Monday, January 30, 2012

New Podcast: Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted

Barking seal girl (that's me!) has managed to spit out another podcast.  Here's the latest:  a mix of grief, love, magic, and wishes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

My runaway train of reading continues with this lovely book.  Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon is a look at a woman who lived an amazing life, using her talents and determination to become a formidable force of nature.

Almina was the illegitimate child of Alfred de Rothschild, but grew up loved and cosseted.  She maintained a loving relationship with her father--and he was rich beyond rich.  The Carnarvon family needed an influx of money to maintain the glorious estate of Highclere Castle, and luckily Almina was not only rich, but lovely, talented, and quickly in love with future 5th Earl of Carnarvon.  He would go on to become famous for discovering the tomb of King Tut.  

The two lived a live of glamour set against the ever increasing tensions of a Europe careening towards the horribleness of World War I.  When it quickly became obvious England was going to war, Almina used all her might ( and quite a bit of her father's money) to turn Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers.  Her approach of individual care, home cooked meals, and holistic ideas were revolutionary at that time, and she found a natural talent for nursing.  For four long years she toiled at both Highclere and later in London, establishing another hospital and gathering the best equipment and talent to help heal soldiers dealing with wounds no one had ever seen before in the history of man.  

What I loved about this book was the effortless flow to it.  It was a pure joy to read, and humanized people who rubbed elbows with royalty.  The photos do little justice to Almina's vibrant personality.  The horror of World War I has, in my reading experience, never been quite so eloquently put into words.  I have a newfound respect for those brave men and women who kept going under such awful circumstances.  The world was changing so swiftly it was difficult to hang on, but hang on they did, weary and grief stricken through it all.

The relationship between Almina and her husband, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was one of warmth and loving affection.  She traveled extensively with him to Egypt and all across Europe, and they had a loving marriage until the Earl's tragic death shortly after discovering King Tut's tomb.  This fascination with Egypt was one of the most interesting parts of this book and has given me a reason to peruse my Egyptian history books once again.

This book has it all:  history, adventure, tragedy, and a look at the world of the privileged.  The only difference between them and the rest of us is money.  I hope to someday travel back to England. I'd like to see Highclere Castle- still in the Carnarvon family- thanks to Almina and her son, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and all their efforts to preserve it.  

Rating:  4/5 enjoyable read with photos that complete the package.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

I've had the opportunity to watch Ree Drummond's new cooking show on Food Network a few times this past month, and I have to say I enjoy it.  Plus, the food is simple but looks so darn good, it's impossible to believe you couldn't make it yourself.  I am tempted to flip through her cookbook and see just how many recipes I want to try on my Marlboro Man.

But this book is not about cooking, but about the beginnings of her life with Marlboro Man, her husband Ladd.  It's nice to know there's another lady out there that has fallen for a young man that has grey hair.  Instead of thinking, geez, he's old, it's "wow--what a hot guy!"  Yep.  Been there.  Can't imagine my sweetie any other way.  Bud is my Silver Fox :)

But I digress.  Ree spots her cowboy across a bar in the small Oklahoma town she's come back to after breaking up with her California boyfriend.  She's decided she's going to move to Chicago and go to law school.  But first, she's got to get it together, so she stays at her parent's house and trying really really hard to "gently, slowly" break her boyfriend's heart from a distance.  Not moving to San Francisco with him, telling him she's moving to Chicago, and actually leaving him just doesn't give him enough clues to leave her alone.  

Meanwhile, after an intense bar conversation with MM, she's fallen head over heels in a very hard way.  I completely understand the appeal of biceps, Ree.  All those little things about a man that keep him in your mind all day.  But MM doesn't call her for 4 months!  She's inches away from leaving for Chicago when they have their first date.  It's pretty much the stuff of romance novels, and Ree finds herself hopelessly caught between trying to be an independent woman, and falling madly in love with a cowboy who's going nowhere but home to his ranch.  

Ree's love story may sound corny to some people, but I have to say, it was so refreshing to read a true life romance that described that peace and sense of place you find with the right person.  That the spark doesn't  fade after a year or two, that two people can get married without living together first, and make a home for two (and soon three) while coping with a first year of marriage that reminded me of The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Lots of stuff hits this couple just after their wedding, and it would shake anyone's relationship.  But these two hold on, and that's what I like about this story.  Never underestimate the power of a strong, grounded man who's not afraid to say what he thinks, is quietly confident, and is always there no matter what.  And looks good in Wranglers.

Ree and MM are still happily married, with four children, and live on a ranch.  She's funny, entertaining, and down to earth.  I now know what a keeper she has and why he calls her "Momma" on her show.  There are a few recipes at the end of the book, but mainly it's a biography of their meeting, courtship, and first year of marriage.  

Rating:  3/5  A fun way to pass a winter's day.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

Here's my review on Goodreads for this book about Typhoid Mary:


Friday, January 20, 2012

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The House at Tyneford is one book you cannot put down.  It tells the story of a young Jewish girl--Elise Landau, from Vienna, who is forced to part from her mother--an opera singer, her father, a novelist, and her older sister during 1938 and the beginning of the dark cloud of Hitler and Jewish oppression.  Elise is granted a visa to travel to England to work in an English manor house as a servant, while her parents, sister, and brother-in-law plan to travel to the United States for safety.  Her parents are unable to procure a visa for her to the US, so England is the safest place for her.  Reluctantly she says goodbye to her family, carrying a viola with her father's last novel tucked inside for safekeeping.  

Elise finds herself on the coast of England in a small, very rural area that is overseen by Tyneford, the great manor where Mr. Rivers and his son Kit live in isolated, very British splendor. Not knowing much English, Elise is horribly homesick and feels very lost.  Desperate for word from her family, letters are written and then the wait begins, for many years, on word from her family.  Meanwhile, Elise slowly accustoms herself to the beauty of Tyneford, the charm of Kit, and the surrounding sea that pulls at her soul.  Elise realizes her life will never  again be in Vienna, and she will never again be the same person.  

As the war begins, it looms over the countryside and takes it's toll.  Elise finds herself becoming someone very different from the young girl who arrived deathly afraid and clutching her mother's party dress.  And still she waits to hear from her Mother, and from Margot, her sister who makes it to California safely.  

I loved this book.  The writing is simply beautiful and conveys such beauty, peacefulness, and sadness at a time when the world was in chaos.  The story is both sad and uplifting, as Elise finds love in more ways than she can imagine, and a knowledge about herself and her place at Tyneford.  

Anyone who enjoys novels about World War 2, anyone who likes Kate Morton, or historical fiction will eagerly read this novel.  It's one you finish, dry your eyes, then clutch to your chest for a while, lingering over the characters who have laughed, cried, and danced in your mind for a few hours.  

My rating:  4/5    Available in paperback and as an ebook.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reading From The Bookshelves: Black Wings and Black Night

 Working in a bookstore has given me the opportunity to see trends in books grow, spread to all genres, then fade.  The trend of a woman clad in leather, holding either a sword, huge gun, or sitting on a motorcycle, battling creatures that occupy our world, all the while discovering she is also partially supernatural and having a love interest from said supernatural world has been going on for a looooong time.  And it looks like it's not going away any time soon.

I tend to avoid most of these books, since they all seem to be the same and after trying to read quite  a few, I gave up and moved onto other books.  But I found these two on my bookshelves, and in keeping with my goal of clearing out and making space for new books, I read them both this week.

And I enjoyed them, too.  Black Wings by Christina Henry has a main character--Madeline Black, who has a gargoyle as her best friend and long time "protector"--Beezle.  He's a cute, chunky little gargoyle who flits around and loves donuts and popcorn.  Madeline's job is a bit different:  she collects souls from the recently deceased and makes sure they go to the "door" and go through it.  If they don't, that soul is stuck on earth for eternity--it becomes a ghost.  She inherited this job from her mother, who was murdered when Madeline was much younger.

But things aren't the same--someone is killing other agents, and their souls are being lost.  Madeline soon has a mysteriously hot man--Gabriel--renting the other apartment in her home, and by golly, don't ya know there's more to Madeline and Gabriel that you could ever imagine.  What I like about Madeline is that she's slightly overweight, she's hopeless about many things, but at the same time has some great potential to kick some supernatural butt!  And she likes to cook.

Madeline is somehow connected to fallen angels, Gabriel is there to protect her, and holy cow does she have super powers!  I won't tell you what or how.  Just know that both novels are enjoyable, and I will read the third novel in this series.  If you like Jim Butcher, you would probably enjoy these.  The complex relations Madeline encounters can be a bit confusing, so you do need to pay attention.  They are a great way to pass a few cold, snowy winter nights!

Rating:  3/5  for both novels

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Podcast for 2012! Let The Reading Begin

Yep, I've already messed up my goal of one podcast a week.  But, here's my first one for this year--enjoy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Dust Girl  by Sarah Zettel is the first in the American Fairy Trilogy, and I will be reading the rest of this trilogy.  Why?  Cause this isn't your usual teen fairy story.

Callie LeRoux lives in a small town in Kansas during the Dust Bowl.  Her mother runs the Imperial Hotel, and not too many people are left in town.  There is dust everywhere, in everything--even creeping into Callie's lungs, endangering her health.  Her mother refuses to leave town, claiming that Callie's father  will return to them--even though he's been gone since before Callie's birth.  

