Sunday, December 20, 2015

Two Youth Books Worth a Read

Sandwiched in between Benjamin Franklin by Carl van Doren (an amazing and very long biography...see my Goodreads review) and a couple of other books I have already reviewed here, and a couple I haven't yet, I read these two youth books and enjoyed them very much!

A review I shared a few months ago by Stewart Monckton of a "sequel" to The Wind in the Willows ( The Wild Wood by Jan Needle--see that review HERE) made me realize I had never read The Wind in the Willows! So I set out to remedy that omission!  The original book, by Kenneth Grahame is a charming and wonderfully well-written book that any age can enjoy.  It isn't meant to be an allegory, but there are some lessons one can learn from Toad, Badger and Rat.  I really enjoyed it.  In reading the original I also realized that The Wild Wood would not be a sequel I would be interested in.  In an afterward to the book there was a list of sequels that might be enjoyed:  The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, The Willows and Beyond, and The Willows at Christmas are all by William Horwood.  Of The Wild Wood, by Jan Needle the writer states "In a Marxist twist, Needle retells The Wind in the Willows from the point of view of the working-class weasls, stoats and ferrets that populate the river community.  The proletariat heroes of ....take over Toad's manse and rename it Brotherhood Hall, an event that transcends the simple politics of The Wind in the Willows and demonstrates that there are two sides to every tale."  Not my cup of tea!  I like the simplicity and charm of the original book.  Just thought I'd get you all up to speed on that.

I also read An Independent Spirit, The Tale of Betsy Dowdy and Black Bess by Donna Campbell Smith.  This is a delightful historical novel about the young woman who alerted General Skinner in North Carolina to the burning of Norfolk, Virginia by Lord Dunmore and the moving of British troops toward Currituck, burning homes along their way.  It is a delightful little book based on an actual event of a young woman riding her beloved pony alone and with great haste, completely unknown to her parents or anyone who might have tried to stop her in her mission.  Her bravery should be known to those of us who owe our country to such acts.  But the life of Betsy is fictionalized by necessity because almost nothing is known about her, except for the fact of her lone ride.  The tale would greatly appeal to young women looking for heroines during the Revolution.  It has a horse-loving element and a romance element that often appeal to young women.  I had bought the book to give to our grandson and after reading it realized he would find those aspects of the story un-appealing.  Still, I would recommend it to we adults who wish to know more about many unsung heroes. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

New Contributor

We have a new contributor... Kenna. Very anxious to have her join us as she is a very talented writer, artist, film maker ... I could go on and on. How do I know all these things? She's my niece and a sweet one at that. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Two Favorite Christmas Books

I wanted to do this post at this time to share two of my absolute favorite Christmas books with you.  The first I read many years ago, by Truman Capote.  I bought a lovely little volume in a slipcase that contained two short books, memoirs of Capote's about growing up with his aunts.  One was called The Thanksgiving Visitor and the other was A Christmas Memory.  I adore Capote anyway, and found these two wonderful stories to be absolutely delightful.  I read them several times during the holiday season over the years.

Capote as a child shown with his favorite aunt

The second book I came love quite late in my maturity, deciding to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to our grandson about five years ago.  Oh, I'd seen every version of that story known to man, all on my TV screen.  But I had never read the book!  I must say, if you have not had that pleasure, you are missing something HUGE.  Because as we read the wonderful tale, I began to realize that Dickens was TRULY a literary genius, and it is no wonder the story has been told and re-told on every stage and screen imaginable.  But not a single play or TV version does the writing of the tale justice.  The book is just THAT good!  So, treat yourself to the original Dickens work, and you will not be sorry.
Both books are marvelous and are worth the time to curl up in a favorite chair wrapped in a comforter, maybe in front of a fireplace with a cup of hot cider or tea or cocoa.  Immerse yourself in these beautiful stories this Christmas season and it will be a gift you give yourself that will last a lifetime. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

On Writing

I thought I would end 2015 with one more book review. I've been reading a lot of writing and publishing resource books this year and this one floated to the top. Reading On Writing was like talking with an old friend over a couple martians. (martini's to Jack in the Shining) A friend who just happens to be a famous author. You're having warm and fuzzy fun. You're getting a little tipsy, talking about old times, reliving past triumphs and epic failures and occasionally being offered a real heartfelt literary gem. That is what the book is like. It's more like a biography with some stiff teachable moments.

