Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Source: Library
Rating: 9 out of 10

Summary: Connie is preparing to write her dissertation in colonial history when her mother asks her to take care of cleaning out her grandmother's home for sale. On her first night, Connie finds a key with a slip of paper inside that leads her on a chase to find the rarest of the rare: A real book of magic.

My Two Cents:

I loved this book. Like, a lot. I really enjoyed how Howe wove together the Salem witch trials and fiction to create a believable but fantastic story.  The moving back and forth between the distant past and 1991 was seamless and tied together with all the evidence Connie was finding at a given point in the story.

I generally liked Connie as a protagonist. The one thing I was how she was portrayed as never having a real interest in men until just the perfect one came along. Academic pursuits were more her style. I'm sure there are a lot of women in the world just like this, but I guess I seem to find a lot of them in literature.

Also, the whole ending of the book gets wrapped up in a really neat little bow, all in the last 30 pages or so. Everything just happens so quickly, then everything is over and then the book ends. Bam. I guess I just expected, since it took nearly 350 pages to get to the main climax of the story, that it would take more than 30 pages to resolve that problem. I would have liked to see more because the pace of the rest of the book was pitch-perfect.

All in all, this was a book I was very, very pleased with. I would recommend this to anyone who likes books about family mysteries (Like those by Kate Morton), anyone interested in the Salem witch trials or those who just like a good puzzle to put together in a book.

Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 reading: Catch-up (Part 6)

In an effort to catch up on my reading, I'm writing short reviews of everything I've read thus far this year. This is the final part!

Title and author: Animals Behaving Badly: Boozing Bees, Cheating Chimps, Dogs with Guns, and Other Beastly True Tales - Linda Lombardi
Source: Library
Rating: 9 out of 10

This book was David Sedaris's recommendation of the night when I saw him a few months ago. I'm trying to read more non-fiction, and a book about the crazy things animals do sounded like just the trick. I couldn't believe some of the wild stories in here! Lombardi obviously did extensive research to find the most interesting stories the world over, and it's the quirky quality of the subject that makes this book sing.

Title and author: Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five - Lisa Guernsey
Source: Library
Rating: 9 out of 10

As the mother of a young toddler, I'm very interested in how exposure to media influences development and learning. I heard the author participate in a discussion on media use by young children on The Diane Rehm Show and picked up her book at the library. Guernsey at times seems to be assuaging parental guilt over allowing children to watch TV by showing that, yes, it can be educational, which bothered my old-fashioned sensibilities. But, at least she did her due diligence and showed that there is no one-size-fits-all answer: Your kids won't be behind the curve if they watch no TV and, if you choose to let them watch TV, moderation and parental discretion is key.

Title and author: Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood - Susan Linn
Source: Library
Rating: 10 out of 10

Linn is cited in Guernsey's book (above), and I was very interested to see her views on marketing toward children, something I feel is out of hand. Turns out, she agrees with me 100 percent. There was a lot of information in this book that I already knew, like how many instructional hours are lost each year to watching Channel 1 or that companies make licensing deals of movie and TV characters to make sales more lucrative, but some of the statistics were just startling and, frankly, frightening. Needless to say, it made our decision not to buy licensed toys and clothing for our son all the more rational in my mind after reading this book.

Title and author: Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling
Source: Library
Rating: 8 out of 10

I've loved Mindy Kaling ever since my first episode of The Office. I think she's smart, funny and would be great to hang out with. If she's anything like she portrays herself in her book, my perceptions of her are 100 percent correct. My only beef with this book is that Kaling repeatedly calls herself "chunky" or says she's bigger than most girls but then reveals she's a size 8. Maybe in Hollywood that's on the high end of the clothing scale, but that's pretty small to normal in the real world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 reading: Catch-up (Part 5)

In an effort to catch up on my reading, I'm writing short reviews of the books I've read so far this year.

Title and author: Divergent - Veronica Roth
Source: Library
Rating: 9 out of 10

Can I just say that I'm loving the dystopian trend? I've always been a sucker for a good dystopian novel, and Roth has created a really interesting world and has peopled it with characters that you actually want to watch. I couldn't stop reading this book (Or, as you'll see in a moment, its sequel) until I had completely finished. I wanted to know what happened, and I really cared about what happened to the characters.

