Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nellie Oleson is Alive and Well!

Oh, joy.  I have read A Prairie Life by Melissa Gilbert, and The Way I See It by Melissa Anderson.  I knew Alison Arngrim had her own story coming out, and I eagerly gulped it down in one day.  

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch is both hysterically funny, and deeply moving.  Alison Arngrim played Nellie Oleson on The Little House on the Prairie TV series, and was without a doubt a most talented actress.  She created a Nellie that everyone loathed--myself included.  I so enjoyed watching Laura put the smack down on Nellie!

Alison's life was very different.  Her parents were both actors; her mother was a famous voice on TV: Gumby, Casper the Ghost, and so many more during the 60's and 70's.  Her dad was a stage actor/manager, who was gay.  Alison knew from an early age he was gay, yet her parents never spoke of it, and remained married until her mother's death in 2001.  Alison grew up moving around a lot, and had an older brother who was a teen idol in his day.  Unfortunately, her brother also sexually abused her, starting at age six.  

How this young girl managed to maintain her sanity is all because of Nellie.  Alison landed the role, and after a few shy starts, used the character of Nellie to scream, shout, and act out all the feelings she kept hidden away.  Nellie became her lifeline.  

This book is chock full of stories of her time on Little House.  She talks about her close friendship with Melissa Gilbert (still friends to this day), and the agonizing pain of putting on the ugly blond corkscrew wig.   She talks about her deep friendship with Steve Tracy, who played her husband Percival on the show.  Steve was gay, and died of AIDS in 1986.  Because of him, she became a fierce advocate of AIDS rights, and because of her brother, champions the rights for victims of sexual abuse.  

This isn't a maudlin, poor pity me book.  It made me laugh out loud.  Alison Arngrim is one classy lady who tells it like it is, and has managed to survive a lot of crap to become a healthy, happy, confident woman.  She's also pretty damn funny.  Read this and you will have new respect for Nellie; although Laura is still my favorite!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Heart of the Witch by Alicia Dean

What do you get when you mix a modern witch, a serial murderer named the Tin Man, and a really hot private investigator haunted by his past?  A pretty darn good paranormal romance, that's what!  Heart of the Witch by Alicia Dean has been sitting on my bookcase for a few months.  Another spur of the moment purchase that patiently waited for the right time to jump out at me and demand to be read.

Ravyn Skyler is a modern witch living in Oklahoma City.  She's an extremely powerful white witch who embraces, yet fears her abilities.  She comes from a family of witches and through a troubled relationship with her mother, has grown up to be very self sufficient and removed emotionally from life and love.  

Ravyn  has escaped from the hands of the Tin Man, a serial killer who tortures, then kills beautiful women.  Ravyn escapes because she uses her powers to harm the Tin Man.  He becomes obsessed with finding her and teaching her a lesson, and she is afraid she has endangered her coven by using her powers to cause harm to another human being.  To do harm to another is strictly against her coven's rules, and is a very short step into black magic.  

Enter Nick Lassiter.  Of course, he's a hottie.  And of course, he's wildly attracted to Ravyn.  He's been hired by the husband of another victim to find the Tin Man.  Kicked off the police force, a widower, he spends his days smoking and drinking.  Until he meets Ravyn.  She fights her attraction to him, but can't help being drawn to him.  

This was a refreshing change from the comedic paranormal romances I usually enjoy.  It's dark, but not overly so.   Black magic, past lives, and learning to let go of guilt and opening up to love are all themes in this novel.  A lot is packed into the story, but not so much you get lost.  It moves along quickly, and the ending is very satisfactory.  I hope Alicia Dean writes more books!  I will certainly pick up her next title.  I would say if you're a fan of J.R. Ward, Sherilyn Kenyon, or Christine Feehan, you will enjoy this novel.  It's also available as an e-book.

Lost To Time by Martin Sandler

I love to read about lost events in history that were a huge deal when they happened, but have been forgotten over time.  That's what I loved about this book.  Some of the events I have read about, and others were completely new to me.  

Lost to Time by Martin Sandler is a great book to read if you are a fan of snippets of history.  It's easy to read, and you can put it down between chapters, since each chapter is a different lesson in history.  Did you know about Cahokia?  It was a ginormous city built by Native Americans near present day Collinsville, Illinois.  This city was incredible.  It was built by hand, using mound building techniques, and lasted for five centuries, before mysteriously being abandoned.  You can go to Collinsville, Illinois to the site of this city; check out  Cahokia Mounds .