 Whether or not you're a fan of Stephen King, if you're a writer, this book will offer inspiration. Stephen King said when you're writing, to visualize at least one person that you're writing for. For him, that is his wife Tabby. Now, I like to imagine I'm writing for Stephen King. He's my new shoulder mentor. Although, if he was reading over my shoulder he'd probably tell me what a bunch of hooey I just wrote. He'd definitely tell me to go back and re-read the boring, The Elements of Style. Yawn. Because of my appalling punctuation and sentence structure crimes. Well, I'll probably never meet him, but I picked him all the same.

Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Stephen King 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

I picked up this book at one of our cute little neighborhood lending libraries this Fall. It spoke to me. "You know you like the cover. Take it. Just take it!" yelled the book. So I did.

 Where'd You Go, Bernadette turned out to be an unusual and charming read. The story is told through the unique voice of emails, messages and letters. The central character Bernadette is a fiercely intelligent and reluctant Seattle Mother. She goes missing. And her super smart daughter Bee back tracks through all the above mentioned correspondence to locate her beloved and wayward Mother. Then there's the husband. Another techie smartie pants. Everybody is as smart as a whip! You'll like these characters.

 I get the feeling that the author, Maria Semple, is a real life Mensa wannabe herself. Because she weaved together such a complex and intriguing tale. It was a great book for an aspiring writer (like me) to read. Ultimately, the characters end up in Antarctica. She sounded like an expert.  Now that's research. 

To check out my writing works in progress visit The Chorus of the Crows

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Good Neighbor

I was all set to give a glowing review of this book by A. J. Banner. And, personally, I still think it was a good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. HOWEVER, upon reading a few of the reviews on Goodreads I found that some people had issue with it. "It didn't live up to it's hype", "bad editing" and so on. Guess I hadn't seen the hype and I am not the grammer/editing police so I did like it.

It was touted as a psychological thriller (maybe that was the problem). I found it to be an easy read, less than 200 pages long, so it was quick and I could move on to another book on my growing list. The mystery wove itself in and out of the main character's 'normal' life which ended up being anything but normal.

Sarah Phoenix grows distrustful after a house field kills her two neighbors. Sarah manages to get inside the burning house and rescue their little girl. The fire also burned Sarah's dream home that she and her husband had just begun to enjoy.

Who could have set the fire? Was her own husband involved? And who are these women who seem to have a strange connection to her husband? As Sarah grows more and more uncertain and afraid, the mystery takes on strange twists and turns. And, of course, it has a surprise ending.

Amazon gave it a 3 1/2 rating out of five. Goodreads had 1, 311 reviews (which the few that I saw were mixed). It gave it a rating of 3.29.

So, I liked it....

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Falling Leaves

Though I am taking a break right now and don't plan a post on my main blog till Wednesday...and it looks like a lot of other people are taking a break too right now....I thought we needed a new book on the list!  Let me just cut & paste my Goodreads review here for Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah:

"An excellent memoir! So sad and disturbing on so many levels. And such a great intermixing of the author's story with the background of the history of China as she was growing up. What a triumph of the human spirit! Adeline Yen Mah is an inspiration!"  I would only add that I would recommend this memoir very highly.  Really good book.

The Goodreads book description says:
"A compelling, painful, and ultimately triumphant story of a girl's journey into adulthood, Adeline's story is a testament to the most basic of human needs: acceptance, love, and understanding. With a powerful voice that speaks of the harsh realities of growing up female in a family and society that kept girls in emotional chains, Falling Leaves is a work of heartfelt intimacy and a rare authentic portrait of twentieth-century China."

Looking for something different, this is a good choice!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mississippi Blues

I recently read a book that was a bit out of my general line of reading. True it was a mystery (which I do not usually read) and true it was a romance (which I have been known to read). I really like this book. It keeps you turning pages, trying to figure out what would happen next. I think you would like it.

When you find your best friend standing over a body with blood on his hands, and you are forced to testify in court about what you saw... well, that can pretty much destroy a friendship, even tear families apart. 

After Trey's testimony, Jace was sentenced to prison for life. Trey, at the insistance of his father, who happens to be the Chief of Police, joined the Army. When he returned five years later, Trey begins to discover the truth about what he had seen. He's determined to set the record straight even though his actions may make him lose the love of his life and it, for sure, will uncover some very dark secrets that have been hidden for years. 

A page turner for certain!!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Alphabet Weekends

I brought the book Gone Girl with me on my last vacation. Well, it was so good that it was gone in a flash! But luckily the rental where we were staying had a pile of books. It was especially opportune since we were lodged in a remote area of Costa Rica. The Tico Times or a Spanish novella might have been my only other options. 

Clearly this book was left behind by a female traveler. It definitely was not part of the home owner's collection. His stash seemed to be all male. Politics, John Grisham and obscure biographies. But this booked screamed, "Read me on the beach! I'll entertain you." And it was a fun and fast read. Just look at the cheery cover. That usually says it all.

I'd definitely take Elizabeth Noble on a vacation. I bet she is just as fun as her characters. But she would probably prefer I take one of her books. In this book we meet Natalie and Tom. Tom is trying to win Natalie's heart. So far, he's been unsuccessful. Then he proposes an unusual arrangement of dates that run the garment from A- Z. The first thing they do is Abseiling. What the heck is that? Well... 

Abseiling (/ˈæbseɪl/ or /ˈɑːpzaɪl/; from German abseilen, meaning "to rope down"), also called rappelling, is the controlled descent of a vertical drop, such as a rock face, using a rope. Climbers use this technique when a cliff or slope is too steep and/or dangerous to descend without protection.

It was a fun book.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Since You Asked, Marie ...

...  I'll give you a list of what I've been reading.  I see I haven't posted since Oct 1st.

I'm not in the right frame of mind to write a review of any of these.  If you see an asterisk consider it an exceptional read.

1. The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

2. San Miguel by T.C. Boyce

*3. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

4. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

5. Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

6.  Echoes by Maeve Binchy

7.  FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marvin

*8. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

*9. I'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

*10. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

11. The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

12. A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

13.  Death of a Liar by M C Beaton

*14. The Daring Ladies of Lovell by Kate Alcott

15. Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

16. A Good Place to Hide - How One French Community Saved Thousands of Lives During WWII by Peter Grose

*17. Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store - A Novel by Robin Sloan

I am currently reading The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey.  That makes book # 63 for this year.

I'll get back to writing reviews at some point.

But you asked, Marie, what are you reading and that's what in the last couple of months.


The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens was an interesting first book by this author.  I was in the mood for more "murder mystery" after reading Gone Girl, and this was a nice choice.  This story carries you along with it at a fast pace.  There are so many questions to answer about the dying Viet Nam veteran who is also a convicted murderer.  The student, Joe, who sets out to write his "story" for a college assignment is caught up in learning the truth.  The characterizations were particularly wonderful....the dysfunctional mother, the girl next door who at first wants to keep her distance, the college boy himself, and especially the wonderfully written autistic brother.  Then there is the veteran himself, the dying convicted felon who served most of his life behind bars for this heinous crime.  But there are questions to be answered...can Joe discover the truth before the man dies?  Well-written, very interestingly crafted tale.  Recommended reading.

We haven't seen reviews from some of you in several months!  What are you reading?  We'd love to know!  Jump right in there!  Let's keep this book review club interesting with a wide variety of titles and opinions!  Thanks....Marie.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Birds of Pandemonium

I have to admit, the first thing that intrigued me about Michele Raffin's book The Birds of Pandemonium was the beautiful cover. It's really hard to believe how many exotic and dazzling bird species fly in our skies and nest in our trees. I love to spot them in the jungles of Central America. But most of them live in places that only exist on my bucket list. 

But not for Michele Raffin. On a whim, she rescued a dove by the side of a California road. No kidding. That is how it all started. We've all had that impulse. To save an injured animal. Or adopt a sad, abandoned pet. Michele took that impulse and ran with it. Now, her sanctuary is one of the largest in the country and she has rescued over a 1,000 birds. And many of the 89 species she has saved were threatened. 

Well, all of that is admirable.  But the real question of a book review blog is, "How's the book?" It is so charming. The reader wakes up with Michele and experiences the subtle, sweet sounds of bird chatter. Well, it is not always so soft and sweet. Sometimes it is demanding and deafening! And the birds, all 1,000 of them, have their own personality. You will discover that not every bird story has a happy ending. But you'll be glad you entered their feathered world for a little while.

It's a good read.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Old Jules

This was a fascinating memoir, written by one of the best writers of her era ABOUT her era, Mari Sandoz!  (She is the author of such books as Cheyenne Autumn, These Were the Sioux, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas.) What made this book so interesting was the fact that it was about her father, a man who was complex and many-faceted.  You don't like many things about this man as you read his story, but other things you find commendable and even prophetic. You wonder how Mari Sandoz could look beyond his faults and the way he made his family suffer, and write something that reports the bad but celebrates the good.  It is an honest look at one man at the end of the Old West, fighting for the settler and his rights to own land against the ranchers, wanting no monetary gain for his hard work as a "locator" for many people, a lay Dr., a budding naturalist and postmaster.  Yet, for all he did for Nebraska in his time, he was a "lazy" husband and father who preferred to go hunting than to do any work around his farm.  He had a quick-flash temper against those who crossed him, but could be tender in rare moments.  He needed a wife so work could be done around his place, so ended up marrying four times and no woman except the last, Mary, could bear to live with him.   And through it all he held his love for a woman back in the old country as the shining ideal of his heart, not caring that he hurt Mary or his children with this misplaced devotion.  If you described Jules Sandoz in today's vernacular, you  might say he was "a piece of work."