Title and author: Insurgent - Veronica Roth
Source: Kindle
Rating: 9 out of 10

It's hard, for me, to separate this book from its predecessor since I went straight from one into the other. They kind of exist all as one story in my mind, so a lot of my feelings about Insurgent mirror those of Divergent. I did like that Roth began to more fully flesh out the world she created and to give the reader little hints of what may come in the third installment.
Title and author: Forever - Maggie Stiefvater
Source: Library
Rating: 7 out of 10

Last books in series always seem kind of rushed to me. You've had a couple books to really lay out a good story, then you have to wrap it all up in one book. In this case, there really wasn't a lot to "wrap up," but all that wrapping happened in such a small portion of the book that I kind of wondered why I'd read the whole thing. Not to mention that the characters we've seen develop in the last two books are just kind of blah. Grace is suddenly all rebellious and angry toward her parents in a confrontational way; Isabel just existed to answer the phone; and Sam, oh, Sam. Once the hallmark of everything I loved about these books, he turned into a Bella-from-New Moon stand-in -- "Oh, my love is away so I'll just totally fall apart and not sleep and go all emo." Yeah, no thanks.

Title and author: Silence - Becca Fitzpatrick
Source: Library
Rating: 6 out of 10

In a way, I liked the concept of this third book in the series: (SPOILER ALERT) Nora loses her memory right after learning all kinds of interesting tidbits about the fallen angels and the Nephilim, then has to gain it back. Unfortunately, the concept would have worked much better if this were a stand-alone book or the first book in the series. We already know all the stuff Nora needs to find out, so it just makes the entire book kind of boring.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

2012 reading: Catch-up (Part 4)

In an effort to catch up on my reading for this year, I'm posting short reviews of all the books I've read so far.

Title and author: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling
Source: Personal library
Rating: 10 out of 10

What can I say about this book besides I love this whole series? It had been a good decade since I first read this, though I watch the movie at least once a year. There's so much I forgot about this book that pops up later in the series. I now remember why this series became an international phenomenon: great characters, writing that's simple yet challenging to kids and a rich world that allows the reader to dive right in.
Title and author: O Pioneers! - Willa Cather
Source: Kindle
Rating: 9 out of 10

While I didn't like this novel as much as My Antonia (seems to be a pattern with me this year), I can see why this is considered an American classic. Cather obviously had a love for the prairies on which she was raised and for the hardy people who settled those areas. I loved Alexandra as a character, not only because she was a strong female protagonist who lived contrary to the social norms, but also because she seemed like she would have been a great person to know. Thinking that a character would make a great BFF is, to me, the hallmark of a well-written protagonist.

Title and author: Awakened - P.C. and Kristin Cast
Source: Library
Rating: 2 out of 10

I don't know why I've kept reading this series as long as I have. I wasn't too fond of the previous novel in this series for a lot of the same reasons: The characters are awful and stereotypical, the language is too contrived and the plot just doesn't really move along. I guess I figured, I'd invested in seven previous books, so why not try to finish things out and see what happens? Yeah. Not my brightest idea. Do yourself a favor and just skip this series altogether.

Title and author: The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I - Stephen King
Source: Kindle
Rating: 9 out of 10

Would you believe this is my first Stephen King? I know, right? This is a great book, and I'm excited to see how the series develops over the rest of the parts. I think Roland is a great character based on a great poem, and a lot of the lore that King builds into his fantasy world is spot-on. Sure, there were times I got a little lost (Kind of happens trying to read this over a nursing baby's head), but I thought that it was a great accomplishment that King could make a world so bleak and deserted so rich with description and mystery.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 reading: Catch-up (Part 3)

 In an effort to catch up on my reviewing, I'm doing short reviews of every book I've read this year. I'm so far behind!

Title and author: Discardia - Dinah Sanders
Source: Kindle
Rating: 9 out of 10

I'm on a minimalist kick lately. Many minimalism books/blogs are focused on the major things in life: Minimizing your impact on the planet, minimizing your debt, etc. While Discardia does touch on some of that, Sanders also gives a lot of real, down-to-earth advice for those looking to get rid of the crap in their homes. I have yet to actually celebrate a Discardia, but I've put some of her tips into practice in my home.