Did you know Paul Revere wasn't the first to ride through the night, warning of the coming British soldiers?  Yep.  It was sixteen year old Sybil Ludington.  Her father, Colonel Ludington, sent her on a midnight ride through dangerous woods on horseback to warn all of the towns under his command to muster and meet at his home.  She rode forty miles that night, through pounding rain and dangerous territory.  Amazing.  She never hesitated or wavered in her determination to help save other towns and villages from being destroyed by the British.  

Lost to Time is full of more stories of forgotten disasters in American history, forgotten explorers, and men who made breakthroughs in air flight and the first subway system in New York.  

I highly recommend this book.  It will make you eager to delve deeper into each of these incredible events, and appreciate all the unsung heroes we have forgotten.  If you're a fan of history, this is a must read!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

High Tea by Sandra Harper

Looking for a fun, summer read?  Try High Tea by Sandra Harper.  Margaret Moore owns Magpie's Tearoom in Los Angeles.  She's a transplanted English woman, divorced and still friends with her gay ex-husband.  She's been in Los Angeles for years, and is now a single fifty-something woman who's burned out and bored.

Margaret's employees are an interesting bunch of women.  There's Lily, her "chef" who's creativity threatens to mess with Margaret's strict guidelines on the proper English tea.  Cassandra is an actress in her late thirties, still waiting for that magic audition to appear.  Then there's Lauren, a twenty-something lazy butt who just wants to party and coast on her looks.  

Each woman has reached a turning point in her life, and has to take a leap of faith to make changes.  Magpie's is safe and cozy; should Margaret keep it open, or go back to England?  Will Lily open a B&B?  Will Cassandra move on in her acting career?  Will Lauren actually get some focus and earn a living?

If you love anything British, or just enjoy remembering having scones and clotted cream, this is a treat to read.  Pull out your Earl Grey, whip up some cucumber sandwiches, and enjoy!  Nothing like a proper English Tea to set everything right.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Got to Meet Sookie's Mom!

Oh, I am a lucky girl.  I've met two of my favorite authors in the past few years:  Sandra Dallas, and now Charlaine Harris.  Charlaine was recently in Cedar Rapids for the Out Loud! Author series.  This series is supported by Theatre Cedar Rapids, and the Cedar Rapids Metro Library.  B&N is the official bookseller at these events.  When I found out Charlaine Harris was going to be part of this year's Out Loud! series, I couldn't wait to attend the event.  As another stroke of good luck, the narrator of the Sookie Stackhouse audios, Johanna Parker, was also on board for the visit.

Friday night, it was appropriately a very stormy evening when Charlaine and Johanna made their appearance at TCR.  The crowd was huge; many people were waiting in line for hours.  The best part of this event was that it was free!  Free, people!  After a great introduction by Rob Cline, the orchestrator of Out Loud!, Charlaine took to the microphone with very loud applause and cheers from the crowd.  She was as charming as you would think.  A lovely southern accent, self-deprecating humor, and so down to earth that you wish you could sit down and have a good 'ol chat with her.  Johanna got up and read scenes from various books.  She was amazing.  I now know that acting is not only using your facial expressions, but your voice.  I don't listen to audio books, but she has definitely tempted me!  The two of them together were delightful.  The questions from the audience were thoughtful and very articulate.  

We found out that Sookie will be around for at least three more books, that Charlaine has finished with her three mystery series, and plans on starting a new series someday.  As long as she keeps on writing, I will keep on reading.  

I stayed late and patiently waited in line to have her sign my first paperback, Dead Until Dark.  I have been reading this series since the beginning; my paperback has an old cover, and Charlaine's name is very tiny.  You can tell how popular an author has become by the evolution of their name size on the book cover.  

Anyway, I was thrilled to meet her and Johanna.  Both were worth the wait.  


Charlaine, still signing after almost two hours!

Johanna, a lovely woman who was happy to take one more picture with me!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Birth House by Ami McKay was recommended to me by a fellow co-worker.  I'm glad I listened to her!

The Birth House was a refreshing change from some of the novels I've been reading lately.  It takes place in the small town of Scots Bay, Nova Scotia in 1917.  Miss B. is the town midwife, who's schooled not only in the arts of midwifery, but healing with herbs and potions.  People revere her, yet whisper she's a witch, too.

Dora Rare is the first daughter in five generations to be born to the Dare family.  Her unusual dark coloring, being born with a caul over her face, and her intelligent nature mark her as "odd" by the community.  She is taken under the wing of Miss B, and soon is learning about midwifery and how to treat the town's ills.