I loved the book, though I was eternally annoyed with Jules, himself, because it was such an honest look as some of the lives of the settlers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and all that they had to face in that difficult time.  It is wonderfully written and very interesting reading, although it did have a somewhat slow start.  I definitely recommend Old Jules.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ordinary Grace

I recently talked about this book over on my new writing blog The Chorus of the Crows I'm just starting to admit to people that I'm writing a novel. And after telling my cousin Jane about my story, she noticed definite similarities with the novel she had just finished. She handed me Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and told me to read it. She said she could barely put it down. And it was her go to book for nocturnal reading sessions. So I dove right in. Research, right? During the day, mind you.

The voice of teenage Frank narrates the novel. He's the son of a Methodist minister. Unfortunately, the life of Frank and his family become awash in un-ordinary deaths. A literal laundry list of his neighbors and even sadder still, people even closer to him. The small town scene comes to life visually. The train takes off and doesn't stop. And the characters are real citizens of the time. My favorite character was Gus. He was boarding in the basement of the church across the street from the central family. And plenty of mischief ensues from that simple fact. There's a bonus for us Minnesotans too. It's set here.

 Being of devious mind, I guessed what the mystery revealed in the end. But it didn't matter. It was still a great book. 


Friday, October 30, 2015

Two Midwest Choices

I have been doing a LOT of reading, and am trying to catch up with my reviews, so you will have two this time from me (as you did last time).  These two books are very different from each other....different styles and different subject matter as well as different periods of time.  But both reflect the life of the mid-west with all its charm and struggles.

The first, The Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson was my response to Longmire being cancelled as a series on TV that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I was sad to see it go, and wanted to read at least one of the books it was based on.  Craig Johnson is a wonderful writer, and the book does not disappoint as a detective mystery with strong mid-western characters and an interesting, hard-to-figure-out story.  It is set in modern time.  Walt Longmire is a Wyoming sheriff with strength, savvy, and some inner pain.  The title of the book (and its premise) is based on the saying that "Revenge is a dish best served cold."  He and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear unravel the threads of this twisted mystery.  I really loved that both Walt and Henry were well represented by actors in the TV series.  Loved them both in the series, and saw them reflected reversely in the book.  Enjoyed it very much!

The second book as I said is very different.  If you like happy stories, this book will probably not be for you. The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout is based on a lot of research about the trials and difficulties of opening up the west in the early years, especially in the lives of the women who followed their men west.  Though it isn't a true story, it rings true in many things that happened in those early years. As a writer, Swarthout is wonderful!   It is also a fabulous movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank.  I have to say that the character Mary Bee Cuddy is now one of my all-time favorite strong female characters from any book EVER!!!  Her story is so deep and rich and disturbing.  I loved this book so much, and also the movie.  Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank do amazing jobs capturing their characters' lives and personalities.  But, read the is wonderful!

If you have a book ready to review, please go ahead....we don't have to wait several days between reviews.  Happy Reading!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

new contributor

                       I am so excited to announce that we have a new contributor/reviewer!!!

                                       Her name is Sharon Wagner. You can find her Here

                                            We all look forward to your reviews, Sharon. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

"The Girl On The Train"

I wasn't too thrilled when "The Girl On The Train" was suggested in our book club but, hey, it was was a mystery and we hadn't had any mysteries on our reading list. So, I picked it up, opened it to the first chapter. hmmmm..... second chapter..... still not getting it. But, I hung in there. The author was busy laying out the characters and how they would fit into this tale of intrigue.

Rachel is a divorcee, an alcoholic, truly a mess, emotionally, physically, pychocologically. She's lost her job but everyday she rides the train to 'work' so her roommate won't suspect her situation. She watches out the window. She passes the house she and her ex had called home, only now a new wife is sharing 'her' house with her ex. And, then there is a couple a few doors down that are often on their terrace. She names them Jess and Jason. One day she sees Jess kissing a man. It's not Jason!! And, then Jess goes missing.

Rachel has a faint recollection of something she saw the night Jess disappeared. But, Rachel was drunk so she wasn't sure. Was it her drunken stupor or did she really see what she thought she did? In an effort to be 'important', 'accepted', 'wanted' Rachel tells what she knows (or thinks she knows) to the police. Will it drag her deeply into more trouble than she has ever imagined or will she help solve the case?

