Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review - Empty Mansions, Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune   


Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Category: Nonfiction: Biography

Synopsis: Dedman explores the mysterious life of Huguette Clark, heir of the W.A. Clark copper mining fortune.

Date finished: 17 November 2013

Rating: ****½

This is one of those books I bought to see what all the fuss was about. It sounded interesting, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that a few hundred stellar reviews on Amazon means something. Were the reviews right? Absolutely. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was part journalism, part mystery, part gossip column. The writing was engaging and pleasant, and I believe the book was thoroughly researched and honest.

Why did Huguette Clark cut herself off from her family and become a recluse? Was she being taken advantage of by her nurse, doctors, attorney, and accountant? Did she give away millions upon millions of dollars of her own free will? Was she mentally ill? Why did she play with dolls and watch cartoons? Why did she spend the last 20 years of her life in a hospital when she wasn’t ill and had several million-dollar homes she could have lived in? These mysteries and more are left up to the reader to decide.

I tend to think Huguette was an eccentric lady who used her money to amuse herself (her doll collection and custom-made doll castles) but also gave millions of dollars away willingly. In later years, I believe her nurse and doctors took advantage of her generosity, but she likely knew what she was giving away; she often refused requests for money from others, showing she was decisive. Since she had no heirs, she probably wanted to spend her fortune herself before she died.

My one beef with the book is that it came out before the court case taken up by her 19 family members was resolved. Perhaps the case will go on another few years, but if not, I really would have prefer the authors held off on publication until all was settled. I didn’t like going through the book only to have no resolution.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review - Dog Songs: Poems, Mary Oliver

Dog Songs: Poems


Mary Oliver

Category: Poetry; Dogs

Synopsis: Oliver collects poems written about the dogs she’s shared her home and heart with.

Date finished: 23 November 2013

Rating: ****½

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Mary Oliver, unless of course you count my yearly reading of this poem. But poems by Mary Oliver and poems about dogs is a confluence I couldn’t ignore. I bought this book when it came out, and I’ve been saving it for when I needed to fill myself up in only the way poetry can. After finishing the biography of Rose Kennedy’s rather hedonistic approach to life, I wanted Mary Oliver’s approach. And this volume did not disappoint.

It’s hard to review a book of poetry. It either hits you like a sucker-punch or it doesn’t. And what brings me to my knees may not even move you. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this book will appeal to most. Oliver has a way of distilling things down to their very essence. She talks about human nature by talking about the natural world. And in this book, she shows you human nature through the love one feels for dogs.

What I love most about her poetry? She doesn’t apologize for what she loves, what affects and changes her, what molds and remolds her on a daily basis. She does this with simplicity, grace, and humor. She doesn’t take herself too seriously here—a dog won’t let you do that anyway. My only complaint is that there weren’t enough poems.

A few lines from the poem “Her Grave”:
     A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house
     but you
     do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
     trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, especially to those who enjoy dogs and poetry.

You might also enjoy:
Maddie on Things
Stag’s Leap
The Hungry Ear

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Reviw - Things That Matter, Charles Krauthammer

Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics


Charles Krauthammer

Category: Nonfiction: Politics & Washington, D.C.

Synopsis: Krauthammer presents dozens of his columns on politics and other personal topics.

Date finished: 5 November 2013   

Rating: ***½

Let’s get one thing straight. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve read lots of books on politics, by politicians, by presidents, by secretaries of state; I watch a LOT of news and listen to a lot of pundits. I’m up on the happenings in the Middle East, the ongoing skirmishes between Palestine and Israel, the democrat/republican divide, the liberal/conservative divide, domestic policies, economic issues, etc., etc., etc.


This book just about did me in. Krauthammer is easily the smartest man I’ve ever listened to. He’s clearheaded, educated, and full of conviction. He has a dry (very, very dry) wit, and he can bloviate on most any topic. And I thoroughly enjoyed the first half to two-thirds of the book. His essays on Border Collies and mathematics and chess were enormously engaging. I enjoyed the glimpse into his mind. I also enjoyed learning even more about the “Jewish problem” (meaning, the Palestinian/Israel issue).