Dora's story takes place during World War I, which forms a backdrop to the story.  Her brothers and other men from town go to fight, and through letters and newspaper articles, we learn what's going on not only with her brothers, but also with Dora.  She's challenged by a medical doctor, who opens a women's birthing clinic in a nearby town, and sets out to convince the women of Scots Bay to have him deliver their babies away from home and with ether and forceps.  It's the new way--no pain for the mother.  Isn't that so much better than suffering at home, with an uneducated midwife helping you along?

I really liked the historical background of this novel.  Dora struggles through a major change in women's reproductive rights.  The worlds of science and old fashioned medicine clash, and Dora's in the middle.  Women are marching for the right to vote, and the right to determine their choices to make as mothers.  At the same time, Dora is being pushed to marry someone she doesn't really love, and retire to a life of domesticity and childbearing.  What about women's "hysterics?"  Nothing that a medical doctor with an electric machine can't solve.  It's laughable now that people, particularly men, believed women needed to stay calm and quiet, and any sign of rebellion was a sign that their nerves were on edge and science needed to save them.

The Birth House  is a great novel for anyone who's interested in the struggle for women's rights, World War I, and the slowly disappearing life of a small town in the advancement of technology and science.  I really enjoyed it!  And you will love Dora Rare.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares is her second adult novel.  She's most well known for her teen  series Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The main character in this novel is Daniel Grey.  He's a young high school senior, a warrior from 541 A.D., the younger brother of a nasty man that falls in love with his sister-in-law, and a World War I soldier recovering from wounds at a country home in England.  Yes, Daniel is all of these people.  He has the unfortunate ability to remember all of his past lives every time he comes back to earth.

The one constant in Daniel's life is his search for Sophia, the woman he fell in love with in his first life as a warrior.  Their relationship doesn't get off to a very good start because he sets her hut on fire and she dies.  After that life, Daniel meets her again as Sophia, his sister-in-law in another life.  His brother is back as a cruel drunkard who treats Sophia terribly.  Daniel rescues her and keeps her safe, at the cost of his own life.

Daniel wanders through 1000 years of lifetimes, always searching for Sophia.  Sometimes he finds her; other times she doesn't show up for hundreds of years.  She doesn't remember her past lives, so Daniel is always having to start over.  They never have a happy ending.  Until 2004, in a high school in Virginia.  They meet again--this time, the same age, with no barriers.  Daniel approaches Lucy, and scares her away.  He's in dispair, thinking he's ruined his chances once again.

Years go by, and Lucy is haunted by Daniel's memory.  She had a crush on him in high school, and can't get him out of her mind.  As she works through her college years, she explores the strange dreams she has, and becomes convinced Daniel is meant to be with her.  If only she could find him!  And why did he call her Sophia?  Lucy works on unraveling the mystery of her connection to Daniel.

Do they ever get together?  Is it possible to have a happy ending, after so many centuries of sadness and near misses?  Who is out there, determined to stop them being together?

I loved this book.  Daniel is such a thoughtful, well developed character.  The book travels back and forth between contemporary Virginia and Daniel's past lives.  He contemplates what he's learned, and why he is one of the few souls that remember everything both good and bad he's ever done in every life.  Lucy/Sophia is a young woman who plans on a safe, uncomplicated life, but realizes the here and now are based on what happened before.

The book is not maudlin--it draws you in until you're eagerly anticipating their reunion and hopeful that finally! Daniel and Lucy will come together and find a way to complete their journey.

Read a different kind of love story.  If you are a fan of The Time Traveler's Wife , you will enjoy this novel.  A bit of history, a lot of love, a lot of nail biting.  Good stuff.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Honey, I'm Going to the Amazon

The Lost City of Z by David Grann is a fascinating look at exploring the Amazon in the early 20th century.  One man in particular, Percy Harrison Fawcett, is the main focus of this story about obsession with an elusive city called "Z".

Fawcett was an amazing man.  Tough, strong, and seemingly impervious to  the many illnesses that befell his companions in the Amazon, he accomplished in months what it would take other explorers years to do:  He mapped unknown areas of the Amazon between Brazil and Peru; he traveled through treacherous territory where others were killed by native tribes, and he wrote copious letters home describing everything he saw.  He was a member of the Royal Geographical Society, and was famous in his time.

His final quest was in 1925.  He had become convinced, through studying maps and letters from early European explorers, that a lost city existed deep in the Amazon.  He was determined to be the first man to find it.  Traveling with him was his son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh.  His communications were followed by numerous newspapers around the world, until suddenly they stopped.  After a few years, his wife Nina was convinced he would be back.  When he never returned, dozens of explorers over the next 20 years risked their own lives to travel into the Amazon, looking for signs and hopefully finding Fawcett.  What happened to Fawcett, Jack, and Raleigh?  Were they killed by hostile tribes, did they die from disease, or starve?  Did they find the city of Z?