After a slow start for me, I soon became intrigued and found myself reading and reading and reading some more. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Paris In Love

I loved this book. Maybe it is because I have been to Paris and LOVE that city. This book took me back, to places I had not seen, and exposed me to the everyday flavor of being Parisian. I recently said, when asked what I'd do if I won a million dollars in the lottery, that I'd go to Paris, get me a little apartment on the Rue de Seine and stay there for maybe six months, maybe a year.

That is exactly what the author, Eloise James, did. She was a professor teaching Shakespeare!! She decided to sell her house, take a leave from her job and move her family to Paris for a year. What an adventurer she is... how I admire her.

So, along with her came her husband, who happens to be Italian, and her two children ages 11 and 15. The Italian husband has a different view of Paris life than Eloise does and that often presents amusing situations. Then there are her poor children, having to change schools, learn new friends, learn a new language and they are also going through puberty. And then there is the fat cat, Milo, who gets overfed by Eloise's Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law visits are funny and we all can relate!

Eloise is set on learning as much as she can about the Parisian life and walks the streets everywhere, observing everything, discovering places and people that tourists never see. This is not a tourist guide, believe you me. The book is enchanting, funny, cute and I loved it. I think you would, too. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Siesta Lane by Amy Minato

I came by this book browsing through
my favorite used book store 
and something about it caught my eye. 

Perhaps it was the sub-title, 
as it closely mirrors my own experience
living off the grid while we built our rustic cottage
here in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains
 of Washington State. 

I paid my $3.00 and hoped this would 
be a book I could actually finish. 

I have so many half-finished books, 
cast aside due to poor writing
and drab plot lines. 

One rainy evening I opened 
the pages and was pleasantly surprised. 
I couldn't put it down. 

Siesta Lane is a delightful account of the author's
year of living off the grid in the countryside
of Oregon. 

Leaving the big city of Chicago behind
to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing, 
and seeking a simpler life,
she heads west to Eugene, Oregon. 

When her studies are over, her yearning 
for a simpler, more natural lifestyle
leads her to Siesta Lane, where she rents
a cottage in a small community of 
like-minded individuals. 

Living without electricity or running water, 
Amy gains an appreciation for the simple
things in life - silence, fire, insects, wind, 
mud, rain, and a warm bath. 

Her lyrical and poetic writing makes this 
the kind of book you wish would never end. 
It calls upon each of us to stop and take heed
of the things we take for granted and to 
pay more attention to the natural world 
around us. 

Amy accomplishes this task with her soul-stirring
essays describing this year-long journey. 


This book was published in 2009
by Skyhorse Publishing

It has wonderful pen and ink illustrations
by Jan Muir
black and white photos
by Beth Stein

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Two From Me and One From Stewart

Both of these books have been reviewed, but this is my "take" on them, however brief, since I took the recommendations after reading your reviews.  I know Mom is out of town and won't be posting, and I am hoping a couple of others will jump in here soon....

Look Away Dixieland is the first in a trilogy by Marona Posey.  I can't say this is my favorite genre BUT having said that I could not put this book down!  It is fast-paced and fascinating.  You wonder what is going to happen next.  From that standpoint this is a roller coaster ride of a read that you will completely enjoy.  I had hoped it would revolve more around my areas of Alabama (I think Posey is from my hometown of Jasper) but it is closer to Decatur, and moves away from Decatur at a rapid pace, going to venues far and wide with the characters of this twisted tale.  Check it out if you love mysteries and romance-style adventures with memorable characters.  You won't be disappointed.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is another roller coaster ride in a different style of writing.  It is contemporary thriller fiction and Gillian Flynn proves to be a master of this genre!  I had this book recommended to me on our book club site, and by my daughter.  She and Mom couldn't wait till I read it, and I could see why.  It's excellent.  You will not be disappointed in this twisting, interesting tale.   I also waited to see the movie until after I read the book, and I now have a Netflix disc waiting over on the TV table...our daughter wants to come over and watch it (again for her) with us! :-)

From my blog friend Stewart, here is another of his reviews. Because of this review, I realized that a huge chunk of my childhood literary education was missing because I had never read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham!  I had never read it to my daughter or grandson.  So I set out to correct this mistake of mine, and bought a used paperback copy and have been reading this wonderful, delightful tale!  Now, I can read The Wild Wood as well.  Here is Stewart's review:

The Wild Wood - Jan Needle  4/5

This book is a cracking re-telling of the classic, The Wind in the Willows. 

If Wind In the Willows is a view from the river, then this book is a view from the wood.  The strength of this version comes from the simple believability of the humanised characters and the voice of Baxter then main narrator.