A major dust storm arrives, and Callie's mother disappears into it, leaving Callie alone at the hotel.  Callie's not a normal young girl, however.  Her father was the heir apparent to one of two warring fae factions, and now they're out to find Callie.  Not only is Callie half human/half fae, but she's also mixed race in a world where blacks were not welcome in hotels, restaurants, and towns.  She's got two secrets to keep and is on the run for her life with the help of Jack, a young boy who's trying to get to California.  

I liked this teen novel because it was completely different from other fae stories, which I usually don't read.  A fairy story taking place during the Dust Bowl?!  Now that is pretty different.  The historical aspect of this novel helps to keep it grounded and keeps you moving along, cheering Callie and Jack on as they use their wits and new-found magic skills to keep ahead of those who want to kill her.

Rating:  4/5  

Put this on your to be read list--it will be out in June, 2012.  Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy!  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oh, I Just Gotta Do It!

The new year always gives me a clean slate book-wise that only lasts for about 24 hours, then I'm back again to being buried under the books I really really want to read.  Which is about eleventy billion.  I am decluttering my house, bit by bit (bathroom done this morning!).  As I was staring at my bookcases, I realized I needed to declutter them as well.  I did give my niece a bag of books when she was here this weekend, so I kinda sorta did some decluttering that way.  But 5-6 books out of hundreds is really not even a drop in the bucket!  

I've made a bet with myself.  Let's see if I can win this one--does that make sense?

I have to read all of the paperback stripped books I have on my shelves within the next three months.  Period.  Do it.  Start now.  No messing around.  I'm serious here.  Wipe that snarky smile off your face, Ms. Caboo!

Working in a bookstore is a blessing.  With that blessing comes lots of paperback books that I am able to read at my leisure.  They are rendered unsaleable, then booksellers are able to take them home and read them.  If you ever go to a garage sale or a used bookstore and see a paperback book without a cover, it's illegal to sell it!  Someone is making a big no-no.

Anyway, this gives me an opportunity to read books I wouldn't necessarily buy.  I have discovered some wonderful books this way!  The only problem is that it is easy to accumulate them, and then they sit on the shelves.  So here goes.  All those mass markets, all those reader's copies, they are going to finally be read and enjoyed in the next three months.  Taking a break from Netgalley (this may  very well kill me), not looking at anything new (I know this will kill me).  Not until I've plowed through these books, reviewed quite a few, and passed them onto the great book recycling center in the sky.  

So if I stick with it, and win the bet against myself--what do I reward myself with this time?  Any suggestions?  I haven't a clue.  I'll think of something; after all, I have three months to complete this challenge.  

How are you decluttering your book life?  Or are you at all?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields

A mystery set in 1892 Portland, Maine finds two investigators racing against time to solve the horrific murders of women that are tied to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. I really enjoyed this novel. It starts off with a bang, and just when you think things are solved, surprises jump out at you. I liked all the characters, especially Perceval Grey, the mysterious investigator from Boston. His Native American background plays a large role in this investigation.

 Using their wits and investigative skills, Grey and Detective Lean travel by boat, train, and carriage to solve these puzzling deaths. This would make a great movie!

A great read for anyone who likes historical mysteries; I found the ties to the Salem Witch Trials a unique and clever plot line.  I won't say anymore about this novel because it can be complex and so many things are tied together I don't want to give anything away! Definitely a pick up book for those who like historical mysteries.  I hope there are more like this one coming in the future; I'd like to see Grey and Lean work together on more crime in 1892 Portland.

 It will be out in hardcover in March 2012.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

I use the word "unputdownable" very lightly, as it's been overdone in the reading world lately.  But this book fits that adjective and once again, reading other people's reviews gave me a read that kept me anxious, angry, and at times in tears.  Wooohoo!  This was a great novel!

Sister is about two sisters, Tess and Beatrice.  Beatrice lives in New York City, newly engaged to a man and living a 'safe' life.  She receives a phone call from her mother telling her Tess is missing.  Beatrice flies to London, sure that her artsy sister has just done one of her silly stunts, and will be found quickly.  When Beatrice arrives, she quickly realizes it's much more serious that she expects, and starts to question the police about the circumstances of her sister's disappearance.  It's even more important to find her sister because she is 8 months pregnant.

Sadly, her sister is found dead in a Hyde Park toilet building, wrists slashed.  Everyone quickly comes to the conclusion that she committed suicide in the depths of depression.  Only Beatrice insists it was murder.  She knows her sister, and knows she would never kill herself.  This begins Beatrice's determination to investigate her sister's death on  her own, talking to everyone her sister knew, and uncovering shocking information in the process.  Can she find the killer while dealing with the mind numbing grief of losing her sister?