This book was very enjoyable.  I can't believe these men actually went into the Amazon and endured pretty horrific conditions  because they were driven to explore.  This was the last great time to see unexplored regions of our planet; it's kinda sad to know there really aren't any mysteries left.  The author, David Grann, becomes increasingly intrigued by Fawcett's story, and decides to travel to the Amazon 85 years after Fawcett's disappearance, to finally get some answers.  What he discovers is surprising and a suitable end to the quest for the Lost City of Z.

Relax on your porch, spray some bug repellent around, and dive into this entertaining read.  You will never look at our mosquitos quite the same again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman

Sometimes I just can't believe my luck.  I was reading a book, and at the end there was an interview with the author.  She mentioned Carol Goodman as someone she likes to read.  Since the book I read was a ghosty story, I quickly got on the computer at work,  looked up Carol Goodman and bought a few of her titles. How could I have missed her all these years?!

Happy day for me!  The Ghost Orchid is fantastic and has made me a Carol Goodman fan.  It takes place at Bosco, an estate that has been turned into an artist's retreat in upstate New York.  Ellis is the main character.  She's come to finish a novel about Corinth Blackwell, a medium who visited Bosco in 1893 and disappeared, along with the only surviving child of the owners, Milo and Aurora Latham.  

This story moves between Ellis' experiences at Bosco in contemporary times, and Corinth arriving at Bosco, where she has been hired by Milo Latham to conduct a seance for his wife, hoping to contact their three children, who died from diptheria the year before.  Corinth's secret is that she really does have a gift, but it so frightened her as a child, she uses tricks to make believers  out of her customers without actually contacting spirits.

The other main character in this story is the garden.  It's no ordinary garden. Aurora has decided to recreate the gardens of Italy at her estate, and has hired Italian gardeners to put in fountains, paths, and statues everywhere.  It's an enormous garden--one that has hidden paths, a secret grotto, and a statue of an indian maiden tied to a local legend.

This book was awesome!   An intelligent ghost story.  Ellis sees and hears all sorts of mysterious things, and begins to unwind the story of Corinth and Bosco.  Something there needs to tell it's story, and Ellis, who also has the gift of sight,  becomes the unwilling storyteller.  

So many secrets, so many relationships twisting around this story!  The atmosphere is wonderful, the writing fantastic, and the suspense keeps you glued to the pages.  What happens to Corinth?  Who is haunting the gardens, and why?  What does the local legend of Ne'Moss-i-Ne  have to do with Corinth and Ellis?  

Hurry to your local library or bookstore and pick this one up.  I have made a permanent spot on my bookshelves for Carol Goodman's novels.  I can't wait to dive into the rest of her novels.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

See Note Below

So, if you've read the other blog entry from June 1st, you've seen my very ambitious reading list for the next month or so.

You may question my sanity.

I say--look at the quote by Louisa May Alcott at the top of my blog.

Really, books have addled my brain!

Back to reading...:)

Summer Reading Plan: First Incarnation

Those of you who know me, know that there are very few days that go by where I don't see a book I want to read, and either buy it, or make a mental note to pick it up later.  I should know by now that the mental note won't work.  The brain is fuzzy, and since I can barely remember what day it is, I have resorted to making a list on my blog for books I currently have, and want to read in the next month or so.

The fantastic thing about having a Nook is that I can buy an ebook and it just patiently sits on my Nook until I'm ready to read it.  So, here's my list the first time around.  Some are ebooks, others I have sitting on the shelves at home.  I also have a pile of paperbacks on my desk at work, which I will be buying on Friday (payday!) so those will be added to the list.  Of course, you can purchase them wherever you want, but my preferred place is my local Barnes and Noble.  Sit back, relax with an iced mocha (extra shot, no whip cream), and enjoy picking out your summer reads!

My List:  * indicates ebook

*The Birth House by Ami McKay
*Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware
*The Lost City of Z by David Grann
*The Language of Sand by Ellen Bock
*Sultana by Alan Huffman
The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose
The Memorist by M.J. Rose
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (about halfway through this one)
Strange Neighbors by Ashlyn Chase
Laced with Magic by Barbara Bretton
The Man with the Golden Torc by Simon Green
World Without End by Ken Follett

I think that's enough, don't you?  It's still not everything I have at home, but I'm sure I will change my mind within the next day on what to read and when.  So many choices, so little time!  Oh--one more thing:  this doesn't include the book I'm going to finish up today--The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman.