded Austria in 1938.  

Trudi realized very quickly that her background (her father was Jewish) created a very dangerous situation for her and for Walter, who was well-known by many (and the grandson of a rabbi).  Walter is reluctant to leave, even as weekly commands regarding Jewish citizens slowly squeeze them of their livelihood, homes, and lives.  Trudi desperately works to get herself and Walter out of Austria and into England, where they hope they'll be safe.  Her parents are also on Trudi's mind, as she continues to look for ways to get them out of Austria, too.  

This book is about Trudi's tenaciousness, boldness, and unending determination to save Walter and her parents.  And even after leaving Austria, the story continues as they live in London during World War 2 and face discrimination and struggle to survive daily bombings and the suspicions of a nation.  

Trudi first wrote her memoir in the 1980's.  It was published, quickly forgotten and went out of print.  Trudi died in 1992, the last of her family.  And now her memoir is back in print, thanks to Ursula Doyle, an editor who discovered Trudi's memoir in a bookstore, read it, and carried it with her until she could finally republish it.  

I absolutely loved Trudi.  She's funny, fierce, bitchy, jealous, and so alive in these pages.  She loves Walter so deeply it makes you sigh.  And she shows that in spite of the beautiful hats and clothes, a woman's strength should never be underestimated.  She's an admirable character.  I wish I could have met her.

I read reviews about this book, and some people loved it and Trudi; others thought the writing was all over the place and Trudi was a petulant, bitchy woman.  I completely disagree!  I loved the writing--she wrote it as she remembered it, and the style reminds me of a journal.  It's a quick read, yet Trudi's writing puts you in her apartment, hiding with Walter, as riots fill the streets.  Her terror and fear at what is happening in Vienna are vivid and they will suck you into her life pretty quickly.  

Read Trudi's story.  It's a different take on the Jewish experience in Europe during World War 2.  Here's a picture of her book as it appeared in hardcover:

Rating:  8/10 for a vividly alive Trudi and her ability to convey the terror of being Jewish in Austria in 1938.  

Available in paperback and ebook.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

Finally, someone heard my plea to write a ghosty story that's not full of gore, has a compelling storyline, and a bit of history tossed in as well.  That someone is Simone St. James, and this is her third novel.  I am distressed that I have to wait another whole year to read her next novel, but that means I will be nearing graduation from school and I'll need something to read that will keep me balanced that last month.  I've already penciled in a release date for Simone's next novel, The Other Side of Midnight.  

If you're a reader of my blog, you'll know I've read Simone's first two novels, and this is her third.  Each novel takes place in England after World War I.  Each deals with the consequences of a war that drove men mad, changed a nation, and continued to echo through every day life years after it was over.  

In Silence for the Dead, Kitty Weekes finds herself at Portis House, a desolate gigantic mansion on the coast of England that's been turned into a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War I.  It's 1919, and even though the war is over, the echoes of war are still being felt.  Kitty arrives at Portis House with no money, no where else to go, and a lie:  she claims to be a nurse, but isn't.  Her motto might well be "fake it 'til you make it"; that's how Kitty has lived her life in London, running away from home and finding work wherever she can.  Portis House is damp, creepy, understaffed, and falling apart.  Kitty begins her work as a nurse aiding a group of men who are in various stages of mental health because of their experiences in war.  

Something isn't right at Portis House.  The men wake each night screaming from nightmares, and refuse to talk about them.  The west wing is closed off, forbidden to anyone.  Those knocks and noises in the men's bathroom,  the black mold that creeps around.  "He's coming".  Who's coming?  What's going on?  Are the men really seeing and hearing things, or is it part of their mental illness?  Why have men tried to kill themselves in one particular spot, outside the 'isolation room' that was previously the library?  

The story slowly builds, as you get to know Kitty and her incredible determination to survive.  The men become characters you feel for, and hope that they'll overcome their demons.  And there's Jack, the secret patient who keeps to himself, but whom Kitty finds compelling and mysterious.  There are enough spooky moments to keep the action moving along, but nothing that is over the top and ridiculous.  Just enough to make you aware, as it does Kitty, that there's something very wrong at Portis House.  Can she figure it out before something horrible happens?  

Loved this one.  Here are Simone's two other novels.  Each is a stand alone and you can read them in any order:

Here's my review from March 2012
Here's my review from March 2012

Here's my review from March 2013

Rating:  8/10 for a good plot, a heroine you can't help but cheer for, and an interesting plot.

Available in paperback, audio, and e-book format.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vintage by Susan Gloss

I just had to take some time to read a book that would help me de-stress from school.  April is like last October, when everything is due and there is lots to be done.  Since these next 5 weeks will be full of research on library topics and, dare I say, mummies (for a paper on the body as a document--trust me, it makes sense), I won't be getting too much time to read for fun.  And that makes this book lover a slightly cranky and bummed out woman!

Vintage, by Susan Gloss, is a perfect read for anyone who wears clothes.  That would be all of us.  Why, you ask?  Because it reminds us to enjoy how we dress ourselves everyday, and how each of those pieces of clothing is a clue about who we are and how we feel.  Spending time in a university town these past 6 months has been a breath of fresh air for me.  It reminded me that people are imaginative, eclectic, and artistic.  And most importantly, that I don't have to be matchy-matchy in what I wear.  I do, however, draw the line at wearing yoga pants and, more horribly, pajama bottoms to class.  That is just not okay.  

Violet owns Hourglass Vintage, a lovely store located in Madison, Wisconsin.  She sells vintage clothing, and works long hours to fulfill her dream.  In her late 30's, she's divorced and lives alone.  Married young to her high school sweetheart, it took her years to realize her life wasn't what she wanted it to be, and she was living it for others.  Leaving her drunk husband and her small town, she moved to Madison and through a lot of hard work, became a success.

Enter April.  She's 18, barely out of high school, and pregnant.  She lives a few blocks down the street from Violet's store, and she's alone after the death of her mother.  Through a mutual acquaintance, April begins an internship at Violet's store, and their friendship begins.  Two other customers--Amithi and Lane soon become friends and we learn about their stories and what's brought them into the store to sell their clothing to Violet.  

This is a fast read but an enjoyable one.  It's about friendship, leaving your past behind, and creating a new life.  It's about letting go and accepting that some things just don't work and that's okay.  And the clothes!  I'm the last person you could say was a fashionista.  My clothing taste is nil.  But, reading the descriptions of the vintage clothing in Violet's shop--well, it makes me want to own something pretty and happy and female.  All things I've ignored for years.  If anything, this novel has made me want to make an effort in my everyday appearance, and appreciate a well-made piece of clothing.  I won't be so quick to shop the "cheap" stores because I don't have much time, and I don't really care what I wear.  It is true that wearing something flattering and pretty makes you feel wonderful.  I'd like to have that feeling again.  And it will help me get through the remaining weeks of my school semester while I run around frantically researching and furiously writing my papers.  Looking fabulous of course, sweeties!  

Rating:  7/10; a visit to a vintage clothing store is always inspiring, and April's journey is the heart of this novel.  

Available in hardcover, audio,  and e-book.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

                                                This is the story of a crabby bookstore owner who finds there's life left to be lived after all.  

A.J. Fikry lives on Alice Island, and owns the only bookshop in this tourist spot.  He's in his early 40's lives, above the bookstore, and is disgusted at life, people, and the garbage they read.  One night, his life is changed for ever, and we find out A.J. is not the curmudgeon he so wants to be.  

This is a novel that will appeal to anyone who loves books, works in bookstores or works in the book business.  It makes you think about what you love to read and why, and how it shapes your world.  It reminds us that some books become part of us and in some ways become a playbook for how we think and live.  

If you haven't read Gabrielle Zevin, I highly recommend her first novel Elsewhere, which is so wonderful it made me a fan of hers for life.  A.J.'s story will make you smile, get a little teary, and sigh at the end.  And he sums up life quite nicely with this quote:

                                  "We are not quite novels.  
                                   We are not quite short stories.
                                   In the end, we are collected stories."

