Coming Soon

Sometimes I feel like I’m more likely to buy gold coins from a famous pirate than to ever catch up on book reviews.

Upcoming reviews you should look for:

  • The House on Oyster Creek, by Heidi Jon Schmidt
  • The Way I See It, by Melissa Anderson
  • Passage From England, by Frank Zajaczkowski
  • The Blue Bistro, by Elin Hilderbrand
  • Hope in a Jar, by Elizabeth M. Harbison
  • Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

And that doesn’t include the two books I’m reading now – a Laurie R. King one-off, and Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard.

The former isn’t gripping me the way King’s writing usually is, but that doesn’t really surprise me because I think I’m in a memoir mood right now.

In any case, I’m reading, and will be reviewing, so keep checking back.

Review: Barefoot, by Elin Hilderbrand

by Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown and Company, 528 pages
Get it at Amazon >>

Last month when I got home from Mexico, and had the opportunity to splurge on books, I looked for beach reading – books that took place in cute coastal villages. I’d been eying the paperback version of Elin Hilderbrands’s sixth Nantucket novel Barefoot for months, and finally brought it home on that trip. I didn’t actually read it it until the beginning of June, however, and when I did, it took a while before I was hooked. This is a novel that starts slowly, cresting like the gentlest of waves.

I don’t mind that sort of novel – sometimes they can be really satisfying reading – and I also didn’t mind that this was really an extended character piece. It begins, of course, with three women, Vicki, Brenda and Melanie, arriving on Nantucket for a summer in the cottage that Vicki and Brenda (sisters) inherited from their aunt. Melanie’s along for the ride because she’s a friend of Vicki’s. Each woman comes with baggage of the figurative kind as well as actual luggage. For Vicki, it’s cancer – she’ll be having chemo while summering by the shore. Brenda was a hotshot professor at a small, private university, fired for having an affair with her student (it should be noted that this isn’t a creepy kind of affair – her student was older than she was – but it was a professional faux pas). And Melanie…Melanie is newly pregnant, but because her husband is having an affair he refuses to end, the only birth announcements she’s made – or pregnancy announcements, for that matter, are to the other women with her on the trip, and, within a couple of chapters, the young islander Josh, who first greets them at the airport, then ends up becoming whatever the male version of an au pair is, since Vicki came with her two young children.

During the summer, Brenda works on the book/screenplay that she hasn’t been able to focus on elsewhere, Vicki becomes empowered with regard to her disease, and Melanie has a summer fling with young Josh.

None of these things are at all surprising, nor is the ending of the novel remotely unpredictable, but sometimes you don’t need a great twist for a novel to be satisfying; sometimes, all you need are vivid descriptions, three-dimensional characters (even when you find some of their behavior a bit annoying), and a cute coastal village. Hilderbrand provides all of those.

Goes well with: lemonade and a tuna sandwich from inside a picnic cooler at the beach.

Review: The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
by Lauren Willig
Dutton Adult, 416 pages
Get it at Amazon >>

In the newest adventure in Lauren Willig’s “Pink Carnation” series, all about nineteenth-century British flower spies (the first of which, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, was an affectionate sequel to Baroness Orcy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel), we move from England to colonial India, and the change of locale breathes new life into this series.

As is usual for Willig’s work, we’ve met our heroine Penelope Deveraux (now Lady Frederick Staines) before, when she made a brief appearance in the previous novel, The Tempation of the Night Jasmine. In that book, she was involved in a minor sex scandal…now we find her married off to the other party, but it’s a marriage that was forced upon two people who are really completely unsuited for each other simply to give the appearance of propriety to their relationship.

To further avert scandal, the couple’s been sent to India, where Lord Staines (Freddy) will take the position of Governor Generall Wellesley’s Special Envoy to the Court of Hyderabad. He, of course, begins an affair with a local “bibi,” – a mistress – and Penelope, who is quite the tomboy, with shooting and riding skills rivaling those of the men around her – makes her own niche, befriending Captain Alex Reid, who is escorting the couple and their entourage.

What follows is a rollicking adventure that includes murder, mayhem, passion, and politics, all rolled into a steamy climate. It’s a great read – so much so that for the first time, I wasn’t looking forward to contemporary character Eloise Kelly’s interludes (Eloise serves as narrator, as these adventures are all part of her graduate research project) with the dashing young relative of the original Pink Carnation, although, I will admit that reading about her grilled cheese dates are much more fun than reading lipozene reviews.