Some of the tricks of the original remain – such has the (unacknowledged) change in size of the animals depending on need.  In the original Toad becomes a washer-women and deals with ‘gypsies’ and similar things happen in the new version.

What is really wonderful about this book is the way that both the original characters and plot lines remain intact and only motivation and purpose change.  We don’t have to un-learn anything from the original for the new version to make sense.

And this I think leads to the only issue I have with the book – I really do think you need at least a working knowledge of the plot of Wind in Willows to see how wonderful this book itself is. Which, I suppose leads to the recommendation, that you should read both of them!

Highly Recommended.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

There was no doubt at all that this was going to be a wonderful journey with Theodore Roosevelt!  I had no idea before I found this book that he had made such a treacherous exploratory venture into the unknown jungles of the Amazon!  He is one of my favorite Presidents and I have read at least two biographies of him over the years and had introduced him to my grandson when I read Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Margeurite Henry to him when he was small.  Roosevelt has even cropped up in the book I am reading now (I have four others to review though before I share it!) He was larger than life, and fascinating!  I never tire of learning more about him. 

This book was well-written, well-researched and really interesting.  It opened up an unknown chapter in Teddy's life, one of explorer of unknown areas, for the River of Doubt (later named for him) had never been traversed before he did so with his oddly-matched team.  They go through unbelievable dangers, crossing areas of cannibalistic Indians and fighting the river itself with its many unpassable rapids and falls, and they face dangerous animals and diseases as well.  For months no one knows where they are or if they are even still alive.  The fact that they are using boats that are completely un-suited for the type of river they are following makes it all the worse.  Really great bit of historic writing!  Loved it!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Boys in the Boat"

I had the opportunity to attend the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday, September 27th.  I went to hear Daniel James Brown speak about his wonderful book 
"Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics."

This is such a marvelous story of grit, determination, perseverance, all those words that mean they don't just give up.

Brown describes his writing technique as narrative history.  It isn't dry in the least with fact after fact.  Rather it weaves in feelings and depth of character so that you feel you are there cheering them on from the shoreline, in the boat pulling on those oars, and experiencing the emotional upheavals of life in the Great Depression. 

Brown met the daughter of one of the rowers in Seattle where Brown lived.  She brought him then to meet her father who had read some of Brown's other work.  The daughter, Judy, had an ulterior motive - she wanted someone to write about her father's achievement and that of the other eight.  Her father was in his last months when Brown met him, but Judy had for years pumped her father about his life and made meticulous notes.  With the research Judy had done and four years more that Brown did, the tale of these 8 rowers and the coxswain, their coaches, the boatbuilder, the City of Seattle, and the Great Depression come to life.

Here's Daniel James Brown's website to read more.  But then you must get this book and read it.

My book club discussed in at our meeting in September and it was unanimous that it is outstanding!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Happy You Are With Us

I have just finished reading "The Mockingbird Next Door" by Marja Mills, a recommendation from Marie. You may see her review HERE. Lovely book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I want to do a review of our book review blog instead of doing a book this morning.

I recently found a blog that had several links to other book review sites and so I started checking them out. I was pretty curious about how other people were handling book reviews.

 Well, I have to tell you that I loved our blog better than any I looked at. 

I found theirs disorganized, hard to follow, cluttered and most uninviting. I was pretty proud of what we have done with Springtime In Magnolia Book Review Blog.

It's true that Marie and I had hoped that we would have more interested readers joining in. We hoped we'd reach more people, get more avid readers involved in making reviews. It's been a slow go but for those of us who frequent this site we are very proud and so happy that you are 'aboard'.  

                                    So, thank you for your participation. 

Keep reading....

and telling us about the wonderful books you read!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

This book, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry was moving, suspenseful and sad.It is about A. J. Fikry's
life which is not what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in history and then his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems has bee stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore,its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to
start his life over.

This one was one of those books that you had to keep reading until the end...A book you can't
put down.                                      

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Two Good Books & A Friend

Hello again...time for me to share two of my recent reads.  First is one that was recommended  by Marcia a few months back, The Curve of Time, by M. Wylie Blanchet.

This was a wonderful story of a Canadian woman who was widowed and takes her five children each summer to Vancouver, living on a 25-foot boat.  During the winter, she home-schools them in a lovely cabin on the mainland, but each summer is an education that only the wilds can offer.  This is a journey of these children and their mother, facing the delights and dangers of nature, and the joys of family unity; learning more than life can teach us if we do not embrace all that it has to offer.  It's a beautiful story and I enjoyed the book very much.  I also in searching online for a photo of the book cover, discovered a family history of Muriel Wylie Blanchet, with some photos and background information that is very interesting.  You can find that HERE.