Rating:  7/10 for quirky characters, a memorable bookstore, and a short but sweet story.

Available in hardcover and e-book.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Vanishing by Wendy Webb

Wendy Webb writes gothicky-ghosty-tales  that are thoroughly enjoyable fun reads for late nights when it's quiet outside and no one but you is awake.   All those little night noises will make you think twice about what's making the noise when you read this novel.

The Vanishing takes place in Minnesota's deep, dark woods.  Julia Bishop finds herself at Havenwood, an immense estate that sits on thousands of acres of woods and is quite isolated.  The original owner, Andrew McCullough built the estate after making his riches in the fur trade in the 1800's.  Julia's been asked to take care of the current owner, Amaris Sinclair--a famous horror writer who's presumed dead.  

Sounds complicated, right?  There's a lot going on in this novel.  Julia is recovering from a horrible scandal in Chicago.  Her husband, known as the Midwest Bernie Madoff, has killed himself and left her to deal with the anger and unending financial mess of his ex-clients.  She's losing everything when Adrian Sinclair knocks on her front door and invites her to leave it all behind and take the job of caretaker to his mother.  Julia takes him up on the offer and quickly finds herself feeling strangely at home at Havenwood.  Something, however, is not right.  In the darkened hallways and library, Julia hears a little girl singing, sees paintings move, and feels something evil in the air.

There is a big mystery here, and you have to read til the very end to find out what it is.  It all involves mediums, seances, and a horrible night 100 years before that changed Havenwood forever.  

Fans of Simone St. James and novels that feature an otherworldly plot will love this!  I've read all three of Wendy Webb's novels and have loved them all.  

Rating:  7/10 for a just-creepy-enough story with elements of local lore and a great gothic feel.  

Available in paperback and ebook.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O'Neal

I've discovered I like Barbara O'Neal.  I've seen her books on the shelves at work for years, but never picked one up.  Now I have, and I'm trying to figure out how I can read the rest of her titles sometime in the next few months.  I think every time I finish a paper for school I'll reward myself with one of her novels.  The key is to buy the book after I've finished the paper and not before.  

The All You Can Dream Buffet is Barbara's latest novel, and it combines two things I love:  lavender and food.  It takes place on Lavender Honey Farms, run by Lavender Wills.  She's become friends with three other women who blog:  Ginny, a cake blogger, Ruby, who's blog revolves around organic eating; and Val, who has a popular wine blog.  
It's time to celebrate Lavender's 85th birthday and she's invited the three women to her farm to celebrate.  

There's more to Lavender's invitation, however.  She wants to leave her farm and its successful business of honey, lavender, and organic produce to one of the women.  She's afraid her nephews will sell the land to a developer and can't bear for that to happen.  Who will be the lucky woman?  

Each woman bring her own backstory to the novel.  Ruby is a young pregnant woman trying to figure out her life.  Ginny is traveling from Kansas for the first time in her life, running away from an unhappy marriage.  Val is struggling to connect with her daughter after a family tragedy.  

The author includes "pages" of blogs as the women post, which adds to the feel of the novel.  The food, the descriptions of the farm and the lavender all combine to make this a novel I just loved--and put me in the mood for Spring.  

My only issue with this novel is the cover.  It doesn't match the story at all!  I think it should be a farm scene, or lavender fields.  But ignore the cover, and enjoy the story.  

Rating:  8/10 for wonderful descriptions of an organic farm, the workings of a lavender business, and the food!  And characters that are warm and wonderful.

Available in paperback and ebook.  

Side note:  I've worked really hard in the past few years to stay out of the "where to buy this book" discussion due to my personal feelings about bookstores and their vital importance to communities.  But I understand that making my blog a friendlier place means making it possible for my readers to quickly find and order the books I review.  So with that in mind, I've added an Amazon link, and I am working on putting in a Barnes & Noble link.  I've also begun linking my reviews on my "Books I've Read" page for 2014.  I'll be adding links to older reviews throughout the year.  Thanks for all your input!