But oh those essays on politics, war, and world issues. Heaven help me. Without a Ph.D. in political science, you may as well not bother. I was absolutely lost in some of the longer essays. And quite frankly, I was bored. After awhile I was so overloaded that I couldn’t even concentrate on the point he was making. It’s not that his prose was too academic, though he does have a sharp vocabulary, it’s that the ideas were just too big. Or something.

In short, love and respect the author, enjoyed the first two-thirds, pulled my hair out trying to finish it.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Eh. I don’t think so.

You might also enjoy:
An American Life, Ronald Reagan
No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice
Decision Points, George W. Bush

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing you a bright and merry Christmas!

Top Ten Tuesday (Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me)
This week's Topic: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing Me

Well, I like to give Santa lots of options, to my list of 10 is a list of 20. I’m a list maker, but I’ve never been good at making short lists.

These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie, Christopher Andersen
Another. Kennedy. Book. But for some reason, this one calls to me.

Cooking Comically: Recipes So Easy You’ll Actually Make Them, Tyler Capps
Do you know about this book? If not, check out his site. You’ll want it too!

Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, Sally Bedell Smith
Her Elizabeth the Queen was so good that I have high hopes for this one.

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, William Shawcross
I’m very interested, after reading Elizabeth the Queen this year, but it is 1096 pages, and I’m not sure if I have the will for that.

Outrageous Fortune: Growing up at Leeds Castle, Anthony Russell
Sounds like a sweet coming-of-age story.

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World, Greg King & Sue Woolmans
This is a part of history that I remember studying in school and being very interested in, but I’ve forgotten so much of my school history. I look forward to this one.

Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt, Arthur T. Vanderbilt, II
To fill the void after Empty Mansions is over.

Jim Henson: The Biography, Brian Jay Jones
Folks are making Henson out to be a saint, but I have a feeling he’s not so much of one. Still, this book is being favorable reviewed, so I’d like to give it a shot.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai
When this one came out, I thought it was for a YA reading crowd. The writing seemed a little simplistic, but as I can’t seem to resist a book about Afghanistan, I’d like to give it a whirl.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, Denise Kiernan
Frankly, I wasn’t interested in this book when it came out, but it’s been so well-received, I think I would like it.

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household, Kate Hubbard
Another about the English court and throne.

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race around the World, Matthew Goodman
See note for The Girls of Atomic City above.

Johnny Carson, Henry Bushkin
I kind of don’t want to know the extent of Carson’s womanizing, but I’m a sucker for a biography, so I’ll read it.

Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime, Sarah Smiley
This has been so highly recommended on Amazon, that I have to know what the fuss is about.

Five Days in November, Clint Hill, Lisa McCubbin
Although I’m a little Kennedy’ed out right now, Hill & McCubbin’s first book was so spectacular, I’m sure I’ll love this one.

The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, Kevin Young (Ed.)
I’m not at all interested in the subject matter, but I (a) love anthologies on a single theme, (b) enjoyed Kevin Young’s The Hungry Ear anthology so, so much, (c) need more poetry for next year, and (d) know that poems about death are always just a little better than poems about happier subjects.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink
Okay, I give. It’s all over the place, and it’s well-reviewed, so I guess I should read it. Even if it is about a hospital.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
Innies unite! I’ve been avoiding this book for a while, dancing around it, ignoring it, then wondering about it. I read the first few pages the other day, and I was hooked. I don’t like books that get clinical and diagnose-y, so I really hope this one doesn’t.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, The Countess of Carnarvon
I haven’t even seen a whole episode of Downton Abbey, but I think I could easily be hooked. And it seems the book is a well-respected companion to the series.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown
Oh my gosh, this book wasn’t even on my radar until a blogger said it was likely her favorite book of the year! It sounds like a wonderful must-read.

Have you read any of these? Which one should I start first?


Monday, December 23, 2013

Children's Picture Book - The Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers (Ill.)


The Day the Crayons Quit


Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers (Ill.)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Duncan’s crayons go on strike, and each writes him a letter to make their displeasure known.

Rating: ** (3-star scale)

It’s too bad Amazon doesn’t give an excerpt of this one. I think a lot of kids (and parents) would like to see the illustrations.