The second one I want to share is Wesley the Owl, the Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl, by Stacey O'Brien.  This one was recommended by an avid birder who is also a fellow blogger.

I adored this book so much, and learned so much about barn owls, and about the relationship a person can have with a wild creature.  Wesley did so many surprising things, making you realize that we so often underestimate our fellow creatures!  His relationship with Stacey was a priceless bond.  She cared for him, and he cared for her.  This is not a long book, and I highly recommend immersing yourself in this incredible story.  It will touch your heart so completely!

Looking online for a photo of the book cover, I stumbled on something I wasn't aware of...Wesley and Stacey have You Tube videos!  Here is one I want to share:

There is also a facebook page!

Happy Reading to you all!  Look forward to seeing where your reading adventures have been taking all of you....and with that thought, may I tell you about a new reading friend, Stewart Monckton in Australia.  He has an extensive reading list on his blog under "Pages" ( link to his blog HERE) and he has kindly allowed me to reprint some of his book reviews from time to time.  Here is the first one I'd like to share:

Feral - George Monbiot  - 4.5 /5

This is a really rather good book – not perfect, but one that makes you stop and think ‘do I agree with what I have just read?’
In reality this is almost two books rather than one – the first is about developing a great connection between people and the land on which they live. This is ‘re-wilding people’.  The second is about taking a less interventionist approach to wildlife management, by allowing nature a freer hand to build new ecosystems.
The first is a reasonably well-trodden path  - and is based on the assumption that people and the land do better when they are connected.  Connection.  Interest. Care. Passion. And in the end, survival.  This all seems to make sense.
The second theme of the book – actually re-wilding landscape – is probably a little more contentious.  Especially as one of the key things that the author suggests in terms of re-wilding is the re-introduction of large predators – such as wolves – to some ecosystems.  While any such introduction would clearly rely on human intervention in its early stages, the idea is to re-establish the kind of ecological processes that have been removed from many ecosystems by humans. 
There is little doubt that conventional conservation management is not always successful – with large areas (the book really takes most examples from the UK) being maintained in some sort of agriculture dominated state – the classic example here being most UK uplands which are often just sheep, deer or grouse maintained habitats, which lack the diversity they once had.
I think there needs to a well informed debate about who land is managed into the future – and this book is as good a place as any to start thinking about what this debate could mean or should include.

Highly recommended.

Marie Carmean

Friday, August 28, 2015


I just finished reading "Enchantment", a biography about the actress Audrey Hepburn. I loved Audrey in many of her wonderful movies, especially in her role as Holly Golightly in "Breakfast At Tiffanys". She was such a dear soul, pure enchantment. No other like her.

The book covers her life very well and I was surprised by many facts that it disclosed. It appears to be well researched and written.

Her mother was a cold woman who displayed little affection. Her father abandoned the family and she lost contact with him. Audrey wanted to be a ballerina but World War II caused the family to lose everything and she was certainly a tragic figure of that era. I had forgotten that she was married to Mel Ferrer. Their relationship, however, was both comforting and unsettling to Audrey. They had one son together and the marriage lasted for a long time to 'keep the family together'.

I felt the author, Donald Spoto, delved far too deeply into the making of each and every film that Audrey starred in. But, that was just me. I guess I was more into the personal life of Audrey than a lesson in film making. But, in same frame, one got a look at how each film affected Audrey and the co-stars.

I was fascinated as the woman Audrey became, unfolded on each page. She was pulled into the movie industry by happenstance but gave it her all. She grew in her craft, was never a prima donna but was easy to work with, delightful to cast members, a real lady. I just fell in love with her all over again and must now find some of her best movies on Netflix to watch here at home.

If you have an interest in the movie industry or in Audrey herself then I would recommend this book. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015


No one has jumped in with a new review so I will go ahead with my next one.  It is about Secretariat, by William Nack....

I think we all have had a vague knowledge of this horse's story, and perhaps many of you have seen the movie now.  But, I wanted to read the book, and I am very glad I did.  This is a difficult book in some ways.  Mr. Nack has an incredible knowledge of racing and sometimes his racing details bog down the story a bit.  It's still impressive that he has included so much between the book's covers, for the information of those who want to know.  There's a good reason for this:  he was a sports reporter during the years Secretariat was racing, and was often in on the background scenes of all that was happening, in a very real way AS it happened.  You don't often get to read a story that is written so "first hand," and that was a treat.  On the other hand, I wanted the narrative to flow with the life of this amazing horse and those around him, and it did for the most part.  Sometimes the statistics were VERY important to the narrative, and for that I am grateful because it helped me understand just how amazing Secretariat was!  I came to love this horse and was very moved by his passing, as so many people were when it happened.  I embraced his triumphs, and loved his personality, and I came to know in a degree, the people who were around him during his life.  It was a long read, but a very good one, and I recommend this wonderfully detailed, heart-felt book!  I am fully convinced that there will never be another horse like him! Kudos to Mr. Nack for putting his very heart into this book!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Enthralling Memoir

My husband checked this book out, read it, and told me I should read it.  He was right.  It was wonderful.