Title and author: Miss Minimalist: Inspiration to Downsize, Declutter and Simplify - Francine Jay
Source: Kindle
Rating: 8 out of 10

I really liked this collection of short essays on everything from practical decluttering tips to how much of one thing is too much. Jay has an easy-to-read, conversational style of writing that made this a breeze to get through. I would recommend this to anyone considering a life of simplicity.

Title and author: Guest House - Barbara K. Richardson
Source: Author
Rating: 7 out of 10

This was a nice, easy read. At times, I wasn't a big fan of the way the parents were characterized (I really dislike negligent parents as characters), but I realize it was necessary for the plot to pan out the way it did.

Title and author: The Stranger - Albert Camus
Source: Personal library
Rating: 7 out of 10

First, creepy cover, right? I liked this book well enough, but I didn't love it as much as I loved another Camus work (The Plague), so I think that colored my view of this novel. It was a quick, easy read, even though I didn't care for the protagonist at all. While this is held up as Camus's greatest novel, I think The Plague is much more complex and philosophical.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2012 reading: Catch-up (Part 2)

 In an effort to catch up on my reviewing for this year, I'm writing a series of short review posts for every book I've read this year. I'm so far behind!

Title and author: 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami
Source: Library
Rating: 7 out of 10

Whew! This was a slog, but a good one. I wasn't sure, for most of the book, where the story was going, but I think that can be the mark of a good novel. Murakami certainly is a master of the craft. here was something ephemeral, though, that made this difficult to really get behind. I liked it well enough to finish and say that, generally, I enjoyed this book, but not enough that I would read it again.

Title and author: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things - Randy Frost
Source: Kindle
Rating: 8 out of 10

I find hoarders equal parts fascinating and disturbing, so I read this book with a mixture of curiosity and horror. I liked that Frost was able to really get into the heads of some of his subjects and pull out the reasons behind their hoarding, yet others remained enigmas. This was an easy, interesting read that I powered through in a few sittings.

Title and author: Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal - Conor Grennan
Source: Publisher for review
Rating: 9 out of 10

I'm not usually one for memoirs, or nonfiction for that matter, but this year has been the year of really good nonfiction, and this book is just one of that group. Grennan has not only a talent for writing, and writing well, but also an obvious love for the children he met while volunteering in an orphanage in Nepal. I found myself wanting to meet each of the children and cheering along with Grennan when he had a small victory in his quest. Highly, highly recommended!

Title and author: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less - Barry Schwartz
Source: Kindle
Rating: 4 out of 10

I really liked the concept behind this book: That having more choices in our everyday lives actually creates much more stress. Unfortunately, that's about as far as this book went. It seemed to repeat all the ways we have choice (OK, I get it. There are TONS of different products in a grocery store! I don't need a whole chapter listing numbers of brands of breakfast cereals) over and over again without really drawing any useful conclusions. It just seemed to me that someone read an academic article on having too much choice, thought it would make a great book and didn't really look at the finished product.

Friday, June 1, 2012

2012 reading: Catch-up (Part 1)

I have been such a slacker with reviewing books since my son was born ... uh ... more than a year ago. I've actually managed to get a decent amount of reading done so far this year, partially thanks to my Christmas gift of a Kindle (Yes, I finally jumped on the digital train), so I'll try to catch up on reviewing what I've read in a series of short reviews.

Title and author: The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Source: Library
Rating: 7 out of 10

I put off reading this book for a long time because I just tend to not read really popular books, but I decided to read it after seeing the movie. I thought the book was really well-written and had a great concept. It showed a side of pre-civil rights life that not everyone thinks about. That being said, I think I would have liked this book more if I had read it before seeing the movie. I just didn't feel the connection with Skeeter that I felt I should have as she was the main protagonist.

Title and author: Room - Emma Donoghue
Source: Library
Rating: 10 out of 10

This is one of those books you hate to love due to its subject matter. Kidnapping and imprisoning a woman, impregnating her and then keeping her and the child locked in a room for five years isn't exactly a feel-good, happy topic, but Donoghue's choice to tell the story through the eyes of Jack was a brilliant one because he had an innocence about the whole topic so the reader didn't feel beaten over the head by the negative subject. I adored Jack. He is probably on my list of Top 5 Favorite Protagonists Ever. I want a 5-year-old just like him (Minus the fact that he's been locked in one room his whole life). Donoghue manages a feat not often mastered: She employs a young, innocent narrator but his narration is not annoying or difficult to read, and I never felt talked-down-to. Jack is just Jack, and he absolutely makes this story. Highly, highly recommended book!