I don't think you need to have a sister to understand the powerful moments of grief over losing a loved one.  If you love someone wholeheartedly, losing them is the worst thing in the world.  Rosamund Lupton writes about Beatrice's and her mother's grief so eloquently and movingly that it does bring tears.  Beatrice is heart broken to have her sister put in the ground, when she always felt her sister was a free spirit that soared with the birds.  Lupton's description of her mother 'silently screaming' at the gravesite is a heart breaker.  

The book moves quickly, and the end really is clever and a shocker.  The story is told as a letter to Tess from Beatrice, and Beatrice is talking about the murder after everything has happened and is giving her statement to an officer for the court case.  You admire Beatrice for her unwillingness to give up, to believe in her sister, and her discovery that she is more like her sister than she ever knew. 

I can't say enough about this book.  A psychological thriller that you can't put down!  And when you're done, you have to go back and re-read the end.  Excellent for book club discussions!

My rating:  5/5


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

World Book Night: April 23, 2012

Here's an opportunity to spread your love of reading!  World Book Night is April 23, 2012.  You can apply on their website to give copies of a favorite book away on April 23, 2012.  It's your chance to spread your love of reading by actually putting a free book into someone's hands.  No cost to you; World Book Night provides copies of your book, you pick them up at a designated pick up point, then you give them away!  Sounds like fun, right?  Follow the link:  World Book Night to apply and pick your top three titles from the list they provide.  

Let's get reading, people!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond

I've decided I like to start the new year off with a young adult novel.  Books and Christmas are always entwined together for me; my best memories of Christmas are lying under the tree reading a book.

This was a book I would have loved as a kid--but I didn't know about until last year, when my friend C-Joy told me it was one of her favorite books as a youngster.  Whaaat?  Never heard of it!  I promptly ordered it at my bookstore, bought it, and pecked away at if for months.  I wasn't ready to sit down and really pay attention until just a few days ago.   A  few days off work, very cold and super windy weather, and I was set to travel to Wales and become entranced by the story of Taliesin, a great bard long known and beloved for his songs.  When I say long known,  I mean centuries.

The story starts with the arrival of Jen, the eldest child in a family that has lost their mother.  Her sister Becky and brother Peter have moved to Wales with their father for a year while David, their father, works at a local university.  Peter has found a old tarnished harp key on the beach and wears it around his neck.  What he hasn't told anyone is that the key warms up, he hears singing, and sees visions of the life of Taliesen and the history of the surrounding area .  What the heck is happening to Peter?  Is he imagining things, or is what he sees really a glimpse into the past?

It was refreshing to read a book that was written long before cell phones, texting, and computers were mainstream.  Getting out of a pickle isn't so easy when you can't call for help on a handy cell phone.  You are forced to rely on yourself.  And that's just what Peter, Becky, and Jen do as they roam the countryside exploring the beauty and wildness of Wales.

A large part of this story is about family.  Jen has stayed home in Amherst with her aunt and uncle, and has been separated from the rest of her family until the Christmas holiday in Wales.  Peter is angry at his father for taking them away from all that is familiar and putting in them in a harsh place where he's forced to learn Welsh in school and cannot fit in and doesn't want to fit in.  Becky, the youngest, is a sweet kid who's open to new adventures and only wants to be a family.  David, their father, is preoccupied with his job, and at a loss as to how to heal his family.  Much of the story is about all four learning to live together again, work together, and become a family without their mother.

I really enjoyed this story, and I think I liked it better reading it as an adult.  Much of the Welsh words and names may be confusing to some.  I get that.  It was a bit confusing to me, but you just go with it!  I am now interested in Wales.  Yep.  I'd go there in a second.  The mystery of the harp key, and the glimpses into the past Peter experiences ( and soon friends and family, too) are fascinating and keep the story moving along to a satisfying conclusion.  But is does leave you to ponder:  Do artifacts belong in a museum, or do they belong with the place they came from?

my rating:  4/5

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What's Up January!

I promised myself I would start off the year reading what I have at home, so January is now renamed "Revisit the Bookshelves" Month.  I am going to begin my reading year by only reading what I have at home and what has been patiently waiting on the shelves, on the floor, on the dresser, and...well...you get the picture.  

Some goals I hope to work on this year:

A regular posting of book reviews twice a week

A new podcast once a week

Learning magic so I can achieve all this and more!

It's very windy, cold, and gloomy today, so I'm sipping hot tea and staying curled up on the couch reading a wonderful young adult book recommended by my friend C-Joy:  A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond.  I've been pecking away at it for months, and it is my first read for January.  It's cold in Wales, and it's cold here, so it's a perfect book to read today!

What's your first read of the year?