"Growing Up" by Russell Baker is the memoir of his early life.  Born in 1925, he is 90 this year.  He gives a enthralling picture of life in the Depression, first in rural Virginia then in New Jersey and Baltimore.  A life of hardship and poverty.  A life of blissful ignorance of the larger world's problems.

The book won the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1982 and it was well-deserving.  Reviews on the back compare his boyhood story to those of Thurber, Mencken and Twain.  It's filled with humor and tragedy, strong women figures and n'er do well uncles, orphans and comics. His writing style is captivating and it draws you thoroughly into his life.

One thing that fascinated my husband was the town in Virginia is very close to where my husband's maternal grandmother's family was from and the town is mentioned in the book.  Baltimore landmarks are familiar to both us since we live outside the city. In fact when his mother remarries its in a town where we shop and go to the library.

Look for this one.  You won't regret reading it.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Me Before You

Yes, I know. Marie posted a great review of two books on Thursday (so please scan down and read those if you haven't.) 

But, I HAVE TO post this review. Right now, while it is fresh on my mind.

My youngest daughter, Susan, kept after me and kept after me to read "Me Before You" and I kept ignoring her pleas. I had lots of other books to read. So, when she, once again, asked me last week to please read it, I broke down and ordered the thing from Amazon for my Kindle.

So, I start reading the Prologue. Okay, it's evidently laying some groundwork. By the end of the first chapter I am thinking, 'why in the world did I spend my money on this book?' Second chapter, maybe a wee bit better but still not getting it with me. But, I hung in there and have just finished it this morning. This is an absolute MUST READ book and I suggest that you don't put it off like I did. 

Lou is a rather different sort of young lady, dressing in funky clothes, working in a cafe with no ambitions in life but to just exist and maybe marry a fellow she's been seeing for seven years, if he ever gets around to asking her. Then she loses her job and as many people do, had trouble finding other employment. Even though she has no experience in this line of work she is hired by a wealthy couple to look after their quadrepeligic son, who is in his thirties. 

Will had led a very exciting and fulfilling life,a lawyer, very adventurous, that is until he is hit by a motorcycle on a London street. Everything he has been or ever wished to be is gone. He is suicidal, depressed and his parents hope that this funky ex-waitress from 'across the tracks' will be able to brighten his spirits, give him a reason to live.

The story is about decisions these two young people have to make. Will teaches Lou to reach outside her small 'box' and experience life while at the same time she is busy trying to get Will outside his depressing life and learning to live again. Is her efforts enough to pull him from his depression, make him want to live? Life in a wheelchair doesn't sound too appealing to him. The choices they made weaves a fascinating, 'can not put it down' sort of book. I state again "I could not put it down".  And, I am willing to bet that you won't be able to either. In the final chapters Lou realizes that each person has to make their own choice of what to do with their life and sometimes it is not what you wish or least expect. 

I warn you, have a box of tissue handy. But, please read it. 

P. S. just found out that there is a sequel to 'Me Before You' coming out Sept 29th. I can't wait.  and a movie is being made of the first book, to be released in 2016. Can't wait for that, either.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Two Good Reads

It's been a little while since I finished the first two of these, so I'm trying to get a little caught up in sharing them both.  The first is Unlikely Allies by Joel Richard Paul.  The second line of the title says "How a Merchant, a Playwright and a Spy Saved the American Revolution."  That's exactly what this delightful book was about...three men you have probably NEVER heard of because they were not "major players" in our nation's history.  Yet, their contributions were extremely significant, and learning about them was fascinating.  The book is an easy read, and will be a delight to anyone who enjoys a good tale, or who is fascinated with our unknown American history.  It also sparked my interest in learning more about Benjamin Franklin, which led to one of the books I am reading now.

The second book was very different...a true crime book called Death in a Prairie House by William Drennan.  It is about the mass murders that occurred in Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin House that took the life of his live-in girlfriend, her two children, and various workers who were all at lunch in the home in different areas.  The book is an interesting look into the life of Wright, and his time.  I enjoyed reading about him, and the crime itself was horrific.  Drennan explores with great detail the investigation of the crime, as well as the theories of why it happened.  Really interesting book!

Now, share what you have been reading!