Title and author: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
Source: Library
Rating: 8 out of 10

The thing that intrigued me the most about this book was the vintage photographs which inspired the story scattered throughout the text. I kept looking back at the photos! Though I didn't really feel a particular connection to any of the characters (I'm not sure why), I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had a unique concept, it was well-written and made an easy, fun read.

Title and author: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair that Changed America - Erik Larson
Source: Kindle edition
Rating: 8 out of 10

I'm not usually one for non-fiction, but a serial killer during the World's Fair in Chicago? Sign me up! Larson actually helped me to like non-fiction because his writing isn't dry. This book read more like a novel than history. My usual Kindle-reading time is when putting my son to bed at night, and I found myself sitting long after he was asleep, reading this book because I wanted to find out what happened. I would recommend this to anyone who is wary of non-fiction. This may just be a gateway book!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Note: I read this book in 2011, after the publisher graciously sent me a copy (How could I pass up a free ARC of one of my favorite authors??), but haven't gotten around to blogging about it until now. In honor of today's paperback release, here's my review (Finally!)!

Title: The Lady of the Rivers

Author: Philippa Gregory

Pages: 435 (I have an ARC, so pages in the finished copy may be different)

Source: Publisher

Rating: 8/10

Summary (From front of ARC):

Descended from Melusina, the river goddess, Jacquetta has always had the gift of second sight. As a child visiting her uncle, she met his prisoner, Joan of Arc, and saw her own power reflected in the young woman accused of witchcraft. They shared the mystery of the tarot card of the wheel of fortune before Joan was taken to a horrific death at the hands of the English rulers of France. Jacquetta understands the danger for a woman who dares to dream.

Married to the Duke of Bedford, English regent of France, Jacquetta is introduced by him to a mysterious world of learning and alchemy. Her only friend in the great household is the duke's squire Richard Woodville, who is at her side when the duke's death leaves her a wealthy young widow. The two become lovers and marry in secret, returning to England to serve at the court of the young King Henry VI, where Jacquetta becomes a close and loyal friend to his new queen.

The Woodvilles soon achieve a place at the very heart of the Lancastrian court, though Jacquetta can sense the growing threat from the people of England and the danger of royal rivals. Not even their courage and loyalty can keep the House of Lancaster on the throne. Henry the king slides into a mysterious sleep; Margaret the queen turns to untrustworthy favorites for help; and Richard, Duke of York, threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his rival dynasty.

Jacquetta fights for her king, her queen, and for her daughter Elizabeth, for whom Jacquetta can sense an extraordinary and unexpected future: a change of fortune, the throne of England, and the white rose of York.

My Two Cents:

I may be biased because I seem to just love anything Philippa Gregory writes (Her Elizabethan-era works especially), but this was another great one from her. It has her hallmark talent for character development and minute period detail.

Jacquetta was a really interesting character. I remember the brief glimpses Gregory gave of her in The White Queen, and was intrigued. I'm not very well-versed in this period in history, so I had no knowledge that Jacquetta existed prior to Gregory's introducing her. Boy, did those small peeks into Jacquetta not at all do her justice. She was strong and funny and fierce. And the fact that she lived with a huge secret, a secret that could have cost her and her family dearly, made her all the more real. I really want to look more into the historical person of Jacquetta and learn more about her.

I think my favorite part of this novel was the relationship and love between Jacquetta and Richard. Love stories are everywhere in literature, many of which tend toward the unrealistic when seen in the light of day. Not Jacquetta and Richard. Over the many years covered in the novel, they have their ups and downs and, though they don't spend a ton of time in the same place, run into some of the same day-to-day slog that all couples hit. Yet, they manage to maintain the spark and stay interesting and dynamic as a couple the entire time.

This is another great book in Gregory's Cousins' War series. A must-read for any Gregory or historical fiction fan.
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