While these books are better when read in order, this novel can stand alone without the reader missing too many details.

Goes well with: grilled cheese sandwiches and good beer. Or a really tasty curry.

Booking Through Thursday: Now or Then


On Thursday, June 17th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Do you prefer reading current books? Or older ones? Or outright old ones? (As in, yes, there’s a difference between a book from 10 years ago and, say, Charles Dickens or Plato.)

I read a bit of everything, and go through cycles where I only want period pieces, only want contemporary novels, only want classic literature, etc.

I grew up reading the classics, in more ways than one. My grandfather’s eclectic collection of books, some in the shelves behind his recliner, and others on the shelves above the bed in the room where I slept most summers (the end room, with the psychedelic flower wallpaper) included two thick red hardcovers that either never had dust jackets, or for which the dust jackets had long since been replaced. I don’t remember the actual titles of those books, but I know at least one of them was published by the folks at the Readers’ Digest. They were both collections of fairy tales – and I don’t mean the Disney fare we’re accustomed to today. These stories included “Snow White,” but they also had “Snow White and Rose Red,” and stories about little goose girls, and a girl who had her hands hanging over her shoulder. Gruesome stuff. I don’t know what happened to those books, but really wish I had taken them when I had the chance.

From those, I moved on to real classics – I remember reading Jane Eyre during a violent summer storm, between bites of cold, creamy, coffee ice cream, while my grandparents watched the news. I read a lot of Alcott and Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, and Cervantes when I was young…but I had no problem switching between, say, Tom Sawyer and Harriet the Spy.

Today, my tastes remain just as diverse. Last summer, I started re-reading Jane Austen’s work, because I’d never really appreciated it before, but this summer I’m reading contemporary novels about people summering in (on?) Nantucket.

I don’t have a preference for any particular era, as long as the characters are well drawn, the story compelling, and my mind free enough from distraction to enjoy whatever I’m reading.

Review: Dead in the Family

Dead in the Family
by Charlaine Harris
Ace Hardcover, 320 pages
Get it at Amazon >>

Even though it’s been less than two weeks since I’ve read Charlaine Harris’ latest addition to the Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Mystery series, I don’t remember much about it. I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, or that it wasn’t well-written, because it was, but that it seemed like it didn’t really have a definitive plot. Oh, I mean, there was a stray faerie, and an unidentified shifter, but most of the book seemed transitional.

For example: Sookie is dealing with the aftermath of losing her “fairy godmother,” forging a relationship with her young cousin, who shares her ability, trying to find boundaries in her relationships with Eric (romantic) and Bill (who, quaintly, is still referred to as Vampire Bill by most of the folks at Merlotte’s, but, while there’s some wrapping up of loose threads, and some setup of future events, book ten feels very much like the middle novel of a trilogy, making it one of the rare books in this series that HAS to be read in order or the reader will be left completely confused.

Diehard Sookie Stackhouse fans will not want to miss this book, which came out six weeks ago (giving book clubs enough time to discuss it before last Sunday’s beginning of season three of True Blood), but I’m left feeling like the story wasn’t complete. Less is more, of course, as the adage goes, but…this book included a visit to Eric’s house, and I’m not certain if I know whether or not his taste runs to modern furniture, or something much more exotic.

Goes well with: peach pie and sweet tea.

Booking Through Thursday: Signature


On Thursday, June 10th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Do signed copies excite you? Tempt you? Delight you? Or does it not matter to you?

While there are a few authors of whom I am truly a fan, and not just a mere reader, I’m not the type to wait in line all night, so I can appear before them with bad breath and dark circles under my eyes, in order to get one of a limited number of signed copies.

However, while I don’t generally collect autographs, I will, if presented with the opportunity, opt for a signed copy of a book whenever possible. I don’t own a lot of signed copies, though my collection is growing lately. My copy of Robert Englund’s memoir is signed (and has a doodle), as does my copy of Michael Perry’s latest, Coop, but some of my favorite books, by some of my favorite authors (my entire Laurie R. King collection, for example) are not signed and it doesn’t mean I love them any less. (The lack of a Laurie R. King signature is somewhat mitigated by the signed photo of Jeremy Brett that I’ve had since I was thirteen or fourteen. Fans of a certain fictional detective will understand why. )

One of my favorite signed copies is the galley I have of Cleo Coyle’s coffeehouse mystery from last year – I love her work, and her recipes, and I enjoyed getting to read that before it was released.