Each of little Duncan’s crayons has a gripe (well, except for good-natured Green). Red and Blue are overused. Pink is underused. Yellow and Orange need someone to settle their dispute over who should color the sun. They write out their letters of grievance and leave them in the crayon box. Each page shows a letter and artwork illustrating the various annoyances. The pictures are cute and are drawn to look like a child’s artwork.

I have to admit that when I read this book, I sort of didn’t like it. I don’t like picture books that focus on negativity. I don’t like to teach kids to complain.

Am I taking a picture book to seriously? Maybe. Some took it far more seriously:

Do I think it’s about racial prejudice? No.

Unionizing? No.

Did it bother me that Duncan got graded on his coloring at the end? No. (But I did think it was kind of weird. Do they grade coloring in kindergarten? Would a four-year-old even know what an A+ meant?)

Did it bother me that pink was a “girls’ color”? No.

So, overall, it was a good book, but I didn’t go ape over it like a lot of folks did. It was average, longish, and my grandson had fun reading it.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I think so.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review - Rose Kennedy, Barbara A. Perry

Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Monarch


Barbara A. Perry

Category: Nonfiction: Biography

Synopsis: Perry presents the life of the matriarch of the Joseph P. Kennedy family.

Date finished: 22 November 2013  

Rating: ****


I didn’t grow up in the Kennedy era. The golden lights of Camelot had long dimmed by the time I was aware of politics and power. What I knew about the Kennedys came from a TV special I watched several years ago and a book here or there. With the dozens of books being printed this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, I settled on this one to read. I’m always more interested in the woman’s role in a family and history than the man’s.

I wasn’t disappointed with the biography. It was comprehensive, covering Rose Kennedy’s life from her birth in 1890, through her Victorian coming-of-age through the 1910s-1950s when she gave birth to and raised nine children; to the years as a president’s mother; the years of grief following the assassination of two of her children and the tragic deaths of two more, and one daughter’s mind lost to a botched lobotomy; to the years of caring for her husband after his stroke; and into her later years filled with grandchildren. Through it all she traveled widely, kept close to her Catholic faith, and watched her family raise in prominence and importance—and occasionally fall in scandal.

As with any biography, you don’t know how true the story you’re reading is, but then, Rose was a chronic re-imaginer of family history. It seems that her own autobiography would be no more accurate. Perry seemed heavy-handed in her depiction of a woman who traveled to escape her family. While I tended to agree with her assessment that Rose didn’t so much raise her children as oversee the raising of her children, if you had nine children and millions of dollars, would you not take a Riviera escape now and then? It’s what women in that situation did.

Still, her insistence that she raised her children and that’s why they became so influential and created American history, is something I attribute to her reimagining tendencies. Her children were sent away to boarding schools at young ages (Teddy was only seven). And her sons began political careers almost immediately upon graduation from their Ivy League educations. I’d argue that money had a fair amount to do with their influence and power. I think Rose was too out of touch with how the average family lived to understand this. She talks about knowing they had money because as time when by she had bigger houses and more maids and more expensive fur coats. (page 57)

I had always hoped that the Kennedy clan was more noble than the scandals they brought upon themselves. Joe Sr., JFK, and Teddy were all philanderers. Kathleen (Kick) died in a plane crash with her married lover. Joe Jr., too, was seeing a married woman. Rose never publically (or privately, it would seem) acknowledged Joe’s infidelity. She would never divorce him due to her Catholic faith (and one would guess, reliance on the standard of living under Joe’s roof), she seemed to settle for jewels and furs and expensive clothes and extravagant vacations as retribution. Acknowledging his unfaithfulness would put a crack in the foundation of the empire, and that was something Rose would not allow.

Other areas colored by Perry:

It cracked me up to see Ted Kennedy portrayed as a political moderate. Good heavens, that tells you about Perry’s political ignorance or prejudices.

It’s presented that Jackie remarried only for Ari Onassis’s money, that the Kennedy fortune wasn’t enough for her. I have no facts to back up my assertion other than the information that Jackie ended up with only $26 million after Onassis’s death, and that she had to fight his daughter (and sole heir) for it in court. JFK was said to be worth $100 million at one point. Twenty-six million is a drop in the bucket, frankly.

Perry spent a long time conjecturing over which of Rose’s medicines may have caused which side effects in her life, and that bored me. Need we go that far?

Although Jack was quoted as saying his success, and that of his brothers and sisters, was due to his father, not his mother (page 312), there is no doubt that Rose raised a president, three senators, a congressman, an attorney general, two World War II military heroes, an ambassador, and two Presidential Medal of Freedom winners. And no matter her part in that, it is a phenomenal legacy.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, I think so.

You might also enjoy:
Mrs. Kennedy and Me

Children's Book Review - Clink, Kelly DiPucchio, Matthew Myers (Ill.)



Kelly DiPucchio, Matthew Myers (Ill)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Once a state-of-the-art robot, Clink is now obsolete. As his late-model robot friends leave one by one, he wonders if he’ll ever leave the store.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

So Clink, a toaster-slash-radio robot, has had his fifteen minutes of fame, and now he’s rusty and decrepit. His shiny new robot friends find homes with excited children, and no one even looks at Clink anymore. So one day Clink just shuts down completely. Powers off. Over and out. Poor little guy.

But then, a little boy who likes fixing things—and dry toast—comes in and takes Clink home. 

This isn’t an original plotline, nor is the writing stellar, but one thing saves it from Averageville: the illustrations. I loved these illustrations! They’re humorous and full of color and detail. I was smitten.

We all have those toys that were way better than the ones that come in shiny new boxes at Christmastime. That old doll that was raggedy and didn’t cry or have sleepy-eyes or hair that grew or the ability to wet a teeny weeny diaper? That doll was better. We didn’t know why, but we didn’t question it either. The heart loves what it loves. 

And, finally a book for boys! There are lots of girls books (because girls are encouraged to be bookish?), and there are lots of animal books and books that appeal to both genders, but I have a hard time finding “boy” books. This is a good one.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Too Many Toys by David Shannon

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Children's Book Review - And Then It's Spring, Julie Fogliano, Erin E. Stead (Ill.)

And Then It’s Spring


Julie Fogliano, Erin E. Stead (Ill)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: A boy and his dog decide to plant a garden, and they wait and they wait and they wait for the brown to change to green.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

This is a great book. For adults, at least. Unless a child is keenly aware of the seasons (and lives in the proper part of the country) or has spent time planting a garden, this may not do much for them.

But for me, this was a great book. It perfectly depicts that feeling northerners like me feel each year, namely, that spring can’t come fast enough. And it’s brown, brown, brown, then, suddenly one day, green!

The illustrations are lovely. There is an picture of a bear scratching himself with a sign that is hilarious and worth the price of admission!

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Sick Day for Amos McGee (same illustrator)

Children's Book Review - Big Plans, Bob Shea & Lane Smith

Big Plans


Bob Shea, Lane Smith (Ill.)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: This boy has big plans. Big Plans. BIG PLANS.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

Oh my gosh, I almost died laughing!

This book perfectly encapsulates a child’s quirky imagination and big ideas. It has the heart and irreverence of Olivia, but I think Shea takes it up a notch. Everyone knows a little boy (or girl) just like this. Excitable, ambitious, zealous. Incorrigible. And probably right.

The font is sized according to each proclamation, and the yes-man bird who follows him around is always there for ego boosts—as if he needs them. This is one of those rare books that entertains on all age-levels. Parents will be delighted.

(The available preview pages on Amazon are no indication of how wonderful this book is.)

Hilarious, I’m telling you.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, yes, and YES.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Children's Book Review - Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, Lori Motensen, Michael Allen Austin (Ill.)

Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg


Lori Mortensen, Michael Allen Austin (Ill.)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Cowboy Clyde has one chore left: give Dirty Dawg a bath. But Dirty Dog gives chase.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

This one has it all: a cowboy, a dirty dog, a bathtub under the stars. It also has a great metered rhyme that doesn’t get boring or feel cheap. And the illustrations are wonderful. And there is a nice resolution.

I think this will appeal to little ones both who love baths and loathe them.

A well-done read.

Would you recommend this to a friend?


Children's Book Review - A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Philip Christian Stead

A Sick Day for Amos McGee


Philip Christian Stead, Erin E. Stead (Ill)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: When Amos the zookeeper calls in sick, the zoo animals show up to tend to him.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

I put off reading this one for a long time because I tend to avoid books that are health-related. I finally gave in, and, of course, I’m glad I did. There was little ado over the sickness and the compassion with which the animals responded—each with his own particular gift and personality—was a reflection of the gentleness with which Amos administers to them daily. Love is reflected in love.