In truth, I’d rather have the book than the signature on it.

Booking through Thursday: Long and Short of It

Yet again, I am dreadfully late at responding to BTT.


On Thursday, May 27th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Which do you prefer? Short stories? Or full-length novels?

In my world, having nothing to read is just as bad as not taking vitamins. I need to have a book or two near the tub, the toilet, and the bed, as well as various other places in the house, so asking me to choose between novels and short stories is difficult. If it’s well written, I like it.

After further thought, however, I decided that while I like short stories in small doses, I much prefer novels, because they give me the time to really submerge myself in a story, and breathe in a completely different world for a while. Short stories entertain me, but they never really give me the satisfaction I need.

Review: Prairie Tale

Prairie Tale
Prairie Tale: a Memoir
Melissa Gilbert
Gallery, 384 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

I’ve been a fan of Melissa Gilbert ever since the first episode of “Little House of the Prairie” first aired, but I hadn’t realized she’d published her memoir until I saw it for sale among the souvenirs of “Little House on the Prairie: the Musical” several weeks ago. I ended up buying the trade paperback version, and reading it in one night.

In Prairie Tale Gilbert starts with her childhood as a kid in pigtails going to commercial auditions, and walks us through the grittiest details of her life until now. She speaks wryly about her nervousness about the kissing scenes and love scenes with Dean Butler, who played Almanzo on the show, and candidly about her first serious relationship, with Rob Lowe. She shares her dreams, and also shares her struggle with the loss of Michael Landon, and her deeper struggles with both self esteem and alcohol. If she’d been using Lipovox, she’d have written about that too, no doubt.
In the end, this book does what a good memoir should: it makes us feel as if we’ve had a long chat with someone we once wished we could be friends with.

Goes well with strong coffee and a slice of corn bread.

Review: The God of the Hive

The God of the Hive
The God of the Hive
Laurie R. King
Bantam, 368 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

I’ve been a fan of Laurie R. King’s series about Mary Russell and her older husband, the legendary Sherlock Holmes, since the first book hit the stores, so of course, I had to have the latest adventure the very second it came out. When The God of the Hive arrived, however, I put it aside, planning to savor it while on vacation. Instead, I read all the paperbacks I’d brought with me, so that I could leave them for my mother, and didn’t read this novel until I got home.

One of the things I love about this series is the level of detail King includes. While she doesn’t have to know what passed for the best acne treatment in Holmesian London, she does have to know where one can find certain kinds of stationery, or where a bolthole might be located.

In this book, which is a direct sequel to the previous installment, The Language of Bees, Russell and Holmes are still separated by the requirements of their current case – Holmes fleeing with his injured long-lost son, and meets up with a Scottish doctor, who ends up being a fabulous addition to the existing cast of characters. Mary, on the other hand, has the aeroplane pilot, and Holmes’ half-Chinese granddaughter to contend with, though she, too, hooks up with a helper who turns out to be quite beneficial to all concerned.

There isn’t much detection in this novel – there is character and there’s plot, but it’s basically a chase scene interrupted by action.

The good news, however, is that it’s still, undeniably King’s work, which is always incredibly compelling reading.

Review: The House on First Street

The House on First Street
The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story
by Julia Reed
Harper Perennial, 224 pages
Get it at Amazon >>

Julia Reed’s The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story may be her memoir of the renovation of the home she buys (across the street from Anne Rice’s old place) with her husband, after many years of living in tiny, funky New Orleans rentals, and not quite cutting ties with New York, but it’s also a love story about old houses and old cities, and the magic that both offer, if you only know how to feel it.

While this book, with it’s comical (to those of us who are merely reading about it) and familiar (to any of us have gone through it) tales of slow, less-than-adequate contractors, dusty floors, paint disasters, plumbing woes and the search for the perfect appliances, fixtures (everything from the most charming door knob for an inside door, to debates about porcelain – should they use Toto toilets or some other brand?), rugs, and furniture is essentially about the relatively common practice of restoring a vintage home, it’s also a first-hand account of the aftermath of Katrina.

The hurricane struck, you see, just two weeks after Reed and her husband had finally moved into the House on First Street. They were lucky – they lost an expensive tree, and had some minor exterior damage – but their neighborhood didn’t flood. Nevertheless, Reed was in position to be in the city sooner than most of the other residents, and while she shares humorous anecdotes about buying barbecue for an entire platoon of National Guards, underlying the wry tone is the poignance of a woman who just wants to go home.