This tender story was also funny and the illustrations are well-rendered and charming.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, enthusiastically!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (New-to-Me Authors)

This week's topic: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2013
This is a somewhat harder list to put together if you only read nonfiction, esp. memoirs. Most folks only write one memoir! So, I tried to choose authors I would eagerly anticipate and read more books from. A few are already on my 2014 TBR shelves or have books on my short list of books to buy.

Jen Lancaster (The Tao of Martha)

Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express)

Pamela Druckerman (Bringing Up Bébé)

Aminta Arrington (Home is a Roof over a Pig)

Alyssa Harad (Coming to My Senses)

Sally Bedell Smith (Elizabeth the Queen)

Jennifer 8 Lee (The Fortune Cookie Chronicles)

Jen Hatmaker (7)

Monica Wood (When We Were the Kennedys)

Josh Hanagarne (The World’s Strongest Librarian)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Children's Book Review - My Name is Elizabeth!, Annika Dunklee, Matthew Forsythe (Ill.)

My Name is Elizabeth!


Annika Dunklee, Matthew Forsythe (Ill.)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Everybody tries to shorten Elizabeth’s name—until she corrects them.

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

This is a cute book. I’ve never really had to deal with people trying to shorten my name, but I deal constantly with people calling me “Becky” instead of “Carrie” (?) and people totally flubbing my last names. The only person who consistently gets it right is my mother. That’s right, not even my husband does. So I can kind of relate to poor little Elizabeth.

I don’t know if a lot of little kids will identify to this, but I’m not sure that’s how/why little kids build connections with books anyway. It was funny and charming. The pictures are adorable in a retro sort of way. And Elizabeth is feisty in an Olivia sort of way. (I heart Olivia.)

Plus, she has a pet duck. You’ve gotta love that!

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Elizabeth the Queen

Friday, December 13, 2013

Children's Book Review - Dragons Love Tacos, Adam Rubin

Dragons Love Tacos


Adam Rubin, Daniel Salmieri (Ill)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Dragons love tacos. But only with mild salsa!

Rating: ** (3-star scale)

I think I was expecting something completely different, so this surprised me. It was slightly wonky and you weren’t quite sure what was coming next. In short, it’s silly.

I didn’t particularly care for the illustrations, and the dragons were a little too gangly and distorted for me. And, the book used the word “hate” a lot, and I don’t care much for that.

Also, I was confused as to why a creature who spits fire would have a problem with jalapenos. But, anywho…

All in all, an average silly book, which was kinda “meh” for me.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Any kid who likes tacos and/or dragons will likely get a kick out of it.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review - Mastering the Art of French Eating, Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris


Ann Mah

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir; Food & Cooking; France; Living Abroad

Synopsis: Mah, the wife of an American diplomat in Paris, explores French dishes, their origins, and the people who make them.

Date finished: 12 November 2013

Rating: ***½

This book was the intersection of some of my favorite nonfiction topics: food, France, and living abroad.

I should have loved it.

I liked it, but I didn’t love it. The writing was fine, though formulaic. Each chapter featured a region of France and a dish from that region. Chapters started out with a few pages of memoir, followed by journalism-y accounts of the region and dish being featured, followed by a trip to that region to sample said dish, followed by a memoir-y recap, topped off with a recipe. This outline became very uninteresting very quickly.

Possible reasons I wasn’t enamored with this book:

  • I’m burned out on books about France and food.
  • The writing and set-up wasn’t dynamic enough to keep my attention (see above).
  • I’ve read too many books lately that were too similar (see below).

Although I liked Mah and found her cheerful and adventurous, I just found this book boring. I really wanted to like it more. It’s not that I didn’t learn anything, but I just felt sort of blah throughout. This isn’t a bad book, just not essential to the Francophile/foodie bookcase.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I wouldn’t actively discourage it, but I might suggest some of the books below first.

You might also enjoy:
My Life in France (Julia Child recounts her years in France)
Dearie (Julia Child biography)
Julia’s Cats (Julia Child biography)
Paris in Love (an American family moves to Paris)
The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry (an American attends Le Cordon Bleu)
Bringing Up Bébé (raising children in France)
French Kids Eat Everything (getting children to eat like French children)
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (Asian-American girl in search of the origin of Chinese dishes)
My Berlin Kitchen (an American in Germany)
Where the Peacocks Sing (Asian-American girl in India)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Children's Book Review - One Cool Friend, Toni Buzzeo, David Small (Ill.)

One Cool Friend


Toni Buzzeo, David Small (Ill)


Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Elliot takes on a pet penguin. What will happen when his father finds out?

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

My grandson and I were reading this one together, and he lost interest. This could be due to the story, or it could be that we’d just finished three other books. I think he found some of the language odd and some of the names too hard to pronounce, and he got a little frustrated. Unfortunately, he didn’t know there was a twist coming. (No spoilers here.)

I was sort of disappointed that we abandoned it, because I love this book!

I love how formal Elliot is. I love how hands-off and absentminded his father is. I love how industrious Elliot and Magellan, the penguin, are. I love the illustrations, simple but quirky. And I love the twist at the end.

I think you will, too.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (Winter TBR)

This week’s Topic: Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR
(I apologize for the crazy formatting, but Blogger wasn't playing nice!)


Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

This has been on my list ever since I read Christie's Murder on the Orient Express this summer. I've heard many people consider this their favorite of her mysteries.

Nicole Hardy
Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin

I'm a sucker for a memoir of religion, and I'm fascinated by Mormons, especially.

Bill Bryson
One Summer: America, 1927

I anticipate the Bryson book will be my favorite kind: history presented in pleasant, easy-to-digest morsels.

Pamela Hicks
Daughter of Empire

I put Daughter of Empire on my list as soon as I finished Elizabeth the Queen. Lady Hicks is the Queen's cousin.

Robert Klara
The Hidden White House

More history. I love learning about the White House and its various changes and updates over the years, esp. how each president and first lady change it to make it their home.

Marta McDowell
Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life

I might save this one for the spring when spring fever hits. It's full of charming illustrations and old photos. It's positively charming.


Billy Collins
Aimless Love

I'm saving this for a lull in reading when I can really concentrate on it. It features some of his older work and some new poems.

Ellen Stimson
Mud Season

This will be a nice break from thick books and heavy topics.

Jennifer Worth
Call the Midwife

I haven't seen the television series. I'm looking forward to reading this first.

Ann Romney
The Romney Family Table

I'm a sucker for American family cookbooks, and what family is more American than the Romneys!
Also on the list:
Finish these:



Empty Mansions and The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. Enjoying both, but both are taking a lot of energy.

And perhaps dig into these during my two week Christmas vacation:


Austen's Persuasion and Barbra Streisand's My Passion for Design. Both have been on my TBR for the better part of 2013.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Review - The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story  


Lily Koppel

Category: Biography; History

Synopsis: Koppel presents the NASA program of the 1950s-1970s through the eyes of the astronauts’ wives.

Date finished: 5 November 2013

Rating: ****

I’m unsure why I put off reading this book for so long. I wanted to read it when it came out, but something—a review, I think—squashed my interest. But I finally bought it and started it, and of course, I loved it. My concerns going in were twofold: (1) I’d heard that it was hard to keep all the wives straight, and (2) I was concerned the writing would be too journalism-y. I tend to dislike books written by journalists.

Well, there were a lot of wives, 49 I think. And there wasn’t much separation between the Mercury 7, the New Nine, the Fourteen, and the Nineteen, as they’re referred to. You get to know some better than others, and Koppel tends to subtly remind you who’s who as she launches into a story about her or her husband. But yeah, a lot of wives, and I, for better or worse, didn’t try all that hard to keep track of them.

And the writing wasn’t too journalism-y either. In fact, I wasn’t sure where she was getting her information— the Life articles, diaries kept by the wives, interviews? It wasn’t until the acknowledgments in the back that we learn it was through interviews. I would have liked that information up front.

I felt like this book should have been twice as long as it was. It covered so many wives, so many astronauts, so many space missions, and so many years, the pace almost seemed dizzying. Maybe it was just me, though.

This was a good book doing a lot of things. It followed wives from the Leave-it-to-Beaver-50s through the Betty-Freidan-60s and on into the Women’s-Liberation-70s. It examined the stress of private lives gone public, the heartbreak of loss, and the breakup of most of the marriages. The actual space missions their husbands prepared for and went on were somewhat secondary to the plot. History-light and women-heavy, I guess you could say.

I enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I finally read it. It’s a nice, quick read that makes you feel present for one of the most astounding eras of American, or even world, history.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review - Book of Ages, Jill Lepore

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin


Jill Lepore

Category: Biography; History

Synopsis: Lepore tells about Jane Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s sister, as discovered through her letters.

Date finished: 29 October 2013      

Rating: ****

This book is unlike any I’ve ever read. It’s a mixture of biography, history, mystery, linguistic studies, and women’s studies. It straddles many fences. These days I’m finding myself hungrier and hungrier for history presented in an engaging way, and this book does that.

I’ve read nothing about 1700s America except in history books in school. I don’t remember learning anything about Benjamin Franklin since grade school. Here’s a recap of 1700s life: it was rough, people died, it was easier to expect babies to not make it, consumption (tuberculosis) was rampant, children learned to read, only boys learned to write very well, and people wanted freedom from the Crown. And since America was so small (Boston had a population of 15,000), everyone seemed to know everyone else.

Benjamin and Jane Franklin were the youngest son and daughter of their parents’ 17 children. The family called them Benny and Jenny. Though seven years apart, they were quite close in other respects, and they carried an epistolary correspondence until their death in their 80s—a long life for that period in history. Not many of Jane’s letters to her brother survive, but a great deal of his do. (As Franklin rose in prominence, his letters were lent out like books.) Through the letters we get to know a woman who, despite her lack of education, was able to express herself and her political thoughts. She was ashamed of her spelling, but that didn’t stop her from writing to her brother—at the time, the most famous American.

Their family was full of drama, much of it to do with death and madness. We learn about Benjamin’s illegitimate son, his “common law” marriage, and his exile during and after the American Revolution. (He seemed to spend most of his life in England and France.) His work in electricity and optometry are touched upon ever so briefly. The book, the author reminds you in every way but straightaway, is not about him. Payback, perhaps, for the fact that Franklin never mentioned Jane in his autobiography.

The book was a tight little history considering the times they lived in. (The founding of a nation is no small event!) It was an interesting ball of yarn unraveling. One thing led to another in an uncomplicated way. The writing was quirky and succinct.

Two of my favorite passages:

Jane Franklin learned to read! Everyone needed to learn to read, even girls. But that didn’t mean they needed to learn to read well. A taste for books can ruin a girl; when she grew up, she’d make a poor helpmeet. “I am one of those unfortunate tradesmen who are plagued with a reading wife,” lamented one essayist. “My wife does hardly one earthly thing but read.” Reading too much spelled trouble. (page 25)

In the late 18th Century, history and fiction split. Benjamin Franklin’s life entered the annals of history; lives like his sister’s became the subject of fiction. Histories of great men, novels of little women.  (page 241)

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, esp. those interested in history, words, and women throughout history.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (2014 Releases)
This week’s Topic: Top Ten 2014 Releases I'm Dying To Read

Well, I haven’t figured out a good way of finding future releases, so I don’t have 10, but I’ve run unto five "to be released" that interest me.

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage
Will Swift
Due out: January 7, 2014

I’m a sucker for glimpses into the life of political folks.

Twenty Poems to Bless Your Marriage: And One to Save It
Roger Housden
Due out: January 7, 2014

I’ve read several of the poetry collections Housden has put together. I might give this one a try.


My Life in Middlemarch
Rebecca Mead
Due out: January 28, 2014

I’ve never read Middlemarch, and likely won’t, but a book about the author’s attraction to another book intrigues me.


Growing Up Duggar: The Duggar Girls Share Their View of Life inside America’s Most Well-Known Super-Sized Family
Jana, Jill, Jessa, & Jinger Duggar
Due out: March 4, 2014

I love this family. No apologies.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
Helen Rappaport
Due out: June 3, 2013

I remember reading something about the Romanov family years ago, and it fascinated me. I might try this one when